A — Z of Advice for New Freelancers
Helpful tips and tricks I wish I’d been given when I first started freelancing
When I first started out in freelancing, I felt like I had more questions than answers. How do I submit my taxes? How long should I estimate for social scheduling? What needs to go into a contract? What should I put on an invoice? With few freelance friends to turn to for advice, I often felt stuck and confused and ended up making some small mistakes that whilst not catastrophic, were definitely a little embarrassing.
Working as a freelancer is an entirely new experience for most people, and is a very different lifestyle to a 9–5 office job. Although the fundamental work might be the same, the administration, client relationships and self-governing of the business can feel like huge learning curves you have to overcome. But freelancing is rapidly becoming a popular career move for many, especially with so many roles being cut or furloughed throughout the pandemic, and in this week’s blog post — I want to help!
I’ve challenged myself to list 26 different pieces of advice I wish I’d been given when I first started out as a freelancer, in a fun A-Z style to help keep me thinking.
A — Advertise Yourself
No freelancer, contractor or self-employed worker will be found through simple word of mouth alone. To really build up a solid client base, you need to advertise yourself and your services in as many places as possible. From building your own website to promoting your work through your socials, your name needs to be everywhere to truly catch a potential client’s eye.
B — Be Transparent
There are so many stories about freelancers struggling to finish tasks they have no experience in, or crumbling under deadlines they knew they’d never meet. Your desperation to keep or secure a client can make you agree to anything and everything, even if you’re not entirely sure what that thing is. Be transparent from the beginning — know your limits, your skills and your availability before making any promises to your clients and understand that if they don’t accept it, there will always be more fish in the sea.
C — Clients Aren’t Always Right
Yes, sometimes our clients aren’t always right…that’s what they hire us for. Sometimes they can offer up suggestions that you know won’t work, and you will have to say no to them. They might have ideas that aren’t physically possible or want changes that don’t make sense, but finding a polite and diplomatic way to refuse them is always going to serve you well in the long run.
D — Deadlines Matter
When working as a freelancer, it’s so important to hit your deadlines. But it’s also important to set realistic deadlines in the first place. If you know a piece of work won’t be finished by lunchtime tomorrow, set a deadline that gives you the time you need to get it done properly. Don’t promise anything you know you can’t give, and it’s always safer to allow yourself a little extra time for final checks and proofreading before you send anything to your client.
E — Expect Edits
Edits can often feel the bane of a freelancer’s life. We spend hours working on the perfect piece, testing it, amending it, re-working until and finally sending it off — only for it to come back with big red X’s all over it and lists of changes your client wants to make. This is ok. Wasting time being hurt or offended by a client’s edits doesn’t benefit you in any way, and most of the time it’s easier to simply make the edits and go. Whilst there will be some that you can compromise over, it’s important to remember that they’re the ones who hired you and it’s their project in the end, not yours.
F — Find Your Productivity Zone
Productivity is crucial when trying to meet a client’s expectations, and the beauty of freelancing is that you can work at the hours that suit you. If waking up at 6 am working through til lunchtime gets the job done, then keep working those hours. If you’re a night owl, who thinks better in the evenings, keep going! It’s sometimes worth experimenting with different schedules to find your productivity zone, but once you do, stick to it and keep producing those great results!
G — Grow With Each New Client
Every new client we take on can teach us something. Sometimes those lessons can be helpful, sometimes they can help us to learn new skills, and sometimes they can simply teach us which client relationships to avoid in future. Even the worst clients can teach you how to grow as a freelancer and become more resilient, how to protect our own business and our mental health and how to spot those professional red flags early on with the next one.
H — How Many Hours In a Day?
