Many of us dream about leaving the nine to five behind and setting up as freelancers. But what’s it really like to be your own boss?
We asked several successful freelancers – from national journalists to business strategists – to impart some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
“Paid work is only half the job”
One thing I learned very quickly as a freelancer is that non-billable hours clock up quickly. Managing your website, chasing payments, sorting out your taxes – there’s a lot of admin that you’re less likely to be responsible for in an office environment. It’s well worth speaking to an independent financial advisor when you’re starting out, to make sure the fundamentals are in place and your business plan is solid. After that, make sure you establish an hourly rate that compensates for the time you’re spending on non-client essentials.
Marcus McClintock, SEO consultant
“Network, network, network”
Getting face to face with clients and future clients is absolutely key to acquiring new business. Having an online presence and social media can be really useful, but make sure you’re putting yourself in front of people too – you’re much more likely to get a referral from somebody who’s met you in person.
“Working for free is never worth it”
When I was trying to get into journalism, the line I’d hear from a lot of publications was ‘We can’t pay for your submission, but it’ll be great exposure’. Don’t fall for it. A publication that isn’t prepared to pay you is taking the piss, and helping to destroy the industry that you’d do anything to join. Plus, writing 400 words about nothing for a middling blog with no discernible readership is actually quite crap exposure. Stick to your guns and the money will come”.
Stuart Heritage, Journalist
“Discipline is vital. Create a routine and stick to it”
Before I went freelance, I wish I’d known that the working from home lifestyle is not as great as it seems. Although it has its perks, you have to be careful you don’t get distracted doing other things. It’s important to treat it as if you are in the office and make yourself some rules. I found myself working until the early hours many times, and got into a habit of sleeping in. If you don’t treat it like a regular work day, you will fall behind.
Daniel Kidd, Marketing consultant
“Chasing money is the bane of every freelancer’s existence”
Clients are very seldom sympathetic to the challenges of maintaining a healthy cash flow. Make sure your fees and payment schedule are mutually agreed and in writing up-front to avoid misunderstandings. Be clear that you expect to be paid on the allotted date, not when your client gets around to it.
When you’re under pressure to meet deadlines and keep work coming in, it’s very easy to let your job take over your life. Deadlines will change, and there will be times when you find yourself working through a holiday or into the early hours. Make sure you balance that by giving yourself regular breaks. Create a working day that’s as structured as an office job. Go out for lunch; spend time with your friends. Be flexible with clients, but don’t be a doormat. Take a holiday and don’t bring your work with you. Being a freelancer can afford you a lot more freedom than a regular job, but only if you protect that freedom and create clear boundaries for how much work you’re willing to take on.
Neil Wilson, Copy writer
Main image by Ahmed Hashim @ Flickr.