The majority of my clients are freelancers. They’re primarily artists, but also entrepreneurs, and they’re at a point where they recognize that they can’t do everything on their own anymore. Here are a few ways that you can get ahead as a new or established contractor.
Limit your working hours.
It is so easy to get overwhelmed when you’re both the business owner, and the person doing the work. Naturally, you’d think that the more you work, the more successful you’ll be, right? That might hold true in the short term, but the problem is, you’ll burn out eventually. You probably already know this, but it bears being repeated over and over again. If you work too much, you will absolutely burn out. I always recommend that people limit their daily working hours, or split them up throughout the day. Some people can work 8 hours straight, some people prefer working in the morning, taking the afternoon off, and working again at night. Whatever structure you use, you have to make time for other things in life.
If you’re having to ask that question, it’s because you haven’t yet recognized the value of ‘free time’. Even an hour to yourself at night will make you more productive tomorrow. If you need to view your free time as productive, then consider this: your free time is a chance for personal growth. Personal growth informs you, and educates you. A trip to a foreign country might give you new ideas. A half-hour spent relaxing to music on the sofa might prompt you to daydream and find the solution to a problem. Stepping away from a project also gives you a chance to get a new perspective on the stuff you’re working on.
Get organized ASAP.
I’ve written about this before, but the BEST thing you can do for yourself as a freelancer is to get organized as soon as possible. The more efficient you are, the less time it takes you to find something you need right away, the easier it’ll be to get ahead.
That includes your emails, by the way. You’d be surprised how many freelancers are slow at replying to emails. You can probably outshine about half of the contractors out there simply by prioritizing your emails, and replying to them in a timely manner.
Lists are helpful, sometimes.
Here’s the thing with lists: most people fail at keeping daily or weekly to-do lists because they overwhelm themselves by the sheer amount of tasks that they put on there. Start with small, achievable tasks. Personally, I use a small list of 2 to 5 tasks, depending on how high-level they are. For example, “write one blog post” in the AM, and “answer priority emails & edit YouTube video” in the afternoon. That can be a reasonable day’s work.
Don’t be too desperate for work.
The only time you should let your desperation guide you is if you can’t pay your rent this month or the next. If you’re really strapped for cash, then yeah, be as flexible as possible. But, if you’re not, you’re gonna have to start valuing yourself when it comes to your rates, and your choice of clients. So, don’t be too desperate if you can afford to be bit pickier in terms of who you work for, and what project you want to work on. Even better if you can start freelancing when you have a part-time or full-time job. This way, you can choose high quality work to do, at a rate that’s acceptable.
Choose your clients wisely.
Choosing who you work with will make a huge difference in your future as an independent contractor. I’ve always been of the opinion that some bridges deserve to be burned. But, that’s not a popular way of thinking in the freelancing community. And that’s too bad, because it makes such a huge difference in how well you end up doing. There are a lot of bad clients out there who will quickly take advantage of you if you’re not careful. Don’t be afraid to set your own standards, and to screen the people who want you to work for them. Research their social media accounts, and see if you can talk with people who have worked with them in the past.
Always consult with a lawyer.
A lot of freelancers screw things up by creating their own contracts, or not even working with a contract in the first place. They’ll sign whatever contract a client gives them, and then they wonder why they’re never advancing in their career. You should never sign anything without having an attorney look at it first. This advice is already everywhere on the web, but still, people don’t do it! Anytime a company offers you a contract, there’s a good chance that there are terms and conditions in there that are not favourable to you at all. In fact, they might sneak in some responsibilities that you hadn’t even agreed to during your initial talks with them! So, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want to grow as a business person, get a lawyer. And on that note, have your own contracts drawn up by a lawyer. Don’t just use some template you find online as they won’t be current with today’s laws. Laws change all the time!
Concentrate on the important stuff, first.
Depending on the kind of freelancing you’re doing, there’s a pretty good chance that you don’t need a logo right away. You need a website before you need to get a logo done. And even then, most people don’t ever really need anything fancy. You could just as easily start out with just your name or the name of your business on a card, or in the top corner of your website, and you could operate like that for a long while. Thing is, it’s super easy to get carried away with all the superficial stuff instead of concentrating on the stuff that really matters.
Gone are the days when we’d hand off impressively designed business cards to clients. Now, it’s all about digital. People want to see your portfolio, they want to know you’re dependable, they want to be able to find you quickly in an online search. Nobody’s going to care about the fluffy stuff.
Figure out what makes you different
Lastly, the best tip I can give you is this: whatever makes you different from everyone else – run with it. There are thousands and thousands of graphic artists. What makes you different from them? And, how many bazillion life coaches are out there today? Why should they work with you, and not with your competitors?
Don’t play it safe. Safe is boring, and in a sea of thousands, boring doesn’t get anywhere, and it doesn’t get noticed. It doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to be eccentric. It’s just that if you’re the type that writes from the heart, then do that.
That’s who I am. I’m a straight shooter, and trust me, it’s not easy in a world where you’re kinda supposed to be impersonal. But, the funny thing is, people like it when you’re yourself. People even like it when you make mistakes. The more you can put a human face on what you do, the better.