Freelancing 101: The Ultimate Getting Started Guide
First Things First
So you’ve decided to take your talent on the road and become a freelancer! Like anything new, the first challenge you’ll encounter is knowing where exactly to start. What do you need to know? What do you need to be aware of? What are the benefits? The pitfalls? What steps can you take to succeed?
Freelancing can be both financially lucrative and personally fulfilling. It’s a dream lifestyle for many. It provides an opportunity to be your own boss, set your own terms, work when you choose and if what you do lends itself to be done from anywhere – to work remotely. You choose the clients you work with, how to go about the job – and all the risks, rewards and responsibilities are yours to command.
Getting started as a freelancer requires thought, planning and organisation. In this guide, we’ll break down some of the key factors in creating a successful freelancing career!
Success often comes down to passion. Passion drives will – when the going gets tough – passion will give you that extra emotional push to hang in there and persevere. Passion gives you seemingly indefatigable energy and commitment.
Freelancing is all about you. Your talents, your choices. Look within yourself to discover what you really love doing – and excel at – most. How do you think you could make a positive difference to people’s businesses? What value could you add, that no one else could?
Keep it Real
A mistake freelancers can make in the early stages is to oversell their abilities.
For example, someone who is proficient in basic word processing and spreadsheets may consider marketing themselves as a professional writer or administrative expert, with the mindset that inflating their skill set will make their resume/profile more appealing to potential clients. This kind of thinking can lead to many problems – for both you and your clients.
Excessive levels of expectation will leave you in the stressful predicament of being unable to complete tasks successfully, leaving clients dissatisfied with your service and seeking assistance elsewhere.
By being upfront about your capabilities from the beginning, parameters are clear and understood. Clients know what you can do and what to expect. You’ll be offered work you are confident and skilled in to execute at a high level. This is the foundation you want to work from!
Always be realistic on what you can achieve – and what you cannot. It’s never wise to over-promote yourself in a bid to land a contract. Be ethical and honest about what you’re capable of. If you’re looking to upskill, invest in further training – don’t experiment with paying clients!
Embrace (and Leverage) Your Uniqueness
Freelancing is essentially making you and your unique skill set, your business. The key to any successful business is a strong UVP (unique value proposition). In the case of freelancing, that’s everything that makes you, you!
Leverage your unique personality and approach to what you do, to stand out, network, connect and be remembered!
Don’t let the details let you down.
Describing yourself as someone who has “excellent attention to detail” then following that up with poor grammar, misspelt words or typos will make clients question your credibility.
Remote work is especially based on written communication. Get into the habit of taking a moment to check for any errors, before hitting send. Even better, delegate your proofreading to an automated app, like Grammarly.
Prioritize Client Experience
A vital aspect of being a successful freelancer is simply being nice to your clients. Treating them with courtesy and respect – even and especially when a project hits a bump in the road.
Keep in mind the client is paying for your expertise and has entrusted you to get the job done at a professional level.
Listen to your client’s needs and give your professional perspective. If your client’s request isn’t the best fit for their situation – steer them in the right direction. Speak up! Your clients will love you for it.
When providing information, keep it concise and easy for someone not in your industry to understand. Don’t confuse clients with complex terminology and long-winded explanations.
Excellent customer service builds something invaluable – trust. As a freelancer, trust from your clients is the promised land! Earn and honour this trust and you won’t be able to stop from being successful.
Set Viable Rates
Resist the urge to set your rates too low. While it’s tempting to keep dropping your prices just to land some projects and get some money in the bank, it can be a quick road to burn-out and minimal rewards.
When you set your rates, consider the following:
- What is your experience level? If you’re just starting out and are looking primarily at entry level positions to learn new skills and gain experience, your rate will be much lower. On the other hand, if you’re a seasoned expert and will add huge value to projects you work on, don’t be shy in asking what you are worth!
- What are your business expenses? Keep track of your business expenses using free accounting software such as Wave. Even a simple Google Sheetwill do the trick. The point is to know the expenses your freelancing income needs to cover to break even – and make a profit!
- Make your cost of living work for you. If you’re based in a country with a lower cost of living, you can leverage that advantage to offer your services at more competitive rates.
Know Thy Tax
Know how you’re going to handle taxation before you work with your first client. By sorting out your tax requirements at the very beginning, you’ll avoid running into any costly surprises down the road.
Taxation laws will be unique to your residency and location. For example, you may be a Dutch citizen but based and remote working from South America. Be sure only to use government websites for any self-directed internet research – taking tax advice from posts in expat forums dated two years ago is probably not a good idea! Ideally, seek the expertise of a tax professional.
Consider hiring a bookkeeper for the day-to-day record keeping and a CPA (Chartered Practising Accountant) to oversee tax filings and end of year accounts. An accountant can also provide meaningful reports and recommendations as your business grows.
An Ounce of Perspective…
The number one attribute any client is looking for is a worker who can “fill in the blanks”. Someone who is proactive. Someone who adds value.
When working with a client, always ask yourself how your contribution fits into the overall picture. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. What are they trying to achieve with their business?
This is a HUGE way to stand out to your clients and secure ongoing work. Initiative is hard to find – when clients spot it, they’ll definitely take notice!
When a deadline is set – honour it.
Missed deadlines can negatively impact your client’s business, dramatically. Businesses have a lot of moving parts – many different forces are at play in bringing tasks and projects to fruition. Missed deliveries throw out plans and timelines and can cost businesses not only money, but also reputation and professional relationships.
Be clear on deadline requirements before commencing with a project and only commit if you know you can deliver on time.
Make Your Move
You should now be crystal on what it takes to get started as a freelancer – and what it takes to become successful!
- Do what you love.
- Know your tax responsibilities.
- Set viable rates.
- Set reasonable expectations (it’s infinitely better to exceed expectations rather than disappoint!).
- Let big picture thinking guide your input and deliverables (how does your work help achieve your client’s goals?).
- Deliver on time and to spec (seemingly obvious but this alone will build your client list tenfold!).
Once you’ve identified your unique value proposition and are 100% confident in your ability to add real value to a client’s business – it’s time to put yourself out there and get hired!
Ready to provide an amazing freelance service to paying clients?
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