So, You Think You Can Freelance?
Recently I had a friend ask me advice about starting her own freelance language translation business. After a sweet brainstorm brunch at a dreamy cafe in Neukölln (you know the kind of place with mismatched vintage tables and chairs and dripping candles instead of lamps), we got down to business.
My friend, originally from Barcelona, speaks impeccable English (not to mention Catalan and Spanish) and is also learning German at a much faster pace than I. Ich lerne Deutsch aber ist sehr schlect. Es tut mir leid.
Here are a few reasons she wanted to start her own freelance gig (do any of these reasons sound familiar?)
- She wants financial independence (#beyourownboss)
- She wants to be able to work wherever she likes (like adorable cafes with medieval lighting) and travel whenever she wants -- I just got back from Barcelona :)!
- She wants to be able set her own hours (today I started working at 2p and will likely stop around 6p…jealous much?)
Though all the above reasons were enough to motivate her to schedule a brainstorm brunch, she had no idea how to get started. Considering I have been freelancing for over four years (in freelance years that’s more like 100), I had quite a lot of advice to give her.
Because I was lucky enough to meet a mentor early on (Andrew McCluskey of Simply Friday and music2work2), I felt excited to pay it forward. Andrew was someone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He was my silent partner who answered questions about bookkeeping, hourly rates, pesky clients, and technical HTML issues. He also happens to be someone I continue to work with on projects today.
Here is the advice I gave her:
- Get yourself a website. if you can’t afford to have someone create one for you (like me, cough, cough), consider Wix or Weebly. Both are free, and are fairly simple to use. The drag and drop templates make it easy for someone to build a site in just a few hours. Keep the site simple and only list relevant experience (no one needs to know that you worked as the Chucky Cheese mascot in high school...unless of course your service is performing at children’s birthday parties.)
- Now assuming that there is a need for your service (and that you have a bit of experience) you’ll first want to start with your inner circle when looking for clients (make an announcement on Facebook, send out personal emails, and ask friends to help promote your services.) The biggest hurdle for any entrepreneur or freelancer is making the initial outreach. It can feel weird, tacky, or even icky to promote yourself. But hey, get over it! The faster you believe in yourself, the faster others will, unless of course your service is selling belly bands that will bring six pack abs overnight.
- Implement the power of Craigslist. My first gig was a temporary copywriting gig I found whilst living in Los Angeles…on Craigslist. It just so happens that this client, a vintage furniture shop called Casa Victoria, is still one of my best clients today. And through them I was able to get referrals for other gigs. If Craigslist is not that big in your city, search other cities! I would steer clear of those Freelance sites, however. They are oversaturated and you’ll probably have to lower your rate to next to nothing. Ain’t nobody got time f’dat.
- Say yes, figure it out later. If a potential client approaches you about doing something for them that is outside of your comfort zone, what do you do? Say yes anyways! I’m here to tell you that you are rarely prepared to handle anything in life. If you want to be a freelancer, you have to get used to flying by the seat of your pants. I frequently consult YouTube tutorials, forums, blogs, and this amazing thing called Google if I can’t figure something out.
- To figure out how much to charge, you’re going to have to factor in a few things: your experience, the market rate for your service, and how much hourly you think you deserve (be careful on this one, yes you are worth a million in prizes, but stay humble.) In the beginning, you might have to ask a bit less than market value so that you can build a portfolio and make connections. Estimate how long it takes you to complete a task, multiply that by the hourly you want, and boom, that’s how much you should charge.
- Don’t forget to write a proposal. Once the proposal is agreed upon, ask clients to pay half up front and half after the project is complete.
- Figure out a way to get paid. Personally, I use PayPal for invoices and payment. Sure the fees are high, but it’s easy for my clients to pay me. It’s also great for bookkeeping when it comes time to do taxes.
- Do what you are going to say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. Whether you're making a phone call, sending an email, or delivering a task, be consistent. Kiss your freelance business goodbye before it even gets started if you aren’t reliable. Why do my clients (some of which I have never even met in person) trust me? Because I show up on time, every time (figuratively speaking of course.)
- Find yourself a mentor (or shoot me an email and I will act as a stand-in mentor until you find one.) Everyone deserves to live the exact life they desire. I wouldn’t trade my globetrotting life for any desk job in the world.