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10 Tips for Freelancers

The year after I graduated with my M.A. in English, I was working at a non-profit on the South Side of Chicago as a grant writer, making $35,00 a year. Life isn't cheap, and I had extra time, so I started looking for freelance writing jobs. Online job hunting (especially for freelance gigs) is time-consuming and a bit futile. My best tip for finding freelance jobs is to start with people you know. Word of mouth has helped me land numerous jobs and keeps me accountable. Sometimes, friends or acquaintances will ask for "favors" (ie, free work), which required the establishment of some firm boundaries. This article by Susan Bond, published by Fast Company, explores the ins and outs of self-employment, urging freelancers to re-brand themselves as businesses.

“Telling someone you own a business gives you instant credibility. It signals that you’re serious about your work. Business owners are professional. Business owner are savvy. Businesses solve problems for other businesses. Having a business is a commitment, signaling that the client’s project is likely to get your focused effort. Telling prospects that you have a business can also influence whether you land a project in the first place.”

She makes a good point—if you create online content for businesses, tell people that. Don’t say you’re a freelance copywriter, say you’re a copywriter.

With that, here are my top 10 best tips for booking clients as a freelancer.

1. Look for projects/clients whose needs you can meet.

Not a medical copywriter? Don’t apply for a medical copy writing job. The more you can drill down the niche, the better chance you have of acquiring and retaining loyal clients, and you’ll also be better able to monetize your expertise.

2. Clearly define each project’s scope and schedule.

Nothing is quite as irritating to a client than being billed for more hours than they expected, or waiting too long for a project to be completed. It’s your responsibility to clarify how long the project should take and what they can expect as far as updates and reports along the way. Check out these 5 basic contracts for freelancers—my favorite is the Statement of Work because it adds clarity and simplicity to what may seem like a complex or overwhelming process.

3. Consider applying to jobs in different time zones.

Hear me out on this one: say you live in California, and you’re working with a client in Belgium. There’s a 9-hour time difference, so if you complete a project on a Tuesday evening, your Belgium client will receive it first thing Wednesday morning. Great feelings all around! There are a million ways to connect with foreign clients online, but I don’t suggest using platforms such as Upwork since they take a good chunk of your earnings. Consider making an Upwork profile and using it to find potential (serious) clients, then take the conversation off the Upwork platform.

4. Don’t sell yourself short.

If you charge $20/hour, but you’re worth $40/hour, you’re doing yourself a disservice and your clients are going to think you’re not worth more. It's difficult to raise your rates once clients are accustomed to a certain price. Research what your colleagues in the workforce make; for example, if you’re a freelance copywriter, find out what a company copywriter makes in your area through avenues such as Glassdoor. If you’re still not sure what to charge, check out this quick and easy outline of standard freelance rates, keeping in mind that if you freelance full time, you might have to buy your own health insurance and file your own taxes, so your hourly rate may be higher than that of a corporate employee.

5. Don’t be flaky.

If you say you’ll have a project done by next Wednesday, finish it by next Wednesday. Very simply, take pride in your work! Your reputation is on the line, so strive to be the best you can be. If you need extra time to finish something, be sure to communicate with your client well ahead of the due date. They will appreciate your candor, and your reputation won’t be tarnished.

6. Invite clients to conduct a Skype or in-person interview to really let your personality shine.

Most clients prefer to really get a feel for a freelancer before hiring one, and for good reason! If you refuse a Skype or in-person interview, it looks fishy and you’ll likely be passed up. Use the interview to emphasize your strengths and illustrate how you will make your client’s life easier.

7. Be wary of last-minute deals.

Could you finish that last-minute exposé by midnight tomorrow? Probably. Is that how you want to conduct your business? Probably not. I like to plan out my projects weeks in advance, and if I have time for a last-minute project, I’ll take one but it isn’t my norm. One beautiful thing about freelancing is the ability to create your own schedule, so take advantage of your flexibility.

8. Identify possible clients in your everyday life.

Maybe your hairdresser’s website could really use a revamp and you offer your services for a discount. This helps get your name out there, builds your portfolio, and creates warm and fuzzy feels all around. Let your friends and acquaintances know you’re up for business and they might know someone who needs your services. The bigger your circle, the more opportunities you’ll find.

9. Maintain a website or portfolio.

How else are people going to find you? Keep your LinkedIn up-to-date, and consider starting a blog, writing an e-book, creating a business landing site, or some other deliverable. Having an audience means having a bigger pool of potential clients, and don’t freak out about building a website. Wix, Wordpress, Squarespace and other platforms are extremely navigable, and if you really need help, find a *freelance* website designer who can help.

10. Be open to trying new things.

Maybe your niche is health/wellness, buy you’re also interested in design. Create a couple mock-ups and see if you can gain any traction in a new field. Writers are some of the smartest people out there, because to write well about a topic requires a deep understanding of it. If you’re bored writing in one niche, challenge yourself with something else. You’ll never grow if you don’t stretch yourself.

P.S. I use Venmo or Paypal for quick and easy payments. An ongoing client may require you to fill out a 1040, which just makes tax season easier on everybody.


Sarah Rose

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