What is a successful freelancer?
People will have different ideas of success but I believe to be a successful freelancer you should have a good reputation within your niche and foster great relationships with your clients.
If you are looking to make freelancing your main income there are a few things you will need for this to work for you:
- Consistent work
- Satisfying pay
- Setting your preferred work hours
- Working with great clients
- Acceptable deadlines
- Being paid on time
On the flip side, employers are looking for freelancers that have the following skills:
- Have excellent communication skills – be able to tell them exactly what you are going to deliver and when
- Meet deadlines – despite your other commitments you should be reliable enough to meet the agreed deadline. If you cannot meet the deadline you should do the right thing and communicate this to them as soon as you can.
- Deliver what you promise – be very clear on what you are going to deliver and then check throughout the process that this is what they were expecting. Sales people get a bad rap for overpromising customers and then the customers being disappointed at the end result.
Below are 10 practical tips to help you be the successful, organised, professional freelancer you want to appear to your clients.
- A basic freelancer contract and non-disclosure form between yourself and your client. The contract will formalise things like payment terms. This doesn’t mean you will get paid on time, but it does mean you are setting out the expectations. Some examples can be found at lawdepot and pandadoc
2. Consider getting professional indemnity insurance – this insurance helps protect professional advice- and service-providing freelancers from bearing the full cost of defending against a negligence claim made by a client. Common claims that professional liability insurance covers are negligence, misrepresentation, violation of good faith and fair dealing, and inaccurate advice.
3. Be a great communicator. After any calls or meetings write an email to document what you will deliver and when. Having a copy of emails will help to keep you on track and accurately deliver what has been promised. This also helps when you are in doubt about anything, so always over communicate with your clients.
You can also set up a statement of work which helps set the boundaries of work hours and “on call” contactable hours and any tools you use. You can also include a process for escalation if something goes wrong. This isn’t a necessity but could be very helpful. An example of a statement of work can be found at mymllc.com and pandadoc.com
4. Be ready for invoicing and preparing your accounts before you start finding clients. In the UK we need to declare ourselves as self-employed and have to produce a self-assessment tax form each year. This can take a little time to organise so get this sorted at the start of your freelancing journey. Don’t forget to keep all documentation together and keep receipts for all business expenses.
5. If you can, create a service or product you can charge as a recurring fee either annually or monthly. This will help with your cash flow especially in the early days. Some examples where you could use this is: as a web designer/developer they pay an annual fee for you to update the software and make any small changes throughout the year.
6. Be organised and schedule your work load. There are tons of software options out there to help you manage your work load such as Trello, Wrike and Asana. If you look up project management software in a search engine you can research the best for you.
But me, I’m old school and I have an A3 year planner on the wall next to me with deadlines added and various colour coded dots all over the place. I also use an A4 page a day diary, I don’t know why but I seem to pay attention more when I physically write my list of tasks.
7. When talking to potential clients, if you hear alarm bells ringing and can see potential problems don’t ignore them. You can say ‘no‘ to the work. This can be hard especially at the start of your freelancing journey but not all clients are equal and if you get a bad client they can suck the life out of you and ruin the entire experience.
8. Don’t be the cheapest. If you think all you compete on is price then you are selling yourself short. Recommendation’s and a good reputation can mean so much more so do not compete on price alone. Remember your rates should reflect your training, experience, expertise and portfolio. Charging more means that you have fewer clients and can concentrate on delivering high quality results.
9. Ask for initial payment upfront. Some freelancers charge up to 25% of the project fee up front especially if it is a large project. Also, if the clients’ work is quite time consuming at the beginning then you can charge clients separately for it. A good example of this is an audit, or the initial set up of social media accounts. You can charge an initial set-up fee followed by a recurring monthly fee.
10. Have templates ready for reports and invoicing. If you can automate as much as possible and create templates it will save you time in the long run. I use a basic report template for each of the services I offer and will make amendments where necessary. I also use a piece of software called harvest to monitor my hours for each client and produce invoices.
There is one final thing to add but it’s not really a practical tip. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes – sometimes it is easy to get caught up in your work. When you have completed projects or signed up new clients take the time to acknowledge your success.