You’re tired of living in the rat race. You’re sick of being taken for granted by your employer. For too long now, you’ve felt as though your skills have been allowed to atrophy. You’re no longer prepared to do repetitive, monotonous work that doesn’t encourage you to use the skills you spent your education cultivating. No longer are you prepared to waste your days begging for scraps from the corporate table. You’re ready to make a living doing what you love, and what you’re good at. And you’re going to do it entirely on your own terms as a freelancer. Here's what it takes for building a solid reputation as a freelancer.
The life of a freelancer may seem idyllic on paper. Get up whenever the heck you like on Monday mornings, no boss standing over you, no tortuous commute through rush hour traffic. It may seem like paradise. However, the life of a freelancer comes with certain caveats. You can never again rely on luxuries like paid sick days or vacation days. No longer will you know for a fact how much money you’ll make each month. And if you’re thinking of buying a home, you’ll need to have at least 2-3 years’ worth of books to apply for a mortgage. Before you start out as a freelancer, you’ll need to learn...
The unfortunate truth is that many full-time freelancers fail in their first year, and are left with no choice but to run back to the world of salaried work with their metaphorical tails between their legs. There are many reasons why promising, talented freelancers find themselves faced with failure. Some struggle to manage their time effectively when they have complete autonomy over how they spend their days. Others burn themselves out biting off more work than they can chew. All too often, however, freelancers fail because they haven’t invested enough in building a reputation. They get one or two clients who give them enough work to get by, and cling to them for dear life. This works just fine until one or both of them has to let them go. And because they haven’t built a reputation outside of their own little bubble, they find that further work is much harder to come by.
Being a freelancer is just like running any other small business. You live or die by your reputation. Here are some tips to help you build yours...
It’s understandable that you may be tempted, when starting out, to drop your prices down to gain a market share. But the truth is that nobody built a great brand on being the cheapest game in town. Start out by undercutting your competitors and you’ll constantly be on the back foot. You’ll have to take on more work than you can handle to stay afloat financially, and the quality of your work will suffer as a result (more on that later). Moreover, you’ll be scared to up your prices for fear of alienating your clients. Remember, your clients (usually) aren’t paying you from their own pockets. They’re paying you out of departmental budgets. And if you charge less than what you worth, this may cause them to perceive your work as “less than” your higher charging peers. So save yourself a lot of stress and heartache. Charge what you’re worth!
The great news is that it’s never too early to start building your reputation. You can start work as a freelancer as a side hustle before you quit your day job. This will allow you the opportunity to start building a presence on LinkedIn, reaching out to prospective clients and taking on a few carefully chosen jobs which will help you to build a strong portfolio.
Just remember not to use work time or resources for your freelancing activity, as this may be a fireable offense. Don’t forget that any income you earn as a freelancer is still taxable, even though you pay tax in your day job.
When you’re starting out as a freelancer, the temptation to take on every piece of work you’re offered is completely understandable. However, it may set you on a dangerous path. Take on too much work, and you’ll find that you struggle to meet your deadlines while carrying out the work to a high standard. And it’s that high standard that will grow your reputation and keep you in work for years to come.
Focus on the quality of the work you do, not the quantity of the work you take on, and you’ll do just fine.
Many freelancers at the start of their career feel a twinge of impostor syndrome. They may feel that they’re not perceived as professional enough or that they don’t have a strong enough brand. Indeed, if your only contact details are a gmail address, a cell phone number and a residential address this may cause some clients to see you as small fry. However, you can give yourself a little extra prestige and create the illusion of business growth by using a Virtual Headquarters to answer your calls and provide the impression of a prestige office space. It’s a small investment, but one that can help prospective clients to take you a little more seriously.
Using social media to your advantage is an important way to engage with prospective clients and establish the value in your work. However, savvy freelancers always supplement their online networking with attending networking events. These are a great opportunity for you to meet prospective clients and other freelancers, picking up useful tips and contacts. However, it’s important to do networking right. Networking events are not a place for you to pitch or hustle for more business. They’re strictly social events. Just relax (as much as you can- these events are all a little awkward), be yourself and focus on making an impression. That’s a much more effective way to build a reputation and lay a foundation for future work.
Invest in a strong reputation, and you’ll find that you never have to go back to the world of salaried work.