There’s no manual on how to be a freelancer. And as the gig economy evolves at a phenomenal pace we often find ourselves wishing someone could sit us down and explain exactly how we can keep up with the trends. We all need a bit of advice and useful tips. Meneesha Govender shares her thoughts
As the term itself suggests, freelancing is a pretty fluid concept. Many of us combine skills, we often upskill and even venture into completely new territory as we negotiate our paths.
I’ve had to tweak and massage my original freelance plan along the way as unforeseen variables came into play. However, there are some valuable nuggets I learnt along the way. They’ve helped me stay on the right track, build and persevere.
If you’re starting out as a freelancer here are a few tips that I picked up:
Word of mouth
Get the word out to your friends, family and people you encounter in business. Tell people what you’re doing. I’ve found that my relatives, closest friends and colleagues have been invaluable in helping me get my name out there.
You may begin with a broad idea of where you will begin. But eventually, you should identify your core offering. Concentrate on that and build on it every day. Upskill, read, and read a bit more. Always be on top of your game in the niche you have chosen.
Your biggest challenge is getting leads. Build up a network of fellow freelancers, industry players and even competitors. When you are your own boss you will learn quickly that work will not simply fall into your lap – no matter how skilled you are. You have to actively seek those leads and you will have to do it even amongst your competitors.
Take the ‘free’ out of freelancing
Be cautious of doing work for free – even if it’s to prove your ability. It’s time to take the “free” out of freelancing, folks! You’re doing yourself and every other independent consultant out there a huge disservice by offering to work for free. I’ve been doing this for long enough to safely say that every single time I’ve worked for free our discounted my rates dramatically, the relationship between myself and the client ended badly … very badly.
And linked to this is the advice not to drop your rates for the “promise” of more work. Do not be afraid to charge what you are worth.
Create an online portfolio. Having business cards is just so old school. And this tree-hugger would rather not kill a tree for a piece of cardboard that’s relegated to the bottom of a handbag or coat pocket. E-cards are fantastic and LinkedIn has a great option to share profiles with people by simply scanning your unique code. I’ve found that the most functional way to create an online portfolio is with a website or a social media page. Be active on all your online platforms, get people to want to visit them. Get people to take notice of the great work you’re doing. These days it’s easy enough to create these portfolios on your own. Word of caution though: equip yourself with the necessary knowledge to do it properly. Understand SEO, algorithms and keywords. Understand how different platforms work for different audiences. And if it’s a daunting task, get a professional to coach you or do it for you.
Use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote your brand. There are a number of social media platforms you could leverage to promote your brand at a fraction of the cost of promoting it through traditional marketing methods. Even WhatsApp used correctly, could serve as a fantastic platform on which to showcase your brand. Understand your goals and objectives, understand the platform you choose and know how to use it optimally to have maximum reach and best results.
No one tells you how important it is to network. I’ve learnt that ultimately, as the face of my brand, I am my own best campaign. And in order for potential clients to know about me, they need to see me. Networking helps me to be seen. Joining networking organisations or groups is an excellent way to meet fellow freelancers. It’s a good way to extend your reach and get new leads.
Freelancing can be an isolating experience and the right networks can offer support and camaraderie. I have been fortunate to find #mytribe through such a network and I am forever grateful for that.
The great thing about networking is that you can also do it on online forums. I’ve engaged with many like-minded people on groups on Facebook as well as LinkedIn.
Freelancing, like any business, comes with its fair share of charlatan clients – the ones who want it all, but just won’t pay when it comes to that. Don’t be too trusting of any client. Make sure your client is legitimate. Rather walk away if something isn’t quite right. Nothing is more demoralising than putting your hard work into a project and not being paid for it.
Finally, remember that taking time out for yourself is imperative. Don’t be afraid to do this … even if it’s in the middle of a “normal” workday. Freelancers often work late into the night and/or on weekends, so it will all eventually balance out. This, my friends, might be the last one on my tips list, but it is one of the most important ones I have to share. Never forget to take care of yourself. Your brand will thank you.
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