We’ve all seen them. Those pictures of people on a beach with their laptops, soaking up the sun while they earn money as freelancers. It all looks so appealing. Personally, I’ve tried it, and between the blaring sun, the breeze, and the sand, very little can really get done. Freelance work on the beach doesn’t really work. Freelance work by the beach just might.
Why People Become Freelancers
People become freelancers because they have passion. They have an area of expertise that they love, and they want to use that expertise to carve out a career – doing what they love.
People also become freelancers for all of the other reasons we have read about – freedom of work life and scheduling; flexibility of work hours; complete choice in type of work and who to work for, and so on.
These motivators push an ever-increasing number of people, especially millennials, into freelancing.
In fact, here are a few statistics:
- Almost 40% of millennials are freelancers
- 80% of millennials employed in the traditional workforce state they would quit their jobs if they could freelance
- By 2020, 40% of the entire workforce will be freelancers
Clearly, this new economy and the technology revolution has spawned an entirely new viewpoint of how people work.
Understanding the Reality
All of the passion you may have for freelancing has to be tempered with the reality of actually making a living this way. Here are some “realities” that you must understand before you make this plunge.
1. You are an Entrepreneur Now
You are in business for yourself, and there are a lot of tasks involved other than just practicing your expertise, whether that is as a designer, writer, business consultant, artist, musician, or any other niche.
You have to look at yourself as a business product that must be sold.
2. You must build a personal brand, just like any business must.
This means you get a website, a blog, and get yourself established on social media. It means that you develop connections and write articles and submit them to other blogs. It means you get a LinkedIn profile and join discussion groups.
3. You may need to spend some money on advertising
There are plenty of places to spend some advertising dollars, and developing a strategy to spend them smartly. This will take some research on your part.
4. You Must Develop a list of potential clients
Start locally, even though your freelancing may ultimately take you much further geographically. Develop strategies to make contact with potential clients. Use family, friends and colleagues to make introductions.
5. You Need an Elevator Pitch
This is a 30-second introduction that is creative and speaks to directly to the value you bring to others through your freelancing.
Don’t just say, for example, “I am a freelance website designer.” Instead say, “I help clients promote their products and services by creating amazing and unique websites that visitors love to come to…” Here, you have explained the value that you bring to the table.
If you are a freelance translator, you might craft an elevator pitch something like, “I make sure that clients get everything they need translated from English to French or Spanish, including their websites, their product catalogues, even legal documents. I have worked for top translation agencies Here’s my card.”
6. You are also a business owner – you have to run that business
A small business owner has to spend time on those business operations. You will need to handle budgeting and finance, invoicing and tracking expenses, keeping records for taxes; you will need to either create marketing materials and great content or contract with others who can.
You will be in charge of phone calls, scheduling meetings, responding to clients as quickly as possible, meeting deadlines, handling crises, and, most important, keeping yourself organized.
7. You have to accept long hours
Nothing happens until you get that first client. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose your enthusiasm, and the hours may be long and hard. These hours will cut into social and family time, and it’s easy to lose the balance you should have. At least one day a week must be set aside for you – your personal life, whatever that may be. You cannot keep your enthusiasm otherwise.
8. You must develop strategies to retain clients long-term
Chasing new clients takes a lot of time and expense. Of course, your business grows by acquiring new clients. But every client you can keep long-term is one less you must chase (and it costs less). Once you start a project, overdeliver on that project. And after it is finished, develop a plan for additional value you can bring.
If you are a website designer, for example, and have designed an amazing site for a client, what can you offer in the future? Well, certainly you keep abreast of the newest technologies and trends. As these come along, it will be time to re-connect with that client and make suggestions for enhancing that website. And this will be an ongoing activity, over years.
During the in-between times, you must still communicate with that client, have lunch, and develop the relationship that tells this client you value him and that you care about his business success. He has a comfort level with you and will not go elsewhere for this type of work.
Passion and Reality – Both are Essential
Obviously, you have the passion or you wouldn’t be striking out on your own. And, as you go along, and the realities hit you square in the face, that passion will be important, if you are to stay motivated. At the same time, ignoring the realities, and relying only on passion, will bring only failure.
Passion keeps you enthusiastic; addressing the realities keeps you grounded. Make sure you have the right balance of the two.