The world of freelancing is often a tricky and convoluted one; it can be difficult to break into, tough to find clients, and even more challenging to have your services considered legitimate and necessary by customers and clients. Typically, creatives who offer services through their own side hustles or freelancing businesses have put in hours of hard work to prove themselves and learn many lessons along the way.
If you’re a creative who sells services as a freelancer, chances are you have experienced many of the normal frustrations and challenges freelancers everywhere go through, especially when changing your business or work practices. Where to find clients, how to advertise, taxes, accounting…it all adds up and can be extremely daunting. There are, however, a few small changes you can make as a creative to make your business more legitimate and improve upon your existing practices. And these tips are coming from someone who has been there, done that, and learned a valuable lesson or two along the way about becoming a legitimate freelancer (that’s me!).
Use Contracts – Seriously
When I first started freelancing, I had only three to four clients and didn’t take the necessity of contracts very seriously. In fact, I considered email correspondence to be the only “legally binding” evidence I needed to show that both myself and a client had agreed upon a scope of work, due dates, and rates.
I also met many other freelance creatives who too forewent the use of contracts. It was only after reading a blog article from a freelancer friend of mine about the importance of contracts that I realized contracts help protect both myself as a freelancer and my clients as customers of my services.
I drafted a contract template, had my lawyer look it over and approve it, and since that day, I have been a faithful user of contracts. The lesson to take away here is that contracts help you as a freelancer because they outline every single detail about your project and ensure you receive compensation for your work.
They should be a necessary component of your freelancing business and do not have to be overwhelming. Consider using Shake to draft a template or sit down with a lawyer to create a contract template that works for you.
Consider Your Rates
Pricing and setting your rates is one of the biggest challenges we go through as freelancers, especially as our rates can and often do change as we gain more experience and exposure. We’re afraid of pricing our services too high and scaring away clients, and pricing them too low to the point where we earn little profit.
One of the easiest ways to determine your initial rates is to begin by doing competitor research. Begin by researching freelancers in your area who offer similar services to yours, and see how they price their own services.
If you’d like to reach clients outside of your locale, research typical rates for your niche. You can also determine what your rates should be by setting a budget and figuring out what you need to make in order to live.
Sounds simple, right? For most freelancers, this is the most difficult aspect of their business. A popular infographic from CreativeLive can help you discover your perfect rate. That said, how you set your rates will determine the type of clientele you bring in and will also attract different projects.
Network, network, network
This is one of the most cliched pieces of advice freelancers receive, and there’s a strong likelihood you’ve heard it before. It is, however, an old adage that consistently rings true.
I’m not recommending you go to a local networking party, schmooze, and pretend to find a fellow freelancer’s jokes funny! But you can network easily through other methods, such as online.
Research coalitions, associations, organizations, or unions that revolve around your creative niche, and join them. Search for networks on LinkedIn run by creatives similar to yourself, or search for pages/groups on Facebook that act as online social “clubs” for creatives.
You may even find an Instagram pod or two that can help you gain exposure and connect you to like-minded freelancers. Networking helps you make connections, and those connections may one day pay off in the form of a lucrative collaboration, much-needed exposure, or new clients.
Clean Up Your Act
A piece of tough-love advice many freelancers receive revolves around being the professionals we’d like to be, and hope clients consider us to be. It’s difficult for fellow freelancers, let alone prospective clients, to take creatives seriously when our social media profiles, digital portfolios, or advertising material is a straight up mess.
You should be aware that many clients will look you up on social media; they will go through your website or online portfolio with a fine-tooth comb; and some may even reach out to past clients you’ve worked with for reference about your work ethic.
It’s important that the professionalism you exude in person is matched by your online profiles, platforms, and website. The same can be said for your physical marketing material, such as business cards. And yes, I do recommend you have business cards.
Find a Good Accountant, or Learn How to Properly be Your Own
If you have the budget to work with an accountant, then keeping track of your freelance finances, revenue, expenses, and the like, will be far more simple than going it alone. However, most creatives who freelance don’t have room in their budget for professional accountancy aid, and have to learn how to keep their business running smoothly on their own.
Aside from learning how to invoice clients or collect compensation, you also have to be aware of how you keep track of completed projects, revenue, and taxes (to name a few responsibilities). Fortunately, there are many helpful tools you can use as applications or online that will help you be the accountant for your business that you can’t afford someone else to be.
You’ll find that knowing how to run your freelancing endeavors from a financial standpoint is extremely helpful come tax time.
Know How to Break Up…with a Client
It’s virtually inevitable that, throughout your freelance career, you’ll be approached, or even end up working with, a nightmare client. That’s not to say the client is a “bad” person; it may simply be that the client is extremely demanding, wastes your time with unproductive tasks, does not understand the work needed to be done, or simply refuses to pay you on time.
Whatever the reason for wanting to break up with a client, you should be prepared regarding how to end a contractor-client relationship and not feel guilt for doing so. There are a few key pieces of advice I can offer that others extended to me which may be helpful when having to break up with a client.
1. Respectively speak with your client regarding your wish to end your working relationship, and provide a reason why. Unlike breaking up with a romantic partner, in this breakup scenario, it’s actually necessary for your professional reputation to provide a reason for the “break up.”
2. Ensure you provide your client with notice, which includes finishing up any/all work both you and your client agreed you would complete when signing a contract together (*yet another reason why contracts are crucial).
3. Provide your client with options regarding how they can move forward with the work; this can include recommending a fellow freelancer, offering to help source a new freelancer or outsource the work to a company, and ensuring you provide the client with all of the work and confidential information you both used for the project.
4. Put the “breakup” in writing; this essentially means you should document the date your working relationship ended, why it ended, and all of the work that was complete. *Your contract template should have a clause in it geared towards a process which takes place should the working relationship end.
When breaking up with a client, your ultimate goal should be to ensure the breakup is as professional as possible, which includes documenting the “breakup” and finishing the work you were contracted and paid to do.
These tips can help you turn your small creative freelancing endeavor into a flourishing business, and working for yourself can be incredibly rewarding. For more advice regarding freelancing legitimacy, check out my article on going legit with your side hustle here.