Freelancing often looks better from the outside. To those in permanent employment being your own boss can sound like a dream, but the reality is very different. While freelancing has its perks, it definitely has its pitfalls (many of which can be terrifying to navigate)! Here are the four biggest problems freelancers face and what to do to overcome them.
Finding clients and holding onto them is the first big challenge freelancers face – but it’s also one that’s ongoing. Word-of-mouth referrals are hugely important, so the more jobs you take, the easier it becomes to find new clients. But this takes time, so you need to be patient and positive. To help put yourself out there and advertise your services, master these three:
1. Develop your online presence: as a freelancer, you are your brand. Every brand needs marketing, so develop your online presence so clients can actually find you. Set up your own website and update your LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter profiles with relevant details.
2. Establish yourself as an expert: consider speaking at an upcoming industry event to establish yourself as an expert in your field. Go to local networking events, talks and launches – whether you speak or not – and hand out business cards. Schmooze like your life depends on it.
3. Be proactive: email everyone you know who might need your services and say you’re looking for work. Get in touch with old clients, see if they have new jobs and ask for testimonials to put on your website. Join relevant professional associations and link up with other freelancers.
It takes time to build up a regular flow of work – and even once you have it there’s no guarantee it’ll last. Regardless of whether you’re a freelance writer, designer or programmer, there’ll always be peaks and troughs in your workload; one day you’re shrugging off repeat requests for jobs, the next you’re emailing old clients begging them to send you work.
There’s no real way to “solve” this particular freelancing challenge – it’s just the “feast or famine” nature of the job. Just know that even the best freelancers have dry spells. Try to accept the unpredictability of freelancing, and don’t panic when the work ebbs for a while. The one thing you can do is to prepare yourself for those low income months… and yes, this means saving as much as you can during your busier times!
The idea of being your own boss sounds appealing, but this responsibility extends to every aspect of your work. You, and only you, are the master of your time. Meeting deadlines is essential for retaining clients, so don’t put off work unnecessarily or leave jobs to the last minute. Also be careful not to take on too much work… this is something most freelancers have done at some point!
Managing freelance time starts and ends with a solid record of everything you get up to. You need to keep fully-accurate accounts of all your work for honest billing and self-assessment. There are a ton of time tracking apps that can make sense of all your hours and rates across clients and projects – but only the automatic ones ensure every detail is actually captured. They track everything you work on in the background, so you can just focus on hitting your deadlines.
Flexibility is one of the biggest perks of freelancing, but it comes with a catch. When you’re working on your own schedule it’s easy to get distracted, especially when you’re not particularly motivated. While taking breaks is a healthy part of work, serial distraction is a slippery slope. If you take the pragmatic “time is money”, the empty time you spend putting off work quickly adds up.
So be strict with yourself. You don’t have a boss anymore – the onus is on you to motivate and discipline yourself. Create a clear schedule of when you’ll start, stop and take breaks from work. Turn your phone on airplane mode or log out of social media. If you’re really struggling with motivating yourself to finish off a big project, give yourself a breather and try constructive procrastination – working on other small tasks, like replying to emails or logging your hours.
No matter how stressed or under pressure you feel, remember to remind yourself why you’re doing it. Did you go freelance for the flexibility? The autonomy? The variety of work? Focusing back on your main motivations is really all you need to steel yourself for the hard times and work ahead.