If you are considering beginning a career as a freelancer, the prospect can be daunting. Being self-employed has its perks, but it isn’t without vulnerability. No longer able to rely on an exact salary and predictable working hours, freelance work will take your life in a different direction; one of freedom, and increased self discipline and responsibility. Freelance life allows you to choose when you work, giving you more freedom, flexibility and self-determination of your routine. For many freelancers, especially artists, writers and other self-contained professions, freelancing means being able to work from home, rather than commuting into an office every day. Freelancer life means that you are your own boss, through and through. Of course, there are downsides to this.
Firstly, being your own boss means…Well, being your own boss. If something goes wrong, there’s nobody to blame and nobody to turn to for advice. In a similarly daunting way, freelancing’s freedom perks can also create issues along the way; you have no fixed income, especially in the first few years of your work, and therefore financial discipline is absolutely vital. Freelancing means taking control of your working life, but it also means taking control of your own willpower.
So if you’re looking to become a freelancer and leave the nine-to-five behind, here are eight hacks to kickstart your freelance career!
1. Your Website
There are thousands of freelancers who likely perform the same, or around about the same job as you. That is, simply, the unavoidable truth. As a freelancer, being noticeable online is a surefire way to secure work going forward. One simple way to do this is by having a well-designed, user-friendly website.
For a small fee per year, sites like Squarespace or WordPress will enable you to design a unique site which shows off your services, skills and background. Your site should showcase your excellence as a freelancer, with examples of your work clearly on display, and even a few key reviews from satisfied clients. This will help propel you into success as an individual freelancer in a very big pool of workers.
2. A Professional Freelancer Contract
Once you begin to secure work as your popularity grows within your industry, you will need to draw up a contract which your clients will sign before proceeding with any work with them. This is to ensure that the terms are fully agreed by both parties before you continue. Unfortunately, many freelancers who do not provide a contract will encounter clients who try to avoid paying the full amount agreed, after the work is already completed. With a professional contract, you can determine the exact amount agreed upon, plus the allotted date before which the client should complete the payment.
Other important factors for your contract are a full description of the work you are agreeing to provide, the date the work will be delivered, and a clause which outlines the ownership and usability of the work once it is delivered to the client.
How can you find a professional freelance contract? There are plenty of templates online which you can adapt to your specific services.
3. Protecting Your Intellectual Property
Unfortunately, there have been cases in which a freelancer has suggested ideas to a client, who has then gone ahead and used those ideas without paying or receiving permission from the freelancer. This is called intellectual property theft. Your intellectual property constitutes your ideas, suggestions or notes which would later be turned into a concrete piece of paid work. As a freelancer, it is vital that you protect your intellectual property within your contract with a clause that states that any ideas, notes or verbal suggestions given to the client before the work is delivered belong to you, and cannot be used by the client in any other capacity than your work.
4. Efficient Invoicing
When it comes to getting paid, you need to be clear and responsive. As soon as the work you deliver is accepted with no further changes to be made, as a freelancer, you should immediately send an invoice which requests payment for your services. In the invoice, it should contain a breakdown of the services you have provided and the cost of that, as well as your preferred method of payment, bank details and full name and address.
The invoice should also, crucially, clearly state a deadline by which the payment should be made. Many companies will take freelancers for a ride, leaving them hanging for months without payment, if this is not stated clearly. Some freelancers state that for each working day after the deadline there will be interest charged. This helps encourage clients to pay on time and avoid conflict in the future. Sending invoices can be done through an invoice app, via email or through a payment company like PayPal.
5. Hiring an Accountant
Managing your money as a freelancer is very different to doing so as a salaried employee. When you are self employed, depending on the country in which you live, your taxation will operate differently to being on salary. Usually, a salaried employee will have their income tax removed automatically from their paycheck, so they are not responsible for actively paying their own tax. However, a self employed worker does not have this luxury, so the onus falls upon you, the individual, to pay your tax accordingly.
This requires rigorous and truthful examination of your income and expenses. To help with this, it is very useful to hire an accountant who is professionally equipped to correctly calculate how much tax you should pay. If you do not calculate this correctly, you could be accused of tax evasion and face criminal charges.
As a freelancer, your merit lies in your work ethic and reliability. Unlike working under one manager in a structured company setting, a freelance career means that every client is equally important, and can make or break your future job opportunities. Being reliable is essential when dealing with multiple clients; they don’t have a history with you, and may not be as forgiving as a regular boss.
With that in mind, organization and time management are vital as a freelancer. Many freelancers tend to overload themselves with work, if they have multiple requests, because they want to please every prospective client. This, however, can lead to sloppiness and lateness, which can damage your reputation as a freelance worker. It is better to set achievable work goals and be reliable every time.
You can prove your reliability and show clients your trustworthiness by becoming professionally licensed in your chosen field. If you’re a contractor, you’ll need a contractor’s license and you’ll find it hard to win clients without one. The same applies to trade bodies in many different fields and industries.
7. Personal Discipline
Freelancing means getting to choose your own hours – with some restraints, of course. This means that discipline is one of the key facets of working for yourself. If there’s no boss breathing down your neck all day, can you still get the job done? Will you be committed to the work, even if you have the option of doing it in your pajamas in front of the TV? These are all questions to ask yourself before you opt for becoming a full-time freelance worker.
The best way to work as a freelancer is to keep regular hours which work for your routine and your clients’ timeframes. This will help you separate your work hours from your leisure hours, and allow you to enforce that separation even if you work from home. This is vital for your wellbeing and to make sure you don’t work more, or fewer, hours than you charge for.
8. Financial Savviness
As we previously mentioned, being a freelancer means having to be financially savvy. With no exact fixed income from one month to the next, being able to save your pay-cheques and bank on your future is important. You might have a very lucrative few months – great! – but that doesn’t mean you can blow it all on nice clothes and holidays abroad. Although everyone deserves to treat themselves, having savings built up over time is important, in case work slows down again in the future.
Speaking with a financial advisor and committing to strict budgeting can help you be a more financially savvy freelancer. Your friends who rely on their salaries will never know how truly skilled you are to stay afloat without any backing or reliability of pay! This fast-and-loose lifestyle, particularly within the first few years of your freelance career, will equip you with rigorous financial planning skills and help you achieve your financial goals in the future.
If you love your freedom and are considering being a freelancer, use these helpful tips to get started. Freelancing is a very rewarding and flexible lifestyle which helps many people achieve their perfect work-life balance, as well as feeling in control of how they direct their career. Of course, there are downsides to every situation, but your ability to self-manage, be disciplined and excel in your field will all be tested and nurtured in a freelance position. Get started today, and take control of your own life.