When people say they are freelancers, what exactly do they mean? There are probably as many definitions as freelancers. Still, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a freelancer as a “person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization. A person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”
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An independent contractor falls loosely under the exact definition, except when people speak of contractors, they refer more to people who do manual work or physical labor. In contrast, a freelancer is used for people who do work like photography, writing, or computer programming.
Under this general umbrella fall other terms such as self-employed, work-at-home, and more.
For this blog, all these terms will be used interchangeably for the most part since the tips and ideas that apply to one also apply to the other, and the end goal is the same, to be successful at making a living independent of a fixed employer.
What can you freelance in?
Times have changed, and today you will find more people are beginning to freelance than ever. People have started hating the corporate world, and every day, 9 to 5 rat race and are looking to make money through other avenues. The big question for anyone looking to start freelancing is often what field to freelance in. The exciting thing is that you can become a freelancer in almost any field.
Whether your interest is doll making or even creating a computer game, you can freelance in that area. One important thing to remember when choosing to choose a field is that you must make sure that you are incredibly passionate about it. This will be reflected in your work to a large extent.
Your chances of success are increased by choosing something that interests you. This is because it will be hard to separate you from your passion, and you will most likely willingly spend long hours producing what is required because you’re doing something you enjoy.
Before you begin freelancing, you should also look around the available market for your services. This will significantly help with gathering a target audience for your client list. A target audience makes freelancing easier. I will be discussing these aspects in more detail in future posts. But if you’re thinking about freelancing, start thinking about what things you enjoy doing, what things you’re good at, what things you’re skilled at, and whether there is a market for you. I can guarantee you that there IS a market it may be hard to find or penetrate or already crowded, but there IS a market.
Freelancing is not for the faint of heart – but you can do it.
It takes discipline, determination, and drive to succeed as a freelancer or independent contractor. But then it takes all these things to succeed at anything in life!
When stepping out independently to make a living or an extra income, you have to know that this is something you want to do and that you will be 100% responsible for your success. You need to be ready to accept that responsibility.
One thing that makes many freelancers give up early in the game is that they have unrealistic expectations about how the freelancing world works. I will discuss this more in future posts because these are the key things that will make you succeed. You need to understand the PRINCIPLES of freelancing, the underlying foundational issues, and not just the techniques. The techniques are essential – how to do stuff is something we need to know, but understanding the attitudes and characteristics that will make you succeed is even more crucial than that.
Attitude, drive, determination, personal accountability, the ability to evaluate yourself, honesty, integrity, reliability, the self-discipline to work even when you don’t feel like it… are some things that make for a successful freelancer.
What other foundational things can you think of that make for successful freelancing?
How do you find clients?
So you’ve decided to become a freelancer or independent contractor, figured out what you want to do, and now you’re ready to start. How do you find clients?
This is a question I get a lot from friends, “how do you find work?” Well, the answer depends a lot on what it is you choose to do. In this age of information spread, the web should be one of the first places you look for work/clients. There are many websites with classified ad sections, including your local newspaper! This is an easy way to search for work. A second universal place to find potential clients and work is in the local papers and magazines. Make it a habit to look at the classified section in your local papers daily to see if there is something you can do.
Suppose you’re working on something that involves computers and the internet. You want to look online first because people who need computer work done will frequently be found online in computer-related forums and discussion boards. If you’re going to freelance as a photographer, you may want to scan the classified section of the paper to see if any events are looking for photographers. You may also look at different magazines to see if they’re looking to hire part-time photographers or if they accept submissions from freelancers.
If you’re going to be an independent manual contractor, such as a plumber or tile setter, once again start online, in classified ad websites such as Craiglist. Look at your local paper. Walk around the neighborhoods where a lot of new construction is happening, and introduce yourself. And so on…
There is always work to be done and someone who needs something done. Sometimes, especially in the more flooded markets, you may need to be creative in finding work. You will need to think outside the box to enter the market. One technique that I have used successfully before is to offer free work. Most people will jump at the opportunity to get something for free, which allows you to meet potential new clients.
