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How to find success on your freelance journey

Jul 2022

No two journeys are the same in freelancing, nor does ‘success’ look the same from one person to the next. Freelancing is open-ended freedom where you make the choices for yourself, which is why defining what success looks like for you is critical. Ask yourself: What do I actually want to get out of freelancing? Do I want to be a freelancer/consultant or do you want to create a scalable business? Success should start with the end in mind. But just because everyone's idea of success is different, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from other people’s experiences (and their mistakes). For this Better Working article, we catch up with some of the freelancers here at Collaborate, exploring some of the key tenets of freelancing and how you might avoid some common pitfalls during your freelance journey.

Shared office space in WokingMeet Karen…

Karen has been a freelance language translator for over four years and finds satisfaction in the flexibility and freedom of being self-employed. She also notes how much her confidence and resilience have grown during this time as she’s grown with her business. She learned rather swiftly the need for upskilling: especially with specialist software, managing her website and in other areas of business such as bookkeeping. Karen finds two areas of freelancing needing further work. She’d like a little more security and safety nets around holiday and sick pay, and she’d like to find ways to raise her fees more, especially because some clients are far too optimistic with their time. Mostly these two issues are tightly linked. So what does Karen suggest to other freelancers?
  • Do start freelancing with a client or existing relationship, then grow from there.
  • Start with foundations in place - take the time to prepare your branding, cards, website, and marketing before launching
  • Try to see yourself as a business, not a hired hand (she did not appreciate this at the start of her career!)

Next, we catch up with Neil…

Neil has been in business as a small design company for over 5 years now. Right from the beginning, Neil loved the independence that he got from working for himself and managing his own time. Yet Neil does concede he started the journey with no real plan. Instead, he just resigned from his role he wasn't happy with and jumped into the freelance game. Neil suggests this wasn’t ideal, and nurturing contacts and presence before jumping is advisable! What would Neil do differently?
  • He recommends sorting out billing and fees above all else. He would like to charge more, but it can be a complicated nut to crack.
  • He recommends learning both hard skills like website building and accounting, alongside soft skills such as selling and presenting, or negotiation techniques.
  • Nathan would like to develop his client base over time to include more companies he believes in, e.g. more green or ethical companies.

Asking Allan…

Allan has spent around 15 years freelancing and creating small companies. What was Allan’s biggest mistake in those first few months? Well, he also started out with no primed contacts or clients to get early business from! It worked out in the end he says, but it does make the first few months far more challenging. However, despite this tricky start, Allan’s experience puts him in a good place to offer some learned advice. What does Allan recommend?
  • Make sure you charge a good rate and nurture several clients so income is varied.
  • Outsource where you can so you can focus on delivering great service at the highest rate.
  • Win the balancing act - delivering work whilst also keeping new work flowing in.
  • Allan advises both freelancing and business success require a compelling USP, to make business development easier and to give a better potential to scale.

5 Tips for Successful Freelancing

From our experience and research, if you want success as a freelancer, then follow our top 5 tips.

1. Good planning pays off.

Whilst our freelancers above jumped straight in at the deep end, all of them suggest planning your venture BEFORE you start it! Give yourself time to plan out your USP, identify your target market, work out your expected income and expenses, along with any investment, and consider how you will market products and services. Benjamin Franklin wisely said, ‘if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. Make your freelance journey far smoother with a bit of prior brainstorming and planning before you leap into action!

2. Keep marketing all year round.

Marketing is often seen as a tool to launch the business, then it tapers off, dropping to the bottom of the priorities pile. But your business needs to market all year round to make sure you have a pipeline of new business. You want to be able to be kept busy all year round, to avoid the freelance ‘feast or famine’ rollercoaster. This will also help you improve your fee structure over time. Marketing is a fun and creative opportunity to get your name out there. Check out our blog here for some ideas on marketing on a small budget.

Take opportunities to learn and upskill

Freelancing and being self-employed will be a rollercoaster - pushing you to limits you didn’t know you could overcome. Yet as Karen mentioned before, your confidence and resilience will grow beyond recognition. Make sure you learn and invest in these softer skills for success. Freelancing will push you to gain confidence and overcome fears, learn to network and sell (check out some of our top business reads for productivity), and will improve your communication and negotiation skills. Truly invest in yourself and your own development and you will see excellent results for you and your business.

4. Technology can really help you

When you run your own business, everything falls to you. No longer can you rely on the finance department to sort out invoices, or the customer service department to deal with any customer problems. As a business owner/freelancer, this all is your responsibility. But don’t be overwhelmed, getting on board with time-saving technology right from the beginning can save you oodles of time, and money (trust us, you’ll thank us later!). Try out accounting packages like Xero or Kashflow, customer systems like SugarCRM, and email software like Mail-chimp. Explore what is out there and find what works for you. If in doubt, connect with others in freelance and small business circles, chances are someone has had the same challenges as you and could help you find the right tools.

5. Keep on your feet and roll with the punches.

No, we’re not giving you boxing advice, however, one of the keys to survival and thriving is to keep evolving. As we’ve all found out these last couple of years, flexibility and adaptability are what sets apart those experiencing success and those heading for failure. Industries and customer desires move in cycles, and not keeping up will leave you behind. Keep looking for the new angle, your niche, and reasons why your service is different or better.

What else is out there in the freelancer world?

Like we said at the beginning, success looks different to everyone. We condensed decades of experience above into finding out how you can start as a freelancer and find success. But there is a whole freelancer realm out there to support, guide, and encourage you on your way too. Check out the titles of other freelancers to gain their insight and learn from a whole host of individuals from all different walks of life. Try ‘Survival Skills for Freelancers’ by Sarah Townsend to bust those myths that could be holding you back from experiencing success. You can’t miss the classic ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss where he approaches work in a whole new way of looking at life. And if you, like many others, are interested in not just the tangible tips on how to become a freelancer, but also the mental and emotional investment as well, then pick up ‘Dear Freelancer’ by Brittany Melton. You might find that you start as a freelancer and choose to build a business, or you may find freelancing alone is exactly what you are looking for. Launching and getting through the first few years can be a challenge and so avoiding pitfalls and capitalising on known success tricks is a must. Whatever your path and whatever your definition of success, following these steps and getting involved in the freelancer community is bound to help you ace self-employment.

This article was brought to you by Collaborate as part of our Better Working series. Collaborate is an independent business centre in central Woking, offering Serviced Offices, Coworking Desks, Meeting Rooms and Virtual Office services. If you’d like to provide some feedback or get in touch, feel free to Contact us.