20 Quick Tips For Aspiring Freelancers

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August 27, 2009

The last two years have been the most exciting of my life.

I made the jump to freelance work, which has given me the freedom to work when and however much I want.

The transition from a regular job to freelancing was not easy, but I managed it.

This post is meant to help you bypass difficulties and maximize your productivity as you start your own freelancing career.

That being said, here are 20 tips to help you become a successful freelancer.

1. Don't give up your day job!

Your day job is your most important asset when switching from regular work to freelancing.

You need to be able to support yourself on this new career path, so start off slowly and work in the evenings or on your lunch breaks.

If you are a student, working around your studies can be quite lucrative; you can fill in those free periods with money-making design work!

2. Put an amazing portfolio together

In the freelance business, having a solid portfolio is important.

While many employers will accept your résumé, your portfolio is the bit of you that stands out. It shows employers what you can do and what you have done. Make it as creative as possible.

Many people worry that they have no work to show potential clients. If that is the case, try redesigning your favorite website or rebrand your favorite company and mark it as a case study.

While this work has not been commissioned, it does show off your skill, which will inspire much more confidence in your client if they find out they are your first client.

3. Do not buy any new gear

This is a common pitfall for many freelancers.

They think they need the best equipment to do the best job. Yes, tools help, but how you use them is what matters.

As tempting as it is, you do not need the latest Macbook Pro; you can do the job just as well on your four-year-old PC.

Why spend money when you want to make it? Of course, some things are essential, such as Photoshop, but try to get a student version or a discount.

You do not want to let money slip through your fingers when you don't have to.

4. Build your website

Building your website before looking for work is also important.

The first thing potential clients will do is look at your website. Your website conveys your attitude towards your work and your personality, so make sure it reflects how you want to be seen.

Choose the words on your website carefully: do you want to be seen as formal or lighthearted? Also, do you want to emphasize form over function? All of this has to be conveyed in your design.

5. Set up a new bank account

Keep your personal and work accounts separate.

You do not want to give out your personal bank details, nor do you want to attach a PayPal business account to your personal account.

While you may be able to get by at first using your personal account, you will run into problems down the road with taxes and client payments. In any case, at least you'll be able to keep your personal PayPal account, for which you won't be taxed for transactions!

6. Don't be afraid to ask for help

As with all things, starting off freelancing can be tough, but the freelance community is very friendly.

While no one will build your website for you, people may help you with a snippet of code or give you feedback on your design.

By asking for advice, you also make friends, which in time could lead to work.

7. Go back to school

While you may think you know everything, you certainly don't.

Spend some time on tutorial websites or invest in taking a course to extend your knowledge. Any skill you can add to your toolkit will be valuable later in life.

Learning a completely new skill, such as video editing and conversion, might also be a good idea.

The web has become much more video-centric, so having skill in the field will enable you to offer more to clients, creating more profit for you.

8. Set up a home office

Make sure you are able to concentrate on work and work alone.

A space dedicated to work will help you get it done more quickly. The office does not have to be a room in your home; it could be outdoors or your local coffee shop: any place that does not have too many distractions and is well lit and inspires you to work.

Working outside in the fresh air can help keep you alert and sustain your concentration.

9. Get an online Skype number

One of my biggest problems starting out was the huge phone bills I racked up talking to clients and team members.

If you face the same problem, you could either swallow the higher phone bills or get an online Skype number. Skype works through your computer, so working while talking on the phone is easy.

But you can also get a landline number with Skype, and clients might be reassured by the stability that this landline brings. Subscribing to a Skype plan can be especially helpful with international clients.

10. Blitz social media and promote your brand

Knowing how to market yourself is your first step towards full-time freelancing.

Keep updating your Twitter account and to regularly interact with online communities: clients can be found anywhere.

Remember, though, anything you put online is not private, so make sure you show the face that you want other people to see. Be sure to share anything you find interesting, and re-tweet anything you find relevant.

Clients may find you through a recommendation or piece of content of yours on a social media website, so keep updating and become a "sharer."