Finding clients is essential, but how do you hold on to them once you have them? How do you make sure they come back to you? How do you get them to work for you?
Building your client base – keep your clients happy
It’s great to get your first client, your first gig, and your first payment. Ideally, you want to have a repeat of this experience. You want more clients, more work, and more pay! That’s the idea of freelancing, right? It’s to make money! And to make money, you need more than one client, many clients, more work, and continuing work. You need to build your client base.
Some will be one-time clients you never see again, and others will return clients that come back to you with more work. You want to attract both of these types of clients when starting. As you continue and become more established, you will want to focus your time and effort on retaining your return clients, but when you’re starting out, it’s important to cultivate both.
When you get your first client, and any client, your goal should always be to impress! Blow them out of the water with speed, efficiency, quality of work, and professionalism. Make your clients happy because happy clients come back and talk.
Let’s look at these two facts:
Happy clients return
My experience has been that if I deliver good quality work within the agreed-on time and at a reasonable price, my clients almost always come back the next time they need work done. I have had clients contact me a year after I did work for them, asking about my availability. I always consider this a huge compliment because it means I was memorable! I did something right so they cared enough to hold on to my contact information. This is important because as you progress as a freelancer, your client return rate will become an essential measure of your success.
Happy clients talk
Guess what – if they need something done, especially something professional, the odds are that they know other people who need the same thing done. One of my most significant sources of work is referrals from my past clients.
A few months into freelancing, I started getting emails from people I didn’t know, and they would all start with, “Mr.X referred me to you; he said that you could help me with….” This was exciting for me because it was an endorsement of my work and an unexpected advertisement source.
The flip side of this coin is also accurate and equally important – unhappy clients talk! If you consistently don’t deliver quality work, you will lose ground in the market because people share information. And with the internet being such an open space, it’s easy to lose your ground before you start if you make the wrong moves.
So the first and most crucial part of building your client base is to make and keep your clients happy!
Harnessing the Power of the Internet as a Freelancer
One of the most powerful lessons a freelancer can learn is how to harness the power of the internet to find clients, advertise, and build a vast and far-reaching business.
Today’s internet has evolved and becomes a dynamic giant with great potential. No longer is the web comprised only of static informational pages that users read and have no interaction with. Today, the internet is based on interaction, whether it’s as simple as clicking a button to take a poll or survey or as complex as creating communities and profiles and joining vast networks with people you will most likely never meet face to face.
This interactive nature of the internet can be an excellent resource for the freelancer, and it is essential to learn to harness the power available at your fingertips. When people think of the internet in the context of freelancing, they usually think of computer professionals, such as web designers, programmers, writers, etc. But the internet has excellent benefits also for freelancers in other disciplines that are not as computer-involved, such as carpenters, masons, plumbers, weavers, carvers, etc.
Let us explore how the internet’s power is available to all trades and crafts:
You can use the internet to learn more about your trade, whether it’s picking up new skills, or honing your current skills, learning new tricks, and so on.
There are groups and forums for almost every imaginable thing under the sun. If you don’t believe me, just Google whatever interests you and add the words “user group,” “discussion group,” or “forum” to your search, and you’ll be surprised by what you find.
To prove this point, I searched for Basket Weaving discussion groups and pulled up over a million results! These groups are an excellent resource for freelancers because they serve as a place to exchange ideas, build relationships, and sometimes find clients, as discussed in the next point.
Of course, this is the most important thing for any freelancer is to find clients. No matter what your craft or trade, someone is looking for just that, and usually, the first place most people look today is the internet. I will be talking more about how to leverage the power of the various internet resources to find those who need your services and how to make sure they find you, and I have touched on this before. Still, one way is also through the networking opportunities I mentioned above.
There are many other ways you can harness the internet and leverage it for your benefit as a freelancer. The point of this post is to get you exploring and provoke you to put your thinking cap on and look at the internet as more than you currently imagine it to be.