So, you want to freelance. You’ve thought about it a lot; you’ve got some money saved to hold you over while you build your business; you’ve contemplated all of the wonderful aspects of being on your own, working from home, and setting your own schedule. And, you have enough experience under your belt working for a firm that you are confident in your design skill set – clients have loved your designs. So, what could possibly go wrong? A lot of things, that’s what.
Having the Grit
Let’s assume you have all of the qualities that make a great web designer – you are creative, artistic, you have an “eye” for materials and colors, you can “capture” a brand visually, and you have the technical skills. In short, you are a skilled craftsman.
But freelancing is far more than just “hanging out a shingle” and finding clients. Before you take that plunge, make sure you have all of your “ducks lined up” and that you have the “grit” to make it work. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of what makes a successful freelance designer.
You are now a Small Business – There are Practical Implications
The “artist” in you tends to avoid the practical, but now you are in a different “world” and must deal with these things.
Check Your Current Employment Contract – Non-Competes and Copyrights
You may not have read all of the fine print when you signed on with your current firm. Without doubt, there will be non-compete clause. Generally, these forbid you from contacting any past or current firm client.
Intellectual Property: Most firms include property rights to anything you design while you are employed. Sometimes this mean that you cannot use designs you create while in their employ as a means of promoting yourself when you are no longer employed there. So, if you were planning on using your designs in a website portfolio, you may not be able to do so.
Registering Your Business
You need to look professional and you need to follow tax law. Here are the minimum requirements:
- Get a company name and register it with the state. Use your creativity and come up with a great catchy name. Get on the Secretary of State’s website and you will be walked through this process – the fee is minimal.
- Register your business with the IRS. Again, get on the website and they will walk you through the process. You will get an “employer ID number.” Clients need this, so that they keep a record of how much they pay you – these expenses are tax-deductible for them.
- Open up a checking account in your business name. All that you earn should go into that account.
- Keep accurate records of all transactions, all expenses you incur, and all income you have – you can turn everything over to a tax preparer at the end of each year.
When potential clients see that you have a business name and account, you look legitimate and professional – this is important.
Have an Informal Business Plan
You are not looking for a loan or funding, so you don’t need a full-fledged business plan. You do, however, have to know how you are going to go about building your business. Most important here is probably your profit plan. You need to know exactly how much business you to bring in and how much you need to charge for the “packages” you offer, in order to make a profit.
Marketing Yourself – You Know the Drill
The artist in you may balk at marketing, but without it, you won’t have a business. Here are some basics and some other tips for spreading your brand.
- A website that includes at a minimum a blog and a portfolio. If you are not able to use designs you created while employed, then you will need to come up with some “fake” ones. “Fake” does not mean you are dishonest; it means that you create some generic sites for a variety of types of businesses that will showcase your talent.
- A Facebook and a LinkedIn page in your company name. And join as many groups on LinkedIn as you can – these are great networking resources. Get family and friends to like and share your stuff.
- Join a business networking group in your locale. This is a great source of referrals. And, you can even offer to re-design some members’ websites for free to get the references you need as you seek clients.
- Research local businesses. If they don’t have websites, reach out. Sell them on the benefits of a site. If you have set up “alliances” with freelance content marketers, all the better. You can refer them, and they, in turn, can refer you.
Now – Let’s Talk About Your “Soft Skills”
Successful freelancers seem to have certain personality traits in common. As you think about freelancing, take a look at this list and see how you “fit.”
Freelancers Have Humility
You have clients with very set ideas and wants. They may not like what you first give them, and they may criticize your work. Can you handle criticism and be flexible enough to handle this and discuss their needs without becoming defensive?
Freelancers are Usually Introverts
This does not mean that you avoid people or that you have social anxiety. It means that you truly enjoy working by yourself and that you are comfortable being alone with yourself. Unless you have a partner, it will just be you and your computer.
Freelancers must be Great Communicators
While you may like working alone, you still have to meet with clients and potential clients, and you do have to sell yourself. Make sure that you have the communication skills that allow you to relate well to others, face-to-face and in writing.
Freelancers Must Have a Strong Work Ethic
Are you the type that tells yourself to “get to work” and then does it? Can you put in whatever hours are necessary to meet deadlines and client demands? Most freelancers work longer hours than those in their field who are employed – you have to have that commitment.
Freelancers Have Courage and Confidence
If you have doubts about your ability to be successful in your own business, you will be “dead in the water.” Your doubts will influence all that you do. You will spend too much time thinking about what you should be doing to get more business rather than actually doing it. You have to get “out there” and pursue your goals aggressively, and rejection should not shake your confidence.
Freelancers Can Multi-Task
You may have several projects going at once, and you must keep on top of them all. This is probably nothing new – you did that as an employee. But add to those projects the need to maintain your site and bog, your need to network, your need to constantly search for new clients, and the need to maintain the business end of your company, and you have multi-tasking on steroids. This takes more organization than you have ever had to have as an employee, and there is no time to be lazy.
If you lack organizational skills, then you cannot do this alone. You will need to hire out those skills or find a family member or friend who does have the skills and is willing to pitch in. One freelancer was able to use his retired aunt and give her a small commission based upon landed contracts. There are many ways to achieve organizational effectiveness – just find yours and use it.
Freelancers Have Big Goals
There is no sense in setting mediocre goals. Go big. The higher the goals, the more you will work to achieve them. And, if you don’t meet them, you will have gone further than if you “set the bar” too low.
Freelancers Don’t Look Back
When the going gets tough, successful freelancers do not think nostalgically about the benefits they had when employed. If you find yourself doing this, then freelancing is not for you. You became a freelancer for good reasons. Focus on those reasons and forge ahead.