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Setting Yourself Free as a Freelancer

A freelancer is a person who is self-employed and outsources themself out under contract to various clients. Many freelancers either run small businesses or they provide their freelance services through agencies that pay them (and take a cut). Sectors associated with this term include journalism, screenwriting, publishing, design work, web design, photography, editing, consulting, copyrighting, video editing, video production and computer programming, etc. Generally speaking, freelancers are not employed long term, taking on short term projects and are often represented by an agency or labour-hire company that resells their services to a client. However, some freelancers prefer to be independent, and are termed "independent contractors".

As a freelancer, there are some benefits and disadvantages, depending on your view point. Freelancers generally enjoy a much larger variety of assignments, but this can be coupled with irregular income. Nonetheless they have more freedom to choose and set their working schedule.

With the use of internet increasing, the opportunities to undertake freelance work have improved steadily. Not only has the internet increased the volume and nature of freelance work, so too has the markets expanded. Offshore outsourcing and crowdsourcing (outsourcing to an undefined group of people) are common practices that utilise freelance services.

Businesses may use freelance services as it provides the flexibility to turn on and turn off resources as needed. Usually, these businesses are not obligated to provide ongoing work and will only allocate work on a job by job or project by project basis. Consequently, they don't have to cover (some) insurances, salary loadings, annual leave, public holidays, etc.

Factors That Contribute to Being a Successful Freelancer

The following key factors, while by no means an exhaustive list, are good reference points if you are a first time freelancer or considering becoming a freelancer.

  • Freelance work is a challenge in that you are not "naturally supported" by a company which provides you with a place to work, ongoing work, an environment to grow in, etc. It is basically up to you! As a freelancer, one of the most important aspects to your personality and work approach or level of service is that you must be a proactive self-starter. This will enable you to be open to opportunities (most people are presented opportunities but don't take them – or even recognise them), whereas successful freelancers grab opportunities with two hands and adopt a flexible approach. If you are ready for action, then you are on your way to being a successful freelancer.
  • Be positive and have faith in yourself and in what you do. Take some calculated risks. This includes having good money management skills. You will need to be able to budget and invest in your freelance business. This simply requires you to plan your income, plan your expenses and manage the cash-flows. Sounds simply, but many freelancers simply go "nuts" setting up their business, spending all their savings launching themselves, rather than enabling themselves to grow their business and increase their wealth. Remember, to spend wisely on only what you absolutely need until you have established your cash-flow where you can store some wealth for days where you might not be working. This approach is also about having a Plan B. This does not mean you don't have faith in yourself, just face the fact that you cannot win every situation and even your best efforts may still leave you exposed at times. In these instances, having a plan B is just reinforcing the fact that you have faith in yourself.
  • Continually develop and fine tune your skills so that you can optimise your time. The old adage "work smart" really applies if you freelance.
  • Be honest in all your dealings and operate with the upmost integrity. In today's business environment there is lots of research that points to the fact that clients expect to develop trust with you rather than see you act loyally. There is a big difference.
  • Appear professional. Surprisingly, freelancers can lose a sensible professional dress code and take the "flexible option" to a new level of casual. Always look in the mirror before leaving to go to a meeting and check that you "fit the mould" or that you "fit the image" appropriate to the project or work you are chasing.
  • Have some good basic business sense and establish a foundation to grow your opportunities. This is about setting your business up right, getting appropriate legal, accounting, taxation and insurance advice. If you set up your foundations then you will be ready for the opportunities. Why is this? Simply, because you will have the capability to get to work immediately. Failure to set up your business means that you are disadvantaged from the start. If you have to set yourself up, get insurance, etc., chances are the opportunity is already being worked on by someone who was ready. This includes having some standard terms and conditions to operate under. Having a sensible contract enables you to state clearly who has responsibility for what and what each party have agreed to do for the other.
  • Be highly organised and focused. If you are working from home you will face additional challenges, but the key is being able to manage your life and work balance. Freelancing work provides opportunity to work flexible hours, but the mistake by many is not to manage their time and work properly. The key to this is simple planning and commitment.
  • Set up a work discipline so you don't mix up freedom with flexibility and end up taking too much time off and not achieving your business goals. So start off by setting up some goals for yourself, measure your success against those goals and then revisit how you achieved against them. Self-auditing is a key to growing your success.
  • Offer a high level of consistent service so your clients grow to rely on you or refer you to your competitors. If you are seen as reliable at providing a high level of service, you won't have to spend much on marketing, as word of mouth will do this for you. Whereas, perform erratically or offer a mixed level of service you will find it hard to get work consistently. Consistent effort usually translates to consistent work flow.
  • Network with everyone you can think of including other freelancers as they are likely to help you and be prepared to work in affiliations or network groups. Share opportunities with others where you cannot take the work alone, as ultimately you will be providing your client with a service they will remember you for, even if you only to refer someone who can help them.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Always review what you did well, what you did poorly, what you could do better next time and then implement your "lessons learnt".
  • Choose your clients wisely. It is no good having a great client if they don't pay you. So choose a client with a high likelihood of paying you. Just as important is managing the "hard to satisfy customers" - remember it is easier to do a good job with a happy client. Yes, choose clients that are easy to work with above a client who is difficult and hard to please. The latter require much more work from you, for a lower return. Whereas, choose clients that work well with you, are in tune with you, and you will find the work far easier and therefore generally more profitable. Don't be afraid to say no to some clients. Saying no, may be the best decision you make in the longer term. Saying yes always is not necessarily the right approach.
  • Don't forget to live your own personal, family and social life, as you are no good to anyone if you are exhausted and don't have anything left for the more important things in your life. Remember there is balance.

Get Appropriate Advice or Learn How to Run a Business

This is about remembering you run a business at the same time as you deliver on your commitments (your freelance services) to your clients. If you have not had any formal business training, then look to sources that can help you. All State Governments have business centres you can tap into and they provide great resources and help if you ask for it. There are also various industry bodies and associations that will provide you with tools to help you. For example, if you look at the Australian Association of Professional Bookkeepers Ltd which is a Not for Profit association established to help bookkeepers and more importantly their clients. They believe that "with a positive attitude, imagination, knowledge, belief and effort you can turn a dream into reality". This sounds like good advice for a freelancer, so get out there!

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