It’s a common dream and aspiration:
everyone wants to be their own boss.
Some people will leave their stable J-O-Bs to start freelancing in their desired industries. Unfortunately, their dreams may turn sour, if they are not prepared for the work and change in lifestyle.
When I tell my clients that I freelance web design work, they tell me that I’m a real superhero in my field – helping small businesses fight against high costs. My friends think I lounge around all day, doing work whenever I feel like it. My parents, used to my gaming sprees, still think all that I do on the computer is game.
People who do not know much about the freelance industry think I magically pull money out of the limitless supply of the Internet. I think my work takes me all over the place to meet with clients and network with potential ones, but in reality, I spend most of my time in front of the computer, transforming into an angry zombie as design issues and web browser compatibility issues chip away at my humanity.
Photo 1: DMacStudios; Photo 2: Elle Nguyen; Photo 3: Wikipedia/Starcraft II;
Photo 4: Making Computer Money.com; Photo 5: Javeda; Photo 6: AYuen.Photo
When people hear the word Freelancer, they instantly think of freedom: freedom from authority, freedom to do things the way you want, freedom to schedule deadlines, freedom to choose the type of work, etc. Freelancing sounds like a career with the ideal work-life balance.
According to Matt of Spoonfed Design, however,
“Freelancing is 95% Failure,
Unlike a regular J-O-B, a freelancer does not have a strong work infrastructure and the combined work experience of all the departments of a stable business to rely on. A freelancer just has herself/himself and her/his own experiences and resources to pull from. As a result, a freelancer may run into more problems than a regular J-O-Ber in the same field.
Most people start freelancing when they realize that they have a skill that can be better marketed on their own versus through regular employment. Contrary to the movie “Field of Dreams“, when a freelancer “builds” something, clients will NOT automatically or instantly come. Surprised? Most new freelancers are!
The Freelancer Lifestyle
Elle networking at ParkLuxe 2012
A freelancer has to be a combination of networker and product/service provider. Take note: a freelancer can provide a satisfactory product but must be an even better networker to cover the gap. Poor networking skills, however, will not move a freelancer forward, no matter how skilled she/he is.
I hear it ALL THE TIME from whining freelancers: “I provide MUCH better products/services than that person! Her/his stuff is below grade, but she/he has so much business!
Why am I getting no clients?”
The world no longer has a small town mindset. The simple presentation of your product/service in a storefront or on the web will not attract enough clients to ensure a steady lifestyle. You have to think FOREST FIRE. Why are forest fires so dangerous? Simple. Forest fires have more than one point of origin and continuously throw out more sparks to create more potential paths for fire. Networking is vital to the survival of a freelancer.
A freelancer needs multiple points of service – an office, meeting spots, website, telephone, email, fax, social media, everything a regular J-O-B business provides. In addition, a freelancer needs print media – business cards and brochures. Wait! We are living in a “paperless society” – why do freelancers need print media?
It is human nature to want something tangible to feel, to hold. People will remember a business name better when they have a business card/brochure in their hands. In addition, this print media can be handed off from person to person as a referral (forest fire spark). The key here is, however, the experience. The better the experience the client receives when he/she accepts a business card/flyer, the better the odds are that she/he will contact the freelancer for business.
That’s a job for the Networker! Keep your introduction short and ask the potential client questions. What are the client’s needs? What is the client having issues with? Now, LISTEN! Can you help? If so, answer knowledgeably and succinctly and with confidence, ingenuity, and sincerity. The more people a freelancer interacts with, the more sparks she/he creates to build their business. Pound that pavement!
The Freelancer Discipline
Elle answers work emails even when she is at an event
A freelancer has to be the perfect balance of Planner and Doer.
Essentially, a freelancer is a business, and like any business, a freelancer needs a business plan. A business plan outlines a business’ mission, goals, and methods to achieve those goals. By planning out the business mission and goals, a freelancer can tweak the business structure to better suit his/her goals and desired clientele.
Now that the prep work is done, a freelancer has to put the plan into action. You can spend a lifetime preparing, but without implementation, you will never be able to tweak your plan to better fit your business styles and clientele needs.
As you grow with your business, you will fail from time to time.
“If you learn from failure,
then you haven’t completely failed.¹“
Focus on the positive – what have you done right? Can you repeat these successes? Now, pinpoint the source of failure and tweak your business plan to better arm yourself for future dilemmas.
Time management is key to a successful freelance venture. Treat your freelance business like a regular 9 to 5 job and make a schedule for your workload. Also, allocate sections of time for each aspect of your business – business development, marketing, finances, and customer service. Be flexible with your schedule – unlike a 9 – 5 job, a freelancer can offer their services around the clock to better suit their lifestyle and clients’ needs.
Do not overwork yourself! Try to keep work within work hours and rest/play outside of work hours. Discipline in the workplace, even when you’re freelancing from home, will ensure you meet deadlines and avoid burnouts.
You’re not the boss
Photo by Louie Pisterzi
Most people love the idea of working for themselves – being your own boss sounds delightful! The truth is:
You’re not the boss.
In the freelance industry, like any other industry, you work to keep the customer happy. Yes, a freelancer can choose who their clients are and how much work she/he would like to take on, but in the end, it’s about survival. Freelancers may have to take on undesirable clients just to make ends meet.
In addition, freelancers rely on their customer service skills to generate repeat business and viral marketing. An unhappy customer can cause major damage to a freelancer’s reputation, and without a skilled Public Relations team on hand, a freelancer is forced to develop great customer service skills to soothe customer disgruntlement and build even strong client relationships.
Freelancing isn’t an easy way out from a 9 to 5 J-O-B. It is a career choice for those who want more control of her/his business, will work hard and smart, can time manage brilliantly, and can manage and build strong customer relations.