The term “freelancer” used to have a negative connotation to it. If someone asked you at a dinner party what you did for a living and you said, “I’m a freelance (blank),” they’d probably think you were lazy and broke. But times have changed and they’re changing quickly! Today, freelancing has become the norm for many creatives who earn a full-time living off a string of contracts or a secondary stream of income from part-time work.
I started my full-time freelance career three years ago and it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride. Not the nauseating kind where you’d pay money to get the hell off. It’s been the kind of ride that has seen many ups and some downs, that’s allowed me to feel all the feels, and learn about myself in ways I never thought imaginable. Going back to a 9-5 job isn’t an option at this point because I’ve seen too many rewards and I’m too stubborn to give up the freedom that comes with it.
When you become a freelancer, you’re essentially your own boss and when you become your own boss for the first time, you’ll find great joy in the progress and achievements you make. That being said, you’ll also make a lot of mistakes with no one else to blame but yourself which can either empower you to do better or discourage you from going down a path of total uncertainty. But let me tell you, life is an uncertainty and that’s why some of the downfalls in freelancing are worth it.
If you’re willing to do whatever it takes, to put your skills to good use and make a career out of this, I’d like to give you the biggest congratulations and welcome you to the club! As you get the ball rolling, here’s what every freelancer should keep in mind for a long and successful road ahead.
- PUT IN THE WORK TO GET WORK
Momentum is so important when it comes to having a long and successful career as a freelancer. You can’t always depend on contracts to come through or partnerships to pan out, so when you’re not working on a paid project, you have to be creating on your own time and own dime. Putting in the work will keep you relevant in your given field and consistently executing on those “unpaid” ideas will allow you to find an audience and clients when you least expect it. Not just that, momentum will allow you to keep your skills sharp and prepared when opportunity strikes.
2. BE ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Freelancing is a business and so are you. In the digital age we live in, it’s vital that you look at social media as a free marketing tool and public resume. Finding your voice, sharing your ideas, and connecting with fellow freelancers in your field will allow you to brand yourself to a new audience and expand your reach. Activity will breed confidence and give you the chance to build some clout.
3. SECURE ONE STEADY CLIENT BEFORE YOU QUIT YOUR DAY JOB
This is one thing I wish someone had told me when I decided to go full throttle in the freelance world. Unless you have a minimum of 3 months worth of income in your bank account, no financial responsibilities, OR one big client under your belt, do not quit your day job for a full-time freelance career. A steady client should be able to give you financial stability until you secure the next. If you dive in without any type of security, you might struggle to keep your head held high as you vie for your first contract while trying to keep afloat.
4. RECOGNIZE THE CONS WHILE KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
Running your own show will see its ups and downs. That’s the first thing to be aware of. The second is, the cons (i.e. unsteady work, late payments, contracts falling through) can easily outweigh the pros and mess with your mindset when they hit. To stay on top of this and to ensure you have a handle on your attitude, stay focused on your goals and remember why you started in the first place. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network to renew your perspective and conjure up new ideas that’ll take your mind of the lows. As my friend and freelance speaker, Blake Fleischacker, once told me, “You can’t make right decisions, you can only make decisions right.” So, if and when shit ever hits the fan, don’t dwell. Understand what went wrong, what you need to do to fix it, and keep going.
5. ALWAYS SAVE MONEY FOR A RAINY DAY
It’s easy to get excited when the first big cheque come in the mail but you can’t let it get to your head, especially when you’re in the infancy of your career. Remember that, cheques might not always come in regularly and you might not book back to back gigs for 12 months straight. Until you get there, be smart with your income, work with a reliable accountant who will help you plan for tax season, and live modestly. You might have a slow month and you don’t want to look back on the month before wishing you hadn’t booked that second getaway. Plan for rainy days.
6. BE WILLING TO INVEST BACK INTO YOUR BUSINESS
Like the old adage goes, you gotta spend money to make money; on the right things of course! Taking yourself and your business seriously means you have to equip yourself with the right tools to get you from point A to point B. Don’t chince out on a new laptop if your old one is preventing you from getting those projects executed and exported on time. Get that entire Adobe suite if it’ll give you an edge this year. Remember that freelancing means you’re running a business. These are office tools and supplies that can be written off come tax season. If it’s going to make your business better, then make that investment.
7. BUILD AND MAINTAIN A STRONG NETWORK
The freelance community is one of the most supportive ones out there. Collaborating with others who have complimentary skill sets to bring a project to life is one of the most exciting things about freelancing. Make it a priority to connect with fellow freelancers on social media, at events, and through friends. Not only can you hire each other on projects but share ideas and resources on an on going basis. Look at this as the work family you get to hand pick; a family who understands the ebs and flows and supports one another.
8. ALWAYS HAVE A CONTRACT IN PLACE BEFORE YOU EXECUTE
Last but certainly not least, do not commit to a project without a contract in place. No matter the scope of the project or the capacity of your role, you want to protect yourself from problems that might arise from start to finish. Whether it’s drafted by you or your client, having both signatures on a dotted line that traces back to a clear description of your responsibilities, deadlines, rates and payment dates, will hold both parties accountable.
As always, the creative community is a strong one and we’re in this together. If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment and share the love!
B. TRU xx