I must get asked this question at least ten times a week: ‘do you have any tips for starting out as a freelancer?…’
While I could spend hours and hours responding to all of the messages, I thought it best that I summarise some of my top tips for you if you’re thinking about taking the leap and starting up your own freelance business.
First things first, I don’t have to tell you this, but it’s going to be scary.
Most of the time, you won’t know when your next invoice will be paid. You won’t be certain if you will have enough flexible spending this month to buy your favourite takeaway coffee as a ‘treat’.
Hell, you might be uncertain as to whether you can pay your phone and mortgage on time.
But do you know what? If you don’t make a change now, then you quite possibly never will.
Taking The Leap
Being my own boss has been an incredible experience and opened up so many doorways. Never did I imagine going at it on my own would be such an worthwhile adventure. At the end of February 2018, I wrote a post on my blog as to why I decided to ‘Quit My Job To Become a Full-time Freelancer & Blogger‘. Looking back, that post seems a million miles away. Even now I still get tons of messages on a daily basis asking how (and why) I took the leap. Truth is, a lot of my drive came from wanting to spend my days on my terms and doing things my way. Over the last 12 months I’ve been using practical online tools to help me get by, such as Project Management app Asana, time tracking tool Toggl and using fantastic banking apps like Monzo to track my expenditure. Taking care of my finances has never been scarier so I assure you a little bit of help is always appreciated.
Since leaving university in 2013 I’ve had around 6 jobs, both part time and full time. I quit my last role as a Social Media Manager with 1 month’s salary in my bank account. Not only this, I had just 2 clients in my address book and absolutely no idea what I was doing. But somehow since then, I’ve made it work.
Here are just a few things I’ve done to keep my head above water since I started running my own digital business.
Have clients lined up from the start
The most important part of any business is your clients. Because without them, you honestly don’t have much. How are you going to pay the bills otherwise? Where are your great testimonials going to come from? How are you going to learn what works and what doesn’t? When talking to other freelancers about how they did it, every single one told me to get clients under my belt before I handed in my notice. For me, I had the Christmas period to reflect on whether this was actually a good decision to take. But in truth, no one could have convinced me otherwise. I had 6 weeks notice to serve and in that time, I emailed friends, family, and anyone who would listen to tell them I was going out on my own and I wanted amazing people to work with.
I’ve got a solid range of marketing, social media, writing, blogging and photography experience under my belt that can help my client list grow, including my own brand. I don’t really have a growth secret other than posting online frequently about what I can offer and not being afraid to blow my own trumpet. Because in reality, no one else is going to do it for me. In the first couple of weeks as a freelancer, I had 2 solid clients, but this wasn’t completely enough to pay the bills. Thankfully my list has grown since then, and I get to work with some incredible people on a daily basis. I don’t know whether I’ve just been incredibly lucky or if I did things the ‘right way’, but fingers crossed I hope to continue working with more businesses, start ups and corporate brands as my own business expands. Not forgetting to mention, I’m still learning every day.
Have a bit of money saved away
This was a difficult one for me at first, but since running a business I’ve had to learn how to budget my income. From the start, I took advice and started putting at least 1/3 of all invoices away for tax purposes. The other third is my wage and the last bit goes into savings. The scariest thing about leaving a full time role is the thought of ‘how the bloody heck am I going to pay the mortgage?’. Especially when things crop up like house repairs, car insurance, actually feeding myself etc, it’s an absolute minefield. In the last six months however, I’ve become better at looking after my own finances although I really do need to start looking for an accountant. Tax returns are becoming a nightmare but I find using websites like Creditfix Budget Calculator helps me get a better understanding of my finances overall. It gives a monthly summary that helps me to estimate how much money I have left over based on the figures.
Set Up A Desk To Work From
I was very happy to have won a competition which bought me my own desk chair and table. But I’d be lying to you if I said some mornings I don’t slump on the sofa watching morning TV with a cup of tea in hand whilst trawling through my inbox. It just happens. Most days though I head up to my spare room to get stuck into my workload for the day. I shut the door and work from my own office space, aka the ‘bubble’ to get stuff done. I’ve found that having a proper desk helps keep me away from distractions like the TV and the fridge. It enables me to get on with daily bits of writing, client work and photography. Some days I will venture down to the sofa and wrap myself in blankets whilst working. But being sat on a sofa all day with a laptop isn’t great for posture and wreaks havoc with my 80-year old back and neck problems. If you are thinking about becoming a freelancer or working from home, I highly recommend setting up a work space for your own sanity and peace of mind. I also pop out to co-work a few times a month which is beneficial too.
Use Social Media As A Playground
I work on my own all day which most people might find horrible. I personally really enjoy it as I can blast my feel-good music and get typing. Talking To Other Freelancers is so important as you still need people to bounce ideas off and interact with. Social media is great as I get a lot of messages on Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis. This is really good for me because A.) prospect clients, other freelancers and people who are looking for freelance help are seeing my stories and posts. And B.) It’s helping me to find freelance work. I’m grateful to have made lots of new freelance pals who will often tag me in posts when people are looking for social managers or copywriters. My day job consists of a lot of writing, blogging, social media management services for clients and means I support with brand growth and client leads tasks. I connect with as many people as possible, ask questions, post a lot of statuses on Linkedin and ultimately, this is where I find most of my income. It’s important not to be afraid to use your voice online, especially if it benefits both yourself and other people in the process.
Setting My Own Boundaries
Still a fairly new one for me, but learning to set boundaries with working hours and modes of contact is vital if you’re taking on new clients and projects. At the beginning I tended to use Whatapp to keep in touch with clients as well as the occasional email, but I’ve soon learned this was a big mistake. As my client list has grown, you can imagine waking up to 50+ messages each morning isn’t healthy. Instead, I’ve now created a brand new email address in which people can get in touch with me at: [email protected]
This way I can manage workloads easier and allows me to keep a record in case anything should go wrong. Setting working hours is also a good thing to do as I realised my 8 hour working days were turning into 12 hour ones as I wasn’t completely shutting off. I now try and switch off by 5:30PM and don’t respond to emails after this time. Self-care is important when freelancing, but I guess I’ll get better at this as time goes on.
Are you thinking of jumping into the world of freelancing or considering going full-time? I would love to help anyone who has any questions. Feel free to shoot me a message or leave a comment below.