A year ago I left my charity communications job to go freelance. Three months before that, when I handed in my notice in, I was prepared for this to be a challenge. But I had no idea that I’d be doing it during a pandemic and with all the restrictions that come with a lockdown.
Despite these extra challenges, there have been many positives and I’m so glad I took the plunge. I get to do interesting work with flexible hours, and the chance to meet brilliant new people. It’s also been great for managing childcare with the schools shutting for weeks on end!
So I thought this would be a good time to share some tips, for anyone thinking of becoming a freelancer. I’m aware there’s lots of advice online already, and I’ve read plenty of that myself. So I’m going to focus on just a small number of some of the most important things I’ve picked up:
1. Join the freelance community
I’ve been blown away by the kindness and generosity of other freelancers over the last year. Thanks very much to you all – it’s a truly amazing community. If you are thinking about freelancing or just starting out, get in touch with other freelancers and have a chat. They’ll almost certainly be happy to offer advice and share their experiences. Another good way of doing this is searching for Facebook groups for people freelancing in your line of work. When you can, remember to ‘pay it forward’ and help others out too.
2. Speak to your network
Everyone has some sort of network of contacts when they go freelance. These might be people you know through work, hobbies, friends, family or the community. Think about how they might benefit from your freelance services or be able to help you in some way. Then go ahead and contact them and let them know what you’re doing. This might feel a bit awkward, but remember that people are likely to want the kind of services you can provide at some point. But…
3. Be patient
If you feel disheartened because people don’t respond to you, or projects aren’t moving forward quickly, remember that timing is everything. You might make contact with a potential client who loves your work, but doesn’t have a suitable project for several months. Be patient – when they do need your help, they’ll remember that conversation you had.
4. Get a website
It took me a while to set up my own website, but when I did I realised how useful it would be. It’s great to use social media but having a website makes your business look ‘real’ and more professional. It’s also somewhere you can refer potential clients to in order to showcase your skills and offer. Even just a very simple WordPress.com site (other hosting services are available) with your contact details will be a good start.
5. Learn as you go
Becoming freelance is an iterative process. When I first started, I made a big list and felt I had to do it all – but the reality is that you learn and tweak your approach as you go along. Tricky questions like nailing your ‘offer’ and working out how much to charge can only be answered with experience. Likewise, you might find some of your skills or services are more in demand than others.
6. Find solutions
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond to a request for help. It’s generally easy enough if there’s a clear brief and if you know whether you have the skills and time for a job. But some enquiries are less straightforward! Having an honest and open conversation is a good starting point – can you come up with a solution that is both deliverable and works for the client? Are there aspects where you might need to learn something new, suggest an alternative approach, or bring in someone else to support the project? If you’re still unsure – trust your gut, and be prepared to say ‘no’ if necessary.
7. Enjoy it!
Take the time to appreciate what freelancing gives you and remember why you are doing it. Freelance work gives you the opportunity to focus on doing what you enjoy most, to learn new skills and meet new people. Make the most of the flexibility, like going for a run or to the shops when it’s quiet, working later or earlier if that’s when you’re at your best. Freelancing brings a lot of challenges but there are many rewards too.
Many thanks to everyone who’s supported or commissioned me over the past year – and good luck to everyone starting out as freelancers in 2021.