Stepping out on your own and into the freelance world is a bit like leaving for college or your first time moving out. Your security blanket is ripped out of your hands and you have one major question: Will this work out?
A freelancing career is one big learning curve. Successful freelancers are constantly learning new things and implementing new strategies. In this way, a new freelancer is not that different from a seasoned professional. However, there are a few tips that are non-negotiable and that will help your business grow faster and easier right from the beginning.
Below are a few tips that I learned the hard way (and that you should learn the easy way).
Always Make a Contract
This is one of the first tips I read when I started freelancing. Did I listen? No. I didn’t worry about getting screwed over. I would think, “I wouldn’t do that to someone else, so why would someone do that to me?” But, sadly, the reality is that some people are jerks and it’s in their nature to rip people off. After delivering a blog post, one client insisted he didn’t have to pay since he decided not to start a blog. And by the way, no type of client should be exempt from a contract. This client was a lawyer — but clearly not a very just one.If you have a good client on your hands, they will be thankful you created a contract because they may have their doubts about you too. A contract covers both of your butts. And a client who doesn’t want to sign a contract isn’t a client worth having.
Creating a contract often seems confusing and like a waste of time. Luckily, there are outlines online that you can edit. Customize a contract and send it to the client, asking them to let you know if they have any questions or concerns. Kindly guide them to sign, scan (or sign electronically) and send it back to you.
Here are a few free contract templates:
- 5 Freelance Design Contract Templates
- 10 Contract Templates for Web Designers
- Freelance Writer Contract Template
- Another Freelance Writer Contract Template
Find Your Optimal Work Space
When you work for someone else, it’s likely you have a management team breathing down your throat, ensuring you get things completed. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to get work done on time.
Everyone works differently in different places. Some people find that working at home provides them with an endless list of distractions. Yet, some people find that working at home is more comfortable and more productive since they’re not worrying about coffee shop WiFi.
When you first start freelancing, you should test out different spaces to see which inspire you. Maybe working at Starbucks with business people around is motivating, or maybe working at home to a podcast is more your style. Your work time might be dependent on how comfortable the chairs are at a location. If your back starts hurting sitting in flimsy coffee shop chairs after an hour, you aren’t going to get much work done. Find a place where you can sit for hours uninterrupted and where you feel happiest.
Experiment with some of these locations to see where you’re most productive:
- Different local libraries
- Different coffee shops
- On your couch
- On a home desk
- On your balcony
This sounds counterproductive, and some people might disagree, but I firmly stand behind this tip. You should always decline work if taking it means selling yourself short.
Working for way below your ideal rates is bad for two reasons: It will discourage you and there will be no possibility of long-term work with a low-paying client. Negotiating rates in an attempt to work within someone’s budget is okay. But taking on a project significantly lower than your usual rates is likely to get you stuck in a rut. You need to know you can make money doing this, so prove it to yourself.
You need to assert yourself as a professional and make people understand that even though you’re not a big agency, you’re still a professional and that potential clients should treat you like a business.
If you go into a coffee shop, you don’t tell the barista that you’d like to pay $2 for the latte instead of $5. You don’t demand a free latte and tell them that you’ll only pay if you like it or if it keeps you awake. So, don’t let potential clients do that to you. People that treat you this way will never be ongoing clients. They will likely discourage you and annoy you by making a ton of extra demands for such a low price.
You should also feel comfortable turning down clients if they refuse to pay a deposit. The same lawyer client in tip #1 told me that he didn’t want to put down a payment because of “bad experiences.” I felt bad and bought it. In the end, the lawyer won and the small freelancer lost. Clients who are serious will take you seriously too.
You can turn down potential clients in a classy way by saying something like, “I thank you for contacting me about this project, but my rates reflect the amount of time it takes to complete high-quality work. Please feel free to contact me when your budget increases.”
If you want to do free work for experience, try reaching out to a charity instead. Your work will be more appreciated and will also serve as an act of kindness 🙂
Bonus Tip: A good invoicing system helps you to stay organized and professionally bill clients. Invoice2Go allows you to spend more time running your freelance business and can be used on the web or on Apple or Android devices.