Freelancing sounds like freedom—and freedom sounds damn good, doesn’t it?
Hold up —
Free can also mean broke, sad, and lost.
It depends where you’re at in the process.
I‘m currently giving it a shot through the ups and downs (let me be real: the ups are really up, and the downs are really down). If you’re wondering how to bypass some of the downs (or at least manage them), stay put.
- Wake up knowing you control your schedule and can work from anywhere — Yesssss
- Being your own boss and deciding what projects you take and when
- Charge a healthy rate ($$$) for something you’re already good at
- Feeling shitty when someone undervalues your skills and business — “What can I get for $100 dollars?” *Cries*
- Meeting 30 potential clients for coffee with no follow-up bookings *facepalm*
- Being in-between work [read: unemployed] and marketing yourself hard, despite the mental health struggles that come with unemployment. That shit ain’t easy.
Freelancing and self-employment are increasingly popular. In the United States in 2016, 34% of the workforce was freelance.
If you’re ready to dive into the uncertain world of self-employment, here are 5 real-life-no-bullshit tips to get you off on the right foot.
1. Find a support group
Just because you’re going out on your own doesn’t mean you need to do it alone.
If you’ve never worked for yourself before, you need to learn a ton of new skills — fast. Why recreate the wheel when others have gone through it before you (and might be willing to share tips?).
When you’re working alone from home the only thing you can ask about hourly rates, invoicing, difficult clients, follow-ups, & budgeting is Google.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Google, (don’t hurt my SEO, Google Gods!) but it can only take you so far.
Google can’t provide emotional support. Or hugs.
Finding a group of freelancers or entrepreneurs to commiserate with will go a long way for your mental health. I’ve learned some lessons through trial and error. I’m happy to share these lessons with my peers and they’re happy to share them with me.
There’s practical advice and there’s emotional support. Google can’t provide the latter. My crew of freelance friends hold me up when things go sour and high-five when projects soar.
If you can, join a co-working space to meet other self-employed peeps. In the Toronto area? Make Lemonade is my spot of choice.
2. Research your hourly rate, prices & packages
One morning in March I announced on social media that I was going Freelance. Within hours, I had requests from 2 friends to work for them. They immediately asked:
- What’s your hourly rate?
- How much do you charge for…?
- Do you have a standard contract?
I fumbled all over the place to answer their questions. I hadn’t thought about this before making my announcement. I quickly did some research, asked some contacts, but ultimately underpriced myself for the work and ended up giving the employer all the power.
Avoid my scenario. Invest time in the early days of your freelance decision determining your services and putting some packages together. If possible, do this before telling anyone about your news.
How can you figure out an hourly rate? What the hell’s a package?
Remember that support group I mentioned? Time to hit ’em up.
Not everyone will be willing to share their pricing strategies, but some might. Now, this doesn’t mean you should charge exactly how others do. It simply provides you an idea of the market rate and comparable services. Here are some helpful articles about pricing as a freelancer:
Packages are helpful because they set expectations for your potential clients. Rather than spending hours researching each time someone approaches you for your services, simply forward them a list of packages you’ve already created. This helps set the context for how much you charge and what they might be interested in.
Website need editing? You have a package for that.
Social media strategy? Yup, one for that too.
For example, in October/November I offered a package of 3 blog posts for new clients for less than I would normally charge.
The clearer you are on your value and how to put it all together with a bow, the easier it will be for your ideal customer to find you — and book you!
If you don’t want to do a lot of research, just take it from my friend and fellow freelancer, Jessica Hamilton: “Double the hourly rate you were making in your last job, add 15 percent, and charge that.”
3. Keep free consults short-and-sweet
You’re chatting with a potential client. You want to impress them so they hire you.
You’re looking over their website or product line and you get excited. Thinking, “I can totally help this person!”, you passionately tell them a few ways to improve their site.
They’re eyes light up, too! Now you’re brainstorming back and forth. Ideas are flowing. You’re feeling great.
“What do you think about this?” They ask.
You say, “Oh, I have so many ideas!”.
An hour goes by. Potential client leaves.
You’ve just exposed your product (your brain & ideas) without a downpayment. Shockingly, they never follow up to book you for a project.
As tempting as it is to want to make recommendations on the spot to “book the job”, be careful of how much of yourself you give in initial meetings. By keeping them short and sweet (half an hour max), you ensure you get a feel for the project, and let can let them know what you offer. Next — talk budget — make sure they’re right for you as much as you are for them.
My friend and fellow entrepreneur, Katy the Copywriter says it best:
“When you’re a freelancer, time is literally money. If you’re on the clock, but you ain’t getting paid, then what in fresh hell are you doing? For anything more than a ‘getting-to-know-you’ chat, you’re giving your expertise, focusing your time on the prospective client’s business, and delivering value for them — you need to find a price point for that.”
4. No budget? NO proposal
I’ll say it again: No budget? No proposal. Remember this phrase and don’t let it get you into trouble.
The absolute worst feeling is when you’re excited about a client or a project so you spend 30 minutes to an hour creating a custom proposal for them — only to have them GHOST you after sending it over. It’s worse than a Tinder ghost. Trust.
I once had a lovely chat with a woman for 45-minutes and learned she wanted social media strategies for 3 Instagram accounts. Following our call, I spent 45 more minutes creating a custom proposal for her. I wrote a beautiful note back saying how much I would love to help her.
2 weeks went by — I didn’t hear from her.
When I followed up for the second time, she said what I had proposed was double her monthly income. *DOH* That would have been great to know before spending all that time on a proposal she couldn’t afford.
Ask for budgets up front. It helps (again) to make sure someone is serious about the work and decision-ready.
Here are some phrases to keep in your back pocket:
- What’s your available budget for working with me?
- My packages for XYZ start at $500 per month, does that work for you?
- My hourly rate for this work is XX, would you like to move forward?
If they can’t afford you, why bother pitching them? What’s more — if they become sketchy when finances come into the picture— they’re not ready to buy. Red flag. Better not to waste your energy on it and move on.
5. Prepare for ups and downs
I know this is different for everyone. Maybe you’ve been building your own business on the side for years and you’ve got clients ready to work with you. Maybe you’re more seasoned in your career and have the business skills on lock.
That was not the case for me. I fell into freelancing unexpectedly.
I’m used to working full time. When you freelance, there are periods of drought. It can’t be avoided. Your schedule is a mess. I usually don’t know what’s happening in my week except for the day before. It has been hard. I have felt depressed. I have questioned my skills. I have not gotten out of bed many days. I have searched LinkedIn for full-time jobs.
Overall, I have been uncertain.
And at other times, I have been on top of the world! When your former friends and colleagues reach out to you for projects, it feels amazing. It validates you again. It’s fun. It’s freedom.
The hardest part of this experience is emotional extremes. I don’t have any advice for managing them — except that it helps to be aware they exist. Don’t pretend it will be fantastic all the way through. That will make the down times harder to swallow.
To stay positive, keep a list of activities you love:
- Connect with nature
- Listen to a recording
- Play upbeat music
- Call a friend or family member
- Go to a coffee shop
- Lean on that support group
Remember — you’re fantastic!
If freelancing doesn’t go smoothly for you, don’t be ashamed of taking on a “regular” job again. Life is always changing. Nothing is permanent. Do what is best for you at this moment. That other stuff is a tomorrow problem.