An introduction to freelancing: 7 tips for newbies
tl;dr yes, you do still need to set an alarm
It’s Monday. The alarm clock sounds at a gruelling 6.45am. After violating the snooze button, you peel yourself away from bed to embark on the hellish 55-minute commute. As you find your face in uncomfortable proximity to stranger’s armpits (or, if you’re lucky, you may be squashed up against a Perspex window instead – score!), a visible thought bubble forms above your sad, trampled on head: “WHY?”.
Sure, you may be the type that thrives on strict routine, stability and office banter (you weirdo) — the 9–5 shebang. If, however, and for whatever reason, you feel like you’re just not cut out for this bs, buckle up and read on — freelancing might just be the answer. Or, it may totally not be the answer, in which case you can thank me later (a bottle of Zinfandel will do, thanks).
If you’re seriously considering breaking away from the shackles of your office job, keep in mind the following:
1. You gotta have skills
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: you have to figure out if your skillset is apt for freelancing. There isn’t much point in ‘going freelance’ if you can’t monetize on your skills. Love it or loathe it, we live in a free-market economy, and in order for you to make any money, your skills have to be in demand. Be specific with what you’re offering: a stellar social media strategy? Compelling copy? Professional web development? If your clients have a clear idea of what kind of service they’ll be getting, they are more likely to hire you. Keep in mind that some fields are growing faster than others.
That being said, don’t stress too much about your professional qualifications and work experience. There are plenty of talented freelancers out there that are self-taught. Instead, focus on networking, building an impressive portfolio and refining your skills.
2. Money droughts are a thing
Before you take the plunge into the world of freelancing, you need to have some SOS cash set aside. You don’t want to fall behind on your rent/mortgage/bills and it will help not to starve, so go and set up an emergency savings account, lest the bailiffs come a-knockin’.
Remember: it isn’t that easy to find well-paying clients, especially in the early stages of your career. You shouldn’t expect a stable monthly income until you’ve secured a couple of ‘bread and butter’ jobs. Regular, well-paying, non-douchey clients are the unicorns of the freelancing world. The more jobs you do, the higher the chances of finding said unicorns and establishing a steady flow of $$$.
3. Self-discipline is everything
My full-time office working friends will occasionally text me something like, “so my boss let me work from home today. I ended up cleaning the house, baking cupcakes and binge watching Designated Survivor. I have no idea how you get any work done from home!” Yeah, buddy. It’s called self-discipline.
If you’re spending up to 40 hours a week in an office, it’s no surprise that being at home triggers pyjama-telly mode. But my home is my office, which is why I don’t have the same Pavlovian pyjama reflex. As for down time, I do most of my switching off when going for walks, or, if I’m 99,9% happy with a project, I’ll take a well-deserved wine break.
As a freelancer, you’ll quickly learn that self-discipline is everything. You need to be prepared to get up early (sorry), have some form of a schedule and set aside time to chill. The fact that my reputation is on the line is motivation enough to get my work done well and completed on time. I appreciate that not everyone functions this way, so if you’re someone that needs authority to keep “in check”, you may find yourself struggling.
Oh, yeah. And don’t forget that you’ll be in charge of sorting out your own taxes.
4. Schmoozing is part of the job
This is the bit I arguably hate most. One of the reasons I never liked the 9–5 setup is because I prefer to work in solitude. Hustling has never been my thing. Come to think of it, I’m definitely a bit of a hermit. I just don’t like people, OKAY? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to land paid gigs in a social vacuum. Alas, I had to get over my social anxiety and attempt to learn the art of schmoozing.
I landed my first clients through word of mouth, so don’t underestimate the power of everyday networking. How do you expect to get any work if nobody knows you’re looking for it? Don’t be afraid to market yourself at relevant networking events. Be inquisitive and confident. If I can do it, so can you.
5. You’ll be spending a lot of time on your own
Unless you’re #blessed to have children wreaking havoc at home, you’re likely to spend a lot of time working on your own. Thwart the Lonely Freelancer Syndrome by mixing it up and working at your local coffee shop or co-working space. Go to networking events (they usually have free booze, so it’s kind of a no-brainer) and sign up to a short course to learn a new skill and meet other freelancers. If all else fails, get a puppy.
6. You may be treated like an intern
Thought your days of working for free were behind you? Think again — some clients seem to think that freelancer = free (or very, very cheap) labour. Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do to ensure you get paid on time (or at all), so being a good judge of character helps. There is always the risk of finding a client that seems perfectly lovely and reasonable until you send them an invoice. C’est la vie de freelance.
Don’t forget to make it very clear how much you’re charging and why. If you’re in the early stages of building your portfolio, be prepared to ask for a more competitive rate. If, however, you feel that your skills and expertise are first-rate, don’t be afraid to charge more. It helps to project humble confidence when pitching, but be polite and persistent when chasing payments. If you completed a job, you deserve to get paid for it.
7. Being your own boss feels so damn gooood
You’ve probably figured by now that freelancing isn’t for everyone. It’s tough to find regular clients and you’ll need to get used to the notorious feast and famine cycle. Despite the drawbacks, however, the fulfilment that comes with having ultimate control of your time and income, topped off with the ability to work from home (or a beach in Greece) make it all worth it. It’s a big learning curve, but if you can master the basics, the momentum will build. You gotta risk it for a biscuit, baby.
Veronica Morozova is a freelance copywriter, content creator and inbound marketing consultant. She has a Bachelor's in Media and Communications, with a specialisation in journalism and photography, and holds a Master's in Politics from Goldsmiths University.
During and after her studies, Veronica dabbled in academia, fundraising and Public Relations. Never quite satisfied with the limitations of a 9 to 5 job, and in a bid to spend more time with her young son, Veronica decided to pursue a full-time freelancing career. Her passion for writing, research and startups have landed her clients in a range of sectors, from tech to fashion and finance. She specialises in web copy, blogging and email marketing.