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Unemployment has reached astounding levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and many people are turning to freelancing in this time of instability. Industry insiders estimate that COVID-19 could even lead to an expansion of freelancing as an industry. As businesses have had to adapt to remote work, people are realizing the potential for flexible working arrangements.
If you’re considering taking the leap into freelancing full-time, keep reading.
1) Plan ahead
Freelancing can be a scary landscape, especially if you are transitioning from a traditional job with a steady income.
If you are a beginner, you should be prepared for your workload and income to be unpredictable at first. This will give you more room to make mistakes and learn from them, without having to throw in the towel.
If you aren’t sure about making the leap, consider having a second job in addition to your regular job to build up your portfolio and client base. Take on jobs outside of your regular working hours until you feel comfortable to transition completely. Once you’re ready, make a plan and save up some money.
Freelancer Laureen Lucas recalled: “Once I knew I wanted to leave my full-time job as a (public relations) director at an agency, I developed a plan and exit strategy prior to putting in my notice.” Aside from creating an LLC for her business and setting a realistic timeline for leaving her job, she explained: “This also meant setting up a home office and setting some money aside since I didn’t know what sort of monthly income I’d bring in once I did leave.”
2) Create a strategy
The competition will be tough. Success as a freelancer often depends on two things: standing out in the crowd and maintaining a consistent client base.
Freelance writer Stefan Palios suggests to “think about what you can do right now at a proficient level.” He explained: “People hire freelancers for their expertise in a specific task, so you have to be good at what you’re doing.” This means finding your niche, working on your brand and promoting your strengths.
You should also include personal development in your business strategy. Palios explained: “You are a ‘hired gun’ in a way, so you have to ensure your skills are always sharp and always expanding.” Whether you enroll in a professional course or learn a new skill online, staying informed in your field is necessary. Technology and industries are constantly evolving, so you don’t want to be left behind. Palios recommends engaging resources like MasterClass, TED Talks, YouTube or even reading blogs of people you admire.
3) Approach freelancing like a business
Being your own boss has perks. Maybe you enjoy being able to work in your pajamas or take time off whenever you want. But, being too flexible with yourself will backfire.
Successful endeavors require consistency, patience and hard work. Avoid the pitfalls of too much freedom by holding yourself accountable. This means setting “office hours,” managing your workload and keeping a healthy work/life balance.
Freelancer Alex Fasulo suggested: “Wake up early. It’s going to take you time to adjust to a new workflow, so give yourself enough hours in the day.” Fasulo encouraged: “Be patient. Freelancing success takes time. If you put in the time, it will pay off.”
Working in your pajamas might be an awesome perk, but you may be just one Skype call or Zoom conference away from landing a new client. Clients are less likely to offer you work if you aren’t seen as professional. If you don’t take yourself seriously, why should they?
4) Network, network, network
There are certainly freelancers that got their start on gig-posting boards like Upwork and Fiverr. But even on these job boards, the most successful freelancers have a repertoire of prior clients and good reviews.
Word of mouth goes a long way in business. Aside from doing your best work, it helps to establish a relationship with your client that may lead to more work.
Freelancer Charly Gud explained: “it’s the real connection you have with people that gets you the best-paying gigs. Hiding behind a screen is an easy way to be ignored or even fired.” Don’t take rejection personally. Also, plan on realistic timelines for new projects to pan out. Be patient and persistent.
Gud explained: “Finding new potential clients likely won’t result in immediate work. Knowing the length of the runway avoids the feeling of failure when you start your freelancing journey and there’s not a line of people waiting to sign up for your services.”
Inform people you know that you’re freelancing. Don’t expect them to start handing you work, but it won’t hurt to ask them for recommendations. Someone in your current network might be a link to a new potential client. Happy clients can help you expand your network’s reach as well, so don’t be shy about politely encouraging them to spread the word about your services.
5) Stay positive and take care of yourself
Healthy personal habits are just as important as healthy business habits. Eat regularly (and healthily) and take care of your mental health. If your work requires extensive time at a computer, take breaks to stretch and rest your eyes. Time management systems like the Pomodoro Technique can keep you productive with built-in breaks.
Freelancing is hard work and the initial climb can seem impossibly steep. Don’t give up because you aren’t making six figures in a year. Be tenacious and practice self-care so you can bring your best to work each day. Freelancer Carmen Varner offered these words of wisdom:
“Success can be a small moment – It’s hard right now. Don’t feel terribly discouraged. If you’re freelancing, losing clients and work is just a part of the game. Sometimes it doesn’t work out; sometimes it’s not a good fit; sometimes they can’t afford you after a few months. Establish your goal and move toward it every day. Sometimes it feels like you haven’t made progress but you are doing it daily simply by applying yourself and working hard.”
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