One of the biggest mistakes freelancers make is trying to acclimatise to the 9–5 schedule. Although we don’t have anyone actually monitoring our time anymore, we still try to work through every single hour of the day, feeling guilty if we run out of things to do. As a freelancer, our workloads are always going to be different from our full-time counterparts and the sooner we accept that, the easier our days can become. We only get paid for the work we do, and so there are sometimes going to be days when we finish at 1 pm and have nothing left on our to-do lists. That’s ok. Enjoy the flexibility your job allows you, and make the most of it until the next project comes along.
I — Invoice Policies Are Final
Flexibility is great, but taking advantage is not. Setting up a solid invoice policy with a new client is one of the most important processes you need to establish as a freelance worker, delivering specific dates of payment and determining additional charges for late reimbursement. This is the best way to protect yourself against clients and companies who can try to take advantage by paying late invoices, underpaying or simply not paying at all. Provide them with a contract that states the terms of your invoice policies, and let your client know that you won’t begin any work until they sign it.
J — Judgements Should Be Expected
Although freelancing is a growing career movement, it’s still a relatively unknown path for many people in our lives. They might have questions such as ‘But what about holiday pay?’ ‘Are you going to make enough money?’ ‘What happens if you get sick?’ ‘Do you even know how to pay your taxes?’ which are, at best, unhelpful and honestly a little bit rude. I’ve found the best way to handle these questions is to simply come prepared — expecting and anticipating these questions can help stop them feeling so intrusive and upsetting, and understanding that your job choice is yours alone to make can empower me to keep working despite them.
K — Keep Your Boundaries Clear
Hands up if you’ve had a client message you in the middle of the night? Hands up if you’ve had a client stalk your social media? Hands up if…ok, we get it. Sometimes clients don’t understand boundaries, and they forget that you’re only paid for the hours you work. You’re not a 24/7 helpline, you are a human with personal responsibilities and lives outside of your job. Establish your boundaries early on in your working relationship with a client and clarify the hours you work in the first contract you sign with them. Then, anything they ask you to do or any messages they want you to respond to do not have to be dealt with until you’re ready to work.
L — Leave Space For Yourself
When you take on a new project, it can sometimes feel like the work is taking over your life. With deadlines looming, client demands rising and endless to-do lists, it can be hard to find time to focus on you. Without a team to support you and share the workload, you can feel like a one-man band of edits, emails and stress, forgetting to eat, sleep and relax between work. It’s vital to leave room for your own growth, self-care and mental health too, and to remember that the work should never be everything you are.
M — Manage Your Accounts
Keeping track of your money, your invoicing and your accounts is one of the best things you can do to help future!you to nail those Self Assessment forms. Set up spreadsheets of your expenses, payments and income — all forms of it, including any side hustles or one-off jobs — and update them at the end of every month. Whilst in the digital age, keeping receipts isn’t really essential, making sure you’re aware of any big purchases like computer equipment, software or work-related travel can come in handy when it comes to the end of the tax year.
N — Name Dropping Doesn’t Help
Whether you work in a big city or a small village, name dropping the people you know or the brands you’ve worked for doesn’t really help you to secure work. Sure, it looks great on your website and if you can get a brand-name testimonial then that’s always going to impress, but constantly referring back to that one project you did for BBC Four back in 2010 isn’t going to secure you many clients.
O — Opinions From Experts Count
One of the worst things you can do as a freelancer is to assume you know everything. It doesn’t matter who you’ve worked with, how many years you’ve been doing it or how many skills you can boast, there will always be new things to learn. Listen to the experts and keep doing your research on new processes, new hacks, new programmes and constantly keep growing as a freelancer — it’s the only way to succeed in an ever-changing digital world.
P — Patience is Everything
In my line of work, I can come across clients with a huge variety of different technical experience. Some of them can be social media pros, and others are reluctant to even turn on their computers. Patience, empathy and understanding are crucial to helping them to achieve their goals, through my work, and taking the time to really get to know their businesses is so important for building those good client relationships. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to explain something if it helps your client feel comfortable working with you, it’s worth it.
