These tips for freelancers will get you will on the way to running a smooth business.
If you’ve worked in a 9-5 job for as long as you remember, then going freelance can be really difficult. You’ll be learning new skills and you’ll have a to-do list that never ends. You’ll become the accounts, design, marketing and sales team all at the same time.
I went freelance as soon as I left university, and I’ve discovered a lot of things along the way. I made some mistakes to get there, which is why I’m writing this post for you. Stick to these tips for freelancers, and you’ll be just fine.
Make a note of all your start-up costs.
VAT can be claimed back on some things you buy to assist you with your business, e.g. a new laptop, any software, hosting costs, etc. Make sure you keep a note in a spreadsheet of what you bought when starting out, and you might be able to claim a refund. This is the one thing I didn’t do and had to go back through 4 months of bank statements.
Learn all the ‘techy’ stuff.
I learnt so much marketing jargon through having my own business. I learnt about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), how to use Google Analytics, how to copy-write good website content, PPC, what keywords to use and why, and started to create my own infographics and social media photos using software such as Canva.
It might seem boring, but if you want your website to be found online, you need to pay attention to it.
Find your ‘work spot’ and stick to it.
You should have a specified room in the house, or a certain place, where you go to work. The idea is that that spot is for working. When you’re not sat in it, you don’t work. Similarly, if you are sat in it, then don’t be scrolling through Facebook. Train yourself to leave your desk in your lunch break: sit in a different room or on a different half of the table.
Be seriously organised.
There’s nothing worse than forgetting about a due project having not even started it. I’ve heard of other editors receiving an email from a client on the due date, and they had completely forgotten about it.
Calendars are your best friend. Keep your work calendar and social calendar separate. That work—home balance needs to be steady. Also keep a spreadsheet of all your invoices: when the project came in, when the project was sent back, when you sent the invoice, and when you received payment. Colour-code them by projects to start, projects that are underway, and projects that are completed.
This is part of my spreadsheet. It lists the client, their invoice number, the dates everything came in and went back. Then it goes on to the payment breakdown. It works out for me the average amount of income, the average charge per 1000 words, and my average hourly rate. It’s got loads of formulas so everything is together.
As you can see, if I don’t put the payment terms of 30 days in, it sets a date in 1900. No idea why it does that, but as soon as I put in all the correct date in “Invoice Sent” and then a 30 day payment plan, it works out the correct one.
To save you the trouble of creating a massive document such as mine, you can invest in some accounting software like Quickbooks. You can automatically create invoices, and keep track of your payments. When the tax year comes around, it’s much easier to track what’s gone in and out over the year.
And please, please save your stuff elsewhere that isn’t your computer. A USB, a hard drive or a cloud somewhere would be excellent. I couldn’t imagine spending 20 hours on a manuscript only for it to get deleted.
Don’t spend all your money on everything in one go.
People often think that spending lots of money when you start out is the best way: they buy advertising, domain names and self-hosting, software, new equipment, etc. You really need to prioritise what is being spent, and think ‘Will it bring in new income?’. If not, reconsider buying it.
I bought some advertising off a certain company (not naming anyone). I was tied in for 12 months, which was fine at the time, but they have brought me zero business. No sales, no enquiries, nothing. It cost me £25 per month for 12 months, and has brought me no money. That was a complete waste, that could have gone on promoting my Twitter account.
Remember, you don’t need a domain email straight away, don’t spend thousands of pounds on a logo, and don’t pay someone to do your website. You can create your own website, like mine, free of charge.
You don’t need a logo within a week of your business going live, because I promise you it won’t bring you custom. There are other, more important things that will bring customers to you, such as good website content.
You need to outreach to your clients.
This is the biggest of my tips for freelancers! I think many freelancers get their business up and running, then sit around and wait for their customers to approach them. The amount of times I’ve heard “No one is visiting my website, or getting in touch”.
You need to go out and search for your clients. Follow some relevant people on Twitter, especially if they’re the sort of people that will eventually buy business off you. I follow over 2,000 authors, and interact with them in the hope that they will start to recognise my company name when I post things.
Visit some blogs and comment on other peoples’ posts. Also do this on Twitter and Instagram. If you like their post, they receive a notification and then have a ‘stalk’ (because we’ve all done it) and they will then go through to your website if it’s linked in your bio.
I personally have found networking to be quite good: everyone knows someone who has written a book, so I network in my local area. You can become a member of a networking company, who will organise the events. But again don’t sign up straight away. You can normally do a pay-as-you-go for the events to find the company that is right for you.
A lot of the companies have different types of freelancers. One might have more trades people, but you might be looking for graphic designers, so go with the best fit for you. A good example, who I’m currently a member of, is the Chamber of Commerce.
Take on any work, even if it’s free.
You need to build up a clientele, and the only way you can do that is to get experience and clients. Advertise yourself as free to begin with.
A lot of freelancers disagree with me on this, but I edited 3 books for free. I could then add them to my portfolio on my website. It gave me a head start, and some experience before I started charging money. I also asked my clients, in return, to write a review on my Facebook page.
It takes time to build up a reputable company, so when things get tough, don’t give up too quickly. It can take a few years for Google to trust your site enough to put it high in search rankings. Stick it out, build up your clientele, and your business will take care of itself.
I’ve really enjoyed writing this post, and there are so many more tips for freelancers I could give!
*This post is in collaboration with Quickbooks, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.