Two years ago I resigned from my banking job without a clue what was next. I then had a taste of the London startup life until I got my first freelance writing gig, thinking this could be something I’d like to pursue further. That was about 12 months ago. Twelve months! Time for a moment of reflection.
Sure, the freedom of working on your own comes at a cost and is linked to an ever-lingering (financial) uncertainty, but the overall benefits outweigh the inconveniences big time. At least for me they do. I’m sure I’ve still got a million things to figure out – some of them probably the hard way – but there’s some stuff that I feel I get right now. To save you from making the same mistakes – and wasting a lot of time – I thought I’d share some of my newly acquired wisdom with you in this post. Here are 3 things I’ve learned from freelancing.
1. Your Network is Everything (or pretty much)
Whether you like it or not, people are more inclined to give a job to someone they know – or to someone that comes recommended by someone they know. So far, all of my paid gigs have either directly or indirectly come out of my network. The pressure may be higher – if you don’t deliver the quality they were expecting from you it may be awkward for the person who’s referred you – but the opposite is true too. If they love your work, they’re likely to tell others about you – and hence create more work opportunities for you.
Something to keep in mind here is that when you’re a freelancer, pretty much every social gathering you go to is a potential source of new clients. I didn’t fully realise this until a friend pointed it out. I told her I had this mandatory party to go to and that I wasn’t looking forward to it (hardly knew anyone there and simply didn’t feel like socialising). ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘since you seem to get all of your projects via your network, why don’t you look at this event from a business perspective? Every new person you talk to could someday, somehow give you an exciting writing gig.’ And although this should have been obvious to me from the start, it wasn’t, until my friend spelled it out for me. Needless to say I was my most bubbly, sociable self that night at the party…
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Work
When people ask you how your freelance business is going, it can be tempting to say all is well and leave it at that. But if in fairness you could do with some extra work, you should really share that information. Sure, no one likes to tell people things are tough or that they’re struggling, but if you don’t tell them they’ll think you’re fully booked – and what’s more important – they won’t think of you when a new project pops up.
Personally I always tell people I could do with some extra work. Because even if you’re (kind of) busy right now, you never know when one of your current clients is going to pull the plug. Besides, new projects always take a while to get going, so by the time you’ve got your latest job up and running you may have finished a previous one anyway. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised – and touched to be honest – to see how many people think of you when they know you could use some more work: Family, friends, and even clients constantly come up with ideas varying from relevant job adverts, people they think I should have coffee with, or potential collaboration opportunities.
3. Show Commitment
I think this may be the most important one. As a freelancer you need to be super committed to the projects you work on. For starters, because it makes the gig a lot more fun; if you like – or even better, believe in – the business you’re working for, you’ll be a lot more motivated and creative. Secondly, because you need to prove you’re involved even more than an in-house employee. Companies like to work with freelancers as it gives them a lot of flexibility, but what they don’t like is the idea of an uninvolved external just going through the motions. So show your clients some love!
I always do more than what’s strictly expected of me. Before I start a new job I take some time to look into the business – I research industry specific information (if I don’t know anything about it yet) – and I check out who their competitors are. Depending on what it is they want me to do, I often write a first article or blog post against a one-off discount. Yes, that means I’m not getting paid (as much) for the time I spend on this preliminary stuff, but a collaboration is a two-way street and – in my opinion – requires an investment from both sides. So naturally it doesn’t stop there; whenever I see something that I think could be interesting for one of my clients – a potential business project or an interesting candidate for example – I share that info with them. Even during the weekend or when I’m on holiday. Why? Because I care and I want them to do well.
I could probably go on for at least another 1000 words about what other things I’ve learned from freelancing – but I won’t. I will say one last thing though: Freelance gigs are a bit like relationships, there has to be a match for them to work out. So be honest with yourself and with your clients. If things aren’t going smoothly, it’s probably best to part ways.