Q — Questions Can Come At Any Time
Yes, you can be halfway through a project and a client can question your invoice policy. Yes, you can be working with a client for years, and they can still ask you about your fee structure. Yes, you can be at the very end of your project, and a client will suddenly ask you about your experiences and past roles. Questions from clients can, and will, crop up at any time, so it’s important not to read too much into them when they do. Often, they come from a place of curiosity, rather than suspicion so be polite and answer honestly.
R — Respect The Boundaries
Much like you would want a client to respect your boundaries, it’s important to respect theirs. Don’t ask for approval on a project at 1 o’clock in the morning, and expect a quick response. Don’t try to call them every single day if they don’t respond to an email. Don’t over-message them with questions about a brief they’ve set. Find a communication style that works for you both, and try to save your questions for a work-appropriate time that is suitable for everyone.
S — Stay Positive When Work Is Short
Sometimes your client list is shorter than your to-do list, and the work just seems to be drying up. This is the time to stay positive! There are always more projects around the corner, and the time you have now is a great opportunity to finish off any jobs or projects for yourself that you’ve been avoiding. Whether it’s finally learning how to make a Tiktok or taking up a new hobby, this is your time now. The work will come.
T — Time Management Is Vital
Learning how to manage your time between clients can be a struggle. Juggling different demands, splitting up the hours of the day and trying to find the time to have three different meetings all at once can be chaotic unless planned out properly. Understand that there are only so many hours in the day and you need to have breaks and pauses in your workflow to help you stay healthy. Starting your week with a strict plan can help you to evaluate which tasks need to be finished first, which client to prioritise and where your own self-care fits in.
U — Understand Your Client’s Perspective
Maybe your client has just come back to you with one too many changes, or they’ve been emailing you with questions and worries all day long. Perhaps they’ve just overrun your meeting by an extra hour and you’re really not in the mood for more amends. To stay a positive and professional freelancer, you need to look at it from their perspective. They’ve grown their business up from the ground and they’ve entrusted it into your capable hands. They let a stranger come in and take over an element of their business, and change it and represent it and it can be hard to let it go. Of course, they’re going to have questions, of course, they want good results. Empathy is key to forming good client relationships, and you always need to try and find their point of view.
V — Value Your Free Time
I honestly cannot emphasize this enough. Your free time is yours. It doesn’t belong to any of your clients, your projects, your plans. It’s just yours and whatever you choose to do in that time is entirely up to you. I’ve spent days being worried about what my clients might think if I shared my new hobby on Instagram, if I talk too much about my weekend plans or if they trying to contact me on a Saturday morning. It took me a while to understand that my time is just for me, and I’m allowed to have that — I’ve earned it, after all.
W — Work Should Make You Happy
People tend to forget that their jobs can be fun. That sitting down at your desk every morning isn’t supposed to fill you with dread. Whilst you shouldn’t expect every day to be 100% positive, if you start noticing that the work you’re doing or the project you’re completing is making you anxious, depressed or flat-out bored, maybe it’s time for a change.
X — eXamine The Fine Print
Before agreeing to do a single piece of work for a client, you should always read the fine print — even if it’s the writing on your own contract. Make sure you know which services you’re giving to your client, which hours you’ll be working and how much for. Set out clear expectations and consequences on both sides if the agreement is not met, and keep a record of any documents you sign.
Y — You’re An Individual, Not An Agency
It’s important to remember that you are, in fact, an island, when working as a freelancer. You don’t have the extra resources and support of an agency and your skills are limited to the ones you have on your CV. Your abilities do not have to match that of an entire office full of people, and you’re doing great for just being you.
Z — Zombies Don’t Make Good Freelancers
Apart from trying to bite the heads off their most annoying clients, zombies have no place in your freelance career — so take good care of yourself and get some sleep. You’re far more likely to achieve more if your mental and physical health is good than you are after staying up too late trying to finish a task. Don’t let yourself drown in your work — no amount of money is worth it.
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