Starting out as a freelancer is a huge step, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It offers huge benefits, but also comes with its own unique host of challenges. If you think having a boss is hard and dream of being the boss, remember that as a freelancer you could end up with a dozen bosses, all of whom can fire you by simply not offering more work. It can be stressful and hard work, but the payoff can be spectacular in terms of both earnings and lifestyle improvements. Here are seven top tips for creative professionals looking to get started making money as a freelancer.
Start as a side hustle
My first advice to anyone who wants to start as a freelancer is to give it a try as a side hustle. Quitting your job to freelance may work out well, but jumping with no net might not work out. I know several former freelancers who hated the lifestyle and struggled with clients and ended up back at a day job. If you have a job you like and where you are doing well, don’t start freelancing by quitting your job. Start freelancing on evenings and weekends.
I started my freelance writing career as a side hustle when I founded my blog, Personal Profitability, back in 2008. In 2015, I reached $40,000 in revenue and quit my job in 2016. If you need help with math, that means it took me 8 years from the time I started writing about money online before it became a full-time career. Of course, someone with more focus and dedication can do it much quicker, but don’t risk your livelihood without having tested it out. Having a few clients already onboard makes the financial transition much easier as well.
Raise your rates until someone says no
My first freelance article paid me about $10. It wasn’t long before I made it big and hit the $25 to $35 range. Today, I make about ten times that for every article I write. While it took time to get to these rates, I should have done it faster by more aggressively raising my rates. While I knew I had the right skills and delivered a top quality product, I fell into the trap of of focusing more on what I charged other clients than the value I delivered.
Never undervalue yourself or your services. Keep on pushing until you find out the value someone else thinks you’re worth. If you offer a rate first and the prospective client jumps and says yes, you know you went too low. But finding the sweet spot takes time, research, and experience working with a handful of high quality clients.
Stretch your skills
When I was early in my full-time freelance career, I was both a WordPress developer and finance writer. I knew how to write, and could always research topics I wasn’t as familiar with, but with web development skills work differently. I had to learn new things to build better and better websites for my clients. But what should I have done when one client (just weeks before my wedding and honeymoon) asked me to do something I didn’t know how to do? I said yes!
Of course, it was stressful, and I remember sitting at my desk hacking away at the code to get it to work as my wife packed her bags for our big trip to get married and celebrate. But in the end, I figured it out and the client was happy. They even came back and asked to hire me again in the future! Never say no, just offer a longer time horizon to complete the project. You can always figure it out.
Under promise, over deliver
The fastest way to disappoint a client, or anyone really, is to make a promise and leave it unfulfilled. One of the best client experiences is when a promise is fulfilled and expectations are exceeded. As a Boy Scout camp staffer for seven summers, “under promise, over deliver” was our primary customer service slogan. I hold to it with everything I do today.
Think of it like when you go see a hyped up new movie. Because you expect it to be so good, it might miss expectations and leave you disappointed, even if the movie was good on its own. Going into a move with low expectations, it is easier to leave happy because even a mediocre result will beat what you expect. Clients, bosses, and coworkers think about you the exact same way.
Meet clients in person
Most of my client relationships are maintained online, and many start there. But there is nothing more valuable to my business relationships than meeting a client in person. I see many clients at conferences related to what I do, but you can add a layer of professionalism and wow factor by showing up in their office or making a point to meet them in person when you are in the same town. As long as you are well groomed, keep the conversation appropriate, and avoid getting embarrassingly drunk, there is little that can go wrong and a lot to gain.
Your clients likely have more than one writer at any given time, plus they have in-house staff. When it comes time to choose who should write the next piece, or edit the next video, or whatever it is you do, you want to be top of mind. You want to be the first one they think of. To get there, make sure your clients perceive you as available and friendly, and reinforce it all by building a personal relationship.
Dip your toe in the water before you dive in
The first tip in this list is most important. Don’t just start freelancing on a whim. Don’t give your boss the finger and walk away, assuming you’ll have the same paycheck you left within a few weeks. Start slowly. Build up a client list and emergency savings account. Let your clients know you’re going to be ready for more work when you are ready to go full-time, and you will have a much smoother transition with a nice income waiting on the other side. If you keep your clients happy, raise your rates, and build strong relationships, you will have a great career in the world of creative freelancers.