The thought of freelancing has been lurking inside me ever since I was in college. I always wanted to be independent and work for myself. Yet, I was afraid to take that plunge for a very long time. I was always almost ready. But, quitting a decent job is usually not the easiest thing to do when you have kids and a mortgage. And so I procrastinated.
Everyone blames the economy for their troubles, but I am thankful because it pushed me to do what I needed to do. Starting to freelance after I was laid off was the obvious choice.
It’s been only 10 months since I took on the first client but it seems like a very long time ago. And that’s purely because a lot has changed. Not only have I learned new skills that have helped me to grow as a freelance designer. Just as importantly, I’ve learned a lot about running a business. And I’m going to share it with you.
7 Tips to Successful Freelancing
Create a Strategy
The worst thing you can do to is to be random and unorganized about your freelancing business. Like with any other business, you need a solid and clear strategy. Create a business plan before you create anything else. Ideally, you want to create a 5 year plan. This will allow you to stay focused on your long term goals and create a clear path for future growth.
You also need your business strategy to be scalable so it can grow with you. The trick is to narrow your focus without narrowing your options.
This one should be obvious but still we get so involved with what’s at hand that we tend to forget about this simple principle. If you offer something that’s unique, you will have a better chance of succeeding than if you provide what everyone else is already bringing to the table.
Uniqueness is what makes you stand out and separates you from your competition. Find your niche and dominate it. Don’t try to do everything well. Do one thing perfectly and you will stand out in your area.
Being small gives you few advantages you could focus on. For example offering more personalized attention, flexibility and availability.
Value Your Service
When we are starting out and don’t have any portfolio to show off, we tend to go the discount route just to get our foot in the door. There is nothing wrong with offering to work for very little or no pay in the beginning. You do get those first clients, build your portfolio and make some money along the way. The problem is to recognize when to stop and re-evaluate your position.
Pricing your services / products appropriately is very tricky. It is a balancing act that sometimes clears itself out through trial and error. Just remember that no one will value your services if you won’t.
Focus on Quality
Repeat and referral business is a cornerstone in our line of work. We are oftentimes dependent on it, when things are slow or our marketing efforts fruitless. That’s why it is crucial that we treat our current clients as best as we can, giving them what they want (paid for) and beyond. Focus on quality, not volume.
Whether it’s throwing in something extra, offering a free upgrade or giving them a future discount, it will boost your chances of more direct or indirect business through that client.
Choose Your Clients Wisely
Many freelancers make the mistake of agreeing to any work, regardless of who the client is. Screening your client is just as important for you as it is for your client to research designers. There are many clients from hell, who you most certainly want to avoid. They are not worth the stress and aggravation. There are also projects where the interests of your client don’t match with yours. Don’t take gigs that you are not excited about because the quality will suffer.
Network. Network. Network. That old tune rings true. You will need to make effort to reach out to your potential clients. Whether it’s via social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, or being active within a design community through blogs and forums. For one, you never know where your next client will turn up. But just as importantly, you will learn new skills, share ideas, get feedback, stay informed and be able to grow.
Take A Break
Once you start freelancing, it can get crazy pretty quickly. The more you do it, the more you like it. It’s hard to stop and let go, if only for a day. But it’s a necessity. First of all, you want to avoid burnouts. It’s the number one killer of creativity and it will create setbacks. Secondly, you need to take the time to step back and re-assess your model/position once a while.
Whether you just need to clear your head or brainstorm new ideas, taking time to relax should be on your priority list.
It is important to recognize that mistakes are part of the learning curve. Mistakes lead to success because we learn from them and re-adjust our strategy accordingly, creating a stronger model. Don’t worry too much about your competition. If you are doing things right, you will be recognized and valued. Growth and success will come naturally.