It can be an exciting thing to jump in to the world of freelancing, or really any entrepreneurial venture. You gain control of your own destiny, have more control over your time, and can even make a pretty good living if you do things right.
A lot of people are thrust into freelancing from circumstances beyond their control. Maybe they don’t get paid enough through their regular job, or their regular job doesn’t exist anymore.
But if you have some time to breath and do a bit of planning you can make the freelance transition a whole lot easier.
- Find a Niche
One of the principles of selling is self-recognition on the part of your target. Advertisements for mini-vans show families unloading kids and a dog and gear at the part or beach because the people who buy mini-vans are trying to figure out how to get around with their kids/pets/stuff.
Services are no different. You are trying to solve a specific problem for a client, and the more specific you can be the easier your sales cycle can get.
Take, for example, accounting. A lot of accountants are essentially freelancers or maybe two person shops, and offer a general service to anyone. But what if you can find a niche?
For example here in Vancouver there is a large film production industry, and a lot of those people are contractors with specific challenges and opportunities. A few accountants have made this niche their exclusive business. It works because:
- You can learn the specific needs of your clients
- You can stand out from the crowd — you aren’t just an accountant, you offer very specific services to very specific people
- The market here is large enough — there are thousands and thousands of potential clients.
- Each client builds your credibility in the eyes of other future clients
- It’s a connected community with identifiable people and events, so you can target your network
After you figure out the service you’re going to offer, figure out WHO you’re going to offer it to.
2. Develop a Networking and Sales Strategy
Now that you know who you’re targeting, the next step is figuring out how you are going to reach them.
In an ideal world you know many of these people already. The best time to start freelancing is when there is work readily available. I’ve started two service companies, and both of them came out of contracts that were there before the company existed.
But even if you have that in place, you still need to know how you are going to get your next job. You need to develop a funnel that is delivering clients on a regular basis.
- Balance your time to make sure you are prospecting while also serving current clients
- Research and identify potential clients and develop a strategy for meeting them — find networking events, look where they hangout online, and incorporate networking and prospecting into your routine.
- Don’t be afraid to sell, especially in the beginning. You offer a great service, and your potential clients want to know about it. Send the an email, even if cold. The worst thing that can happen is they ignore it.
- Take the time to track and map out your most successful approaches, and take stock regularly. Maybe using a CRM, or at least a spreadsheet. Your strategy can change over time as you establish yourself, so check your results on a regular basis.
3. Have Some Padding in Place
Finance is really important, especially at the beginning of a business endeavour. You don’t have a steady stream of opportunities, your processes may not be as efficient as they could be, the sales cycle might be uncertain, and you may not have a complete handle on the seasonality of your market.
Because of all this it’s important to have some savings in the bank so you aren’t under too much financial stress when you are starting. That’s not always possible — not everyone can choose when they freelance. But if you do have control over when you start out freelancing full-time make sure you have some savings that will last you a few months.
4. Get Your Sales and Legal Documents Ready
The time to get your documentation ready is before you start your sales process. You don’t have to have everything perfect in terms of your pipeline and client onboarding, but you do need a process and documentation in place.
First of all, your clients will expect to be lead through a process, starting from the first meeting all the way to when contracts are signed. Each step of the way you can communicate how things are going to go.
Second, having this process in place will give you something to iterate and improve. You can see where you lose potential clients, where there are areas of confusion, or other areas that need work.
5. Get Your Goals in Place
I think it’s a good idea to establish a target income and the clients or contracts you need to get there. This gives you something concrete to shoot for, and also lets you know when you can take your foot off the gas.
Writing down your income and lifestyle goals is a great, foundational exercise that help you plan for a successful freelancing career. You can track your progress towards your goals, develop a better understanding of how to balance your time, and have a better view on when you need to make course corrections.
Is there anything we missed? Let us know!