11. Be patient

Now that everything is set up, your number one rule is to be patient.

Work will not come flooding in immediately. Take it slow, and take on jobs as they come in.

Learning to be patient with clients also helps you communicate with them.

Some will be rather aggravating to work with, and you have to learn how to remain calm and communicate with them at a level that satisfies both of you.

12. Promote your services with content

The entire Internet is driven by content. Valuable free content goes a long way.

Whether a free WordPress theme or a well-recorded screencast, publishing content is a great way to get your name out there.

It will also promote your status as an expert and give potential clients something to play with and a chance to see how you work.

13. How to deal with job boards

I would advise that you stay away from job boards.

They seem to be overridden these days with people offering services for negligible compensation.

You have to make a profit. But if you decide to look for work on job boards, make sure the job comes with a steady salary and not a one-time payment.

Local jobs are better because developing a healthy relationship with local clients is easier and can lead to more work.

14. Finding jobs elsewhere

To find jobs elsewhere, you must network. I found this to be the hardest part: you have to get out and pitch to businesses.

Offering your services to friends and family may get you by for a while, but they will likely start asking for favorable treatment or rates, and when you are starting off, you cannot afford to be doing work for a steal.

Upscale bars and city lunch spots are great places to meet people. Start talking to people while standing in queues, or go to social events in big cities. People love to show off what they do, so why shouldn't you do the same?

15. Find your niche

Most of my work came from finding a niche market and exploiting it.

For example, if you have made a website for a soon-to-be-released novel, the project could serve as a template for websites that promote novels.

If the website is efficient and profitable, you could ask other authors or publishing companies if they would like to invest in your tried and true method.

16. Creating steady work and revenue

The problem with freelancing is that you have no job security whatsoever. So you need to create security.

Instead of quoting a set price to a new client, try proposing a manageable monthly rate that includes website promotion, constant SEO monitoring and website maintenance.

Not only will this generate revenue over time, the client may ask you for more services if they see it is working out well, at which point you can increase the rate. This supplementary revenue is less likely to materialize if you stick to one-time payments.

17. Dealing with bad clients

You will inevitably come across bad clients.

Bad clients either want to control too much of what you do or communicate poorly.

If you land one, you have to step back and think whether the client is worth the trouble and whether they will give you repeat business. If not, then cut them loose.

You will feel bad when you let a bad client go the first time, but remember that you have freed up your time to take on another better client.

18. Referrals and testimonials

Once you have worked with some happy clients, ask them how they felt about the process and whether you handled it well and what you could have done better.

While the responses may be useful as testimonials, you will also be showing clients that you are trying to improve your services, which may encourage them to tell others about their experience, leading to yet more clients for you.

19. Invest in invoicing and client management software

As you gain more clients over time, you will need to know how to manage them.

Signing up for invoicing software to automate recurring monthly invoices will be helpful.

Also consider subscribing to something like 37 Signals' Highrise software, or at least record in a document who your customers are, what work you have done for them and any details about them you may need to refer to in future.

This will save you from administrative work down the road and also serve as a good trigger for your memory.

20. Quit your day job and have fun!

If you have followed these steps, you should have sustainable income and be doing what you love as a profession.

The purpose of freelancing is to have time to go where you want to go and do what you want to do. Make sure you enjoy your new lifestyle by traveling and getting out a bit more.

You can work from anywhere in the world, so take advantage of that!

Bonus tip: Never race to the bottom

Once you have given a quote to a prospective client, avoid getting into a degrading fight for the job.

Do not devalue your work. You may choose to offer a discount in certain situations, but if you do it repeatedly, employers might think you were overcharging the first time and assume your rates are flexible.

Once you give a quote, stick to it!

This article was written by Ollie Judge exclusively for Webdesigner Depot. Ollie is CEO and founder of Ether Corporation, a unique freelance agency launching next month. Be sure to follow him in Twitter and on his personal blog at olliejudge.com

Have you made the transition to freelancing? Please share your personal experiences and tips with us!

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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