Earlier this month, I was trying to figure out what to write in my latest post for Emerald Musings. I knew I wanted to do a post concerning doing freelance work, but I was having trouble coming up with any ideas. Perhaps stress was getting too much, or perhaps my brain simply wasn’t functioning all that well. In either case, social media once again came to my rescue. A facebook user and member of the Writer Unboxed Group on facebook asked for advice on how to ease into freelance work. Her request started the rusty wheels in my brain to start turning, and this blog post is a result. So, thank you, Cheryl Mealy, for inspiring this post about easing into the freelance world.
Truth be told, I didn’t really ease into the freelance world. I was more or less thrown in head first. After losing my job, I was desperate for work, and needing to keep a roof over my head. Absolutely no one was hiring, and it was either do something illegal or do freelance work to make ends meet. And although illegal activity would have probably been more fun, the idea of spending time in jail wasn’t that appealing. So I decided to go the freelance route instead. It’s been just about 12 years since that time, and although I still struggle from time to time to make ends meet, I haven’t looked back once. I have, however, learned quite a few things in the process. Here are a few of the things I wish I’d had known in the beginning.
Tip # 1: Scheduling is Your Friend
When most people think of doing freelance work, the thing that attracts them is the idea of doing the work when you want, and how you want. It’s the freedom of the schedule. No more nine-to-five! However, the truth is something far different, at least for me. Over the years, I’ve learned that having a freelance career means being consistent, adaptable, and reachable. One of the best tools to help achieve that trifecta is to keep a regular schedule.
In the beginning, a lot of your time is going to be spent looking for work and sending out bids or queries. It’s simply the nature of the beast. Make sure you schedule time at regular intervals to do this part of freelance work. Personally, Monday is the day that I look for and send out my bids for freelance work or queries to magazines. In the beginning, I remember spending the whole day and well into the next doing just that. Thankfully, my reputation and returning client list has improved enough that I only spend about half a day per week searching for new work. The rest of the time I spend writing or doing actual freelance work.
So if you want to get into freelance work, be prepared to spend some time hustling, and looking for jobs. People need to know about you before they’ll hire you.
Tip # 2: Don’t Bother with Content Mills
This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I’m glad that I finally did. In the beginning, probably due to my situation, I jumped at every job I was offered — including the dreaded content mills. I learned over time that doing so was a huge mistake. Content mills are simply online establishments that gather together freelance writers to produce content for them, and pay a small pittance for the amount of work done. For most people, it works out to be about $2.00 per hour, if that. If you’re trying to make a living doing freelance work, something like that simply isn’t worth your time.
Instead of wasting valuable time doing freelance work for practically nothing, the best course of action, in the beginning, would be to try and expand your network in my opinion. Spend time talking with your friends, family, and acquaintances on social media. See what they need help with, or who they know. Can you help? If you can, see if you can make arrangements with them for odd freelance jobs here and there. People will often want to work with people they know, or with people who have been referred to them. So instead of simply becoming a number in a content mill, try to stand out from the start by providing that personal touch.
Tip # 3: Charge What Your Worth
This is a big deal, especially for those just starting out. It may be tempting at the beginning to change a few cents per word or a few dollars per hour to try and compete with the growing number of freelancers available. Heck, I did it at first. When I first started out, my per word rate was something close to $0.02 per word. I know. I wince at that price now, as well.
There are a few reasons you don’t want to charge a low rate for your work. First, for most clients, it’s a sign of poor workmanship. Most people believe, deep down that in order to get quality work, you need to pay for it. Second, it gives you very little wiggle room for those times when you do want to raise your rates to something more acceptable. Truth be told, when I raised my rates, I actually lost a few of my clients. Would I have had those same clients if I had used more professional rates from the beginning? It’s hard to say.
Instead of having standardized low rates, offer professional rates for your work, and offer discounts as warranted by the job. For example, right now my standard per word rate ranges somewhere between $0.08 and $3.50 or more per word depending on the job at hand. While I won’t go any lower than my minimum, I will offer discounts or specials to the client, depending on the nature of the job. If they lock in services for ten blog posts at $0.25 per word, I may provide the eleventh one free of charge, for example. Another choice is to offer a percentage discount on a future job– kind of like offering a “buy one, get one half-off” freelance sale. There are quite a few ways to be affordable to your clients without sacrificing your rates.
Tip # 4: Be Flexible
One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make who want to break into freelancing is that they specialize too quickly. Don’t be afraid to go for that job that is a little outside your comfort zone. If you’re primarily a writer, don’t be afraid to look into simple editing jobs or transcription work. If you’re a crack website designer, consider applying for jobs dealing with website management as well. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with offering services that you know you can do, there is absolutely nothing wrong with expanding your freelance horizons beyond what they are now. In fact, some of my best paying, and longest lasting jobs came from situations where I said. “You know– I’ve never done this before. It might be worth a try.”
Tip # 5: Learn to Say No
This last tip may sound a bit counter-productive, but hear me out. You only have so much time in a day, and you need to spend it wisely. If you’re easing into freelance work, it can be quite easy to take on more work than you can really handle. Goodness knows I did it in the beginning. Instead of jumping at each opportunity that comes your way, consider each one carefully. Will you be able to complete the job in a timely manner? Will you still have time for other work? Will your relationships be strained because of this job? Will it cut into your sleep or “me time” unnecessarily? Are there indications that this job will pay what it’s promising? These are all factors that you need to consider for each and every project that you consider bidding. If any of these answers leave you uneasy or unsure, move on to the next one.
So what tips do you have to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
© 2016, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.