Linkedin would have to be one of the weirdest corners of the internet. Between the impersonal connection requests and inability to privately stalk people, it’s hard to see the point. Today I was congratulated for my work anniversary, with ‘huh?’ being my initial reaction. An entire year has passed since I jumped ship and went freelance and I’m actually in shock it has flown by so fast. This time last year I had no idea what I was doing. I had just quit my full-time job, with little-to-no money saved, no work lined up and a one way ticket to Europe on my wish list.
There are a lot of highs and lows when it comes to freelancing, and you learn pretty quickly that running a business isn’t as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be. A few tips that personally helped me along the way might be of value to you—especially if you’re thinking about working for yourself.
Keep your folio updated.
After the nightmare most grads experience putting their portfolios together, I understand the lack of motivation to keep it updated once you’ve landed a good job. The trouble is while that job is great for present you, future you might become slightly underwhelmed.
We grow so much in the first years after graduating and with time you might be looking for a change of scene, a higher position or a different role altogether. Keeping your folio as updated as possible means you’ll be ready when an amazing opportunity presents itself—not the stressed, sweaty mess of a person you become when you’re trying to pull 2 years of work together for an unexpected application.
When it comes to freelancing, your folio is one of your greatest assets. It’s what generates business and is a hub for people to learn about your skills, experience and personality. Whether those people be potential clients or studio’s looking for extra help on a project is irrelevant, they won’t contact you if there is nothing there.
Always write a proposal.
Extremely time consuming, tedious and you usually don’t get paid to do them ... writing proposals are a massive drainer but they have to be done. A proposal sets the expectations for a project, defining costs, deliverables and timelines. It provides both parties a sense of security and can be signed as a contract when everything has been agreed on.
Nothing burns more than the flame of a client not paying you. Proposals and contracts demonstrate your level of professionalism while covering your ass if something goes wrong. If a client is funny about signing for agreed terms and conditions, that’s a massive red flag and my advice is to turn around and run.
Create a rate sheet.
I hate talking about money. My life is not driven by a salary level and I don’t believe success is measured by your bank account. This has made me a terrible business person in the past, and something I’m continually trying to improve on. Money is an integral part of business and you have to get comfortable talking about. There’s nothing more awkward then being asked your day rate on the telephone and you going blank because you don’t know the answer, or you’re scared you’ll say a number too high—or worse—too low.
Something that really helped me was creating a rate sheet. I realised not all jobs are the same and what you charge can vary based on the circumstances. For example my day rate working in a large studio where I know I’ll be working long hours, likely under a lot of pressure is my highest rate. Similarly if it’s work that doesn’t particularly excite me, it needs to be worth my while financially. Smaller studios have another, slightly lower rate because a lot of the time their budgets just wouldn’t enable it. Having said that, these environments can be particularly rewarding in ways that aren’t necessarily monetary.
There are always going to be factors in play but writing down a list of common scenarios and what you charge for them is a great way to start. Not sure what to charge? Start with what you think you deserve and then send it to people you trust to receive honest feedback. Most of the time people are undercharging, so asking for a second opinion on your rates could be the difference between making rent or not.
Get your shit together, for realsies!
You absolutely have to be organised when it comes to your business. If you’ve just started freelancing I highly doubt you can afford a personal assistant to schedule your meetings, presentations and deadlines.
Oh you can’t afford one? Didn’t think so.
The best tool for me is TeuxDeux and something I was already using daily so integrating it into my workflow was simple. TeuxDeux is a calendar based to-do app, however I mainly use it in my browser. I’ve set Chrome to always open it as the first page so I see it before I get distracted by Gmail or Facebook. For some it’s using a calendar, a diary, a notes app—it really doesn’t matter. Save the self-sabotage and figure out what works for you early on.
Find a rhythm for accounting.
Blurgh. Accounting is definitely up there with writing proposals but if you don’t invoice, you don’t get paid and a girl’s gotta eat! Depending on the type of work your doing, you could be invoicing on a per project, monthly or weekly basis which all require different amounts of time and management. When I was working at Christopher Doyle & Co. I was invoicing weekly, and changing details manually in InDesign became too hard to keep on top of, so I started using Freshbooks.
As much as I love having control over the design of my invoices this made my life so much easier. I was able to see what I had sent, as well as tracking how much I was earning over different months. I now only invoice monthly so I’m back to doing it manually, however would definitely use Freshbooks again if my invoice patterns changed.
Wear appropriate attire.
For the love of god, put some pants on. If you’re working from home it’s so easy to fall into the trap of rolling out of bed at 8:55 and working until 6pm still wearing your matching flannelette pyjamas. One day you’ll catch yourself in the reflection of your computer and wonder what the hell you are doing with your life. You need a morning routine as if you were going to a job where you have to be seen in appropriate attire by other human beings. When I lived in Bondi and worked from home for a few weeks, there was a small cafe around the corner from my apartment. Something as simple as getting outside, walking around the block and grabbing a coffee, gave so much more structure to my day.
Remember being a freelancer can be a beautiful thing, but I assure you all hell will break loose if you aren’t organised. Are any of you thinking about or have recently gone freelance? I want to know what has helped you!