Priya Sharma Shaikh
Freelancing? Do take care of these...
Let’s get it straight, every one of you at some point or another have thought of chucking that job and setting out on your own.
Some of you’ve dreamt of starting a business while others have imagined freelancing. And why not? You are good at your job and your clients eat out of your hands. You’d have no problems getting work, you think. You’ll ace it, you imagine.
Well, let’s get another thing straight.
What you’re indulging in is called wishful thinking.
No, I don’t mean to suggest that you aren’t capable of doing what you dream of. But, if you think it’s going to be easy, then my friend, I suggest you think again.
Because going freelance means doing all the jobs that are currently done by half a dozen people in your company. You’ve got to be your own salesman, marketing team and accountant. This, over and above the job that you’re actually paid to do. There’s no team around to lean on or cover for you. Freelancing is lonely work and not everyone enjoys that feeling. You don’t want to end up saying this...
But it’s not all bad and if you get a hang of it, you can have fun while you build a career doing what you do best. It’s not all that difficult today, what with sites like Freelancer.com and Upwork around to connect people like you with clients and jobs out there. But before you do that, just keep these things in mind.
HAVE SOME PATIENCE: Know this, you aren’t going to get flooded with work the day you enter the market. Of course if you do, in that case, you don’t need this article. But chances are you won’t and that’s totally ok. Every big river starts as a trickle.
You might have to pitch to dozens of clients before you get the first assignment. Hopefully you are freelancing on work that you’ve done before, which means you already have some body of work to show around. I know of a friend who edited a filmmaking website for a few years before he decided to freelance. His work was there for everyone to see and helped him get his first freelance writing gig. It didn’t pay much, but it helped him get off the ground. The first paying client that I got when I started freelancing too was a boon and I am thankful for the trust they placed in me.
But if jobs are slow to come in the beginning then don’t hesitate to pick up jobs that don’t pay well or pay at all. Client work on your resume is valuable by itself and will help you pitch for work in the future. It allows you to show your ability, prove your commitment and form relationships that could be useful going ahead. If however, it potentially does none of the above, then don’t touch it even with a barge pole. Also remember to get off the ‘free work’ boat as soon as you can. You want to be known for the quality of your work and not get branded as a free, cheap or low-cost resource.
ALWAYS BE READY TO PITCH: I don’t mean this literally, but you’ve got to be ready to do it at the drop of a hat. Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes and you never know who can help you get that next client. Your brother-in-law’s best friend’s wife could be looking to outsource some digital marketing work at her company or your favourite restaurant could be looking to start their own blog. Or you could run into someone at a party who’s looking to get some PR done for their company or client. Like Alec Baldwin said in the famous scene in Glengarry Glen Ross…
It would of course be impolite to keep pitching yourself everywhere, hence knowing when and where to do it is important. No one can teach you that. But there’s no harm in researching the invitee list at a party you are invited to beforehand and shortlisting people you want to definitely talk to. I’ve done it and feel no shame in admitting it. You HAVE TO look out for yourself ... because nobody else will!
FOLLOW UP: Networking and pitching are just the first steps in getting business. The most important and often overlooked part of the job is ‘following up’. I can’t emphasize how important it is to be diligent about this. A good first meeting can end up remaining just that unless backed by consistent follow ups till the deal is signed and the cheque is in the bank.
People forget all the time. Giving you business is not at the top of their priority list as it is yours. You need to remember that.
Having a protocol in place for follow-ups helps. I send a ‘thank you’ email immediately after I come back from a meeting, summarizing our discussion and letting them know that I await their response. Then on the third day after the meeting I send a polite reminder mail to follow up. Normally I end up sending three follow up mails in case I get no response after which, I let go.
You can set your own protocols but it’s important that you do that. Protocols help you get things done without having to think too much about them. And for those like me who tend to procrastinate it’s an absolute must.
MANAGE YOUR TIME: If you want make a success of your freelancing career, there’s no way around this. You are your own boss, there’re no office hours and you’ve got to deliver on that deadline. Decide what works for you, whether you are a morning or a night person, CREATE A SCHEDULE & STICK TO IT!
During my time in the corporate world I went with the flow and never stressed about having a time-table. But now that I freelance, I ensure that I get up on time and sit religiously from 8 in the morning till noon finishing off whatever work I have. Even when there’s no work, I make sure I sit and write something ... anything! A good habit once formed is a precious thing and you don’t want to lose it.
LEARN BETTER & FASTER: Freelancing is not a secret and just like you there are many out there keen on trying it out. This means that there will be no dearth of competition and the only way to beat competition is to get better. Luckily for you almost everything you want to learn today can be learnt on the internet, sitting right there on your desk in your bedroom.
You can learn from the most renowned global experts and get certified by leading international universities on sites such as Coursera.org, edX.org or Udemy.com. The list of courses on these sites is endless and not taking advantage of them is, in my opinion, killing your career’s long term potential.
And if you are old school and prefer in-person classroom training, then I am sure there are many relevant workshops happening around town. Just search online.
While there’s no substitute for learning from experience, the next best thing to do is to learn from someone else’s experience. There are things only someone who’s been through the grind can share and if you can find such a mentor then you will be doing yourself a great favour. Make the effort to reach out to people you admire and I am sure some of them will be happy to engage with you.
MANAGE YOUR ONLINE PROFILE: Clients looking for freelancers are likely to do a background check before handing work out. Of course your resume, your body of work, references will all help but it’s equally important to manage your profile online. It’s pretty easy to do so with social networks and blogs being the easiest way of putting your best foot forward.
Having a small website that hosts links to your work or testimonials from clients won’t hurt. You could argue that your LinkedIn profile does the same thing but everyone has that. A separate web site will set you apart from the crowd, marking you as a serious professional invested in his/her career.
Also make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and it highlights your skills well. All your other social media accounts too should contain information about your professional background and you might want to clean these up before you start pitching for business. Everything you put online reflects on you and you don’t want a silly comment or image posted online some years ago to come and bite you in the back. Better safe than sorry, as they say.
LEARN TO SAY NO: As much as you are hungry for business, it’s important not to lose sight of some key things. Business cannot come at the cost of self-respect. Clients who treat you rough-shod and take you for granted; and believe me you will find a lot of them out there no matter how big they are - they just aren’t worth working with. Be confident enough to say no to them. If you’ve realized it too late and have already accepted the work, then make sure you finish whatever is due and then move on.
There will be times when you’ll be flooded with work and you’ll have to make tough decisions. Be clear about how much you can handle and say no to clients rather than messing up all your projects. Don’t be greedy. Remember the story about the man who killed the goose that laid golden eggs? You don’t want to be him.
LET YOUR FAMILY IN: Freelancing is still not the norm in India where families expect you to wake up in the morning and leave for work only to return in the evening. What you do in office, whether you move a finger or not, doesn’t matter to them as long as there’s a paycheck at the end of the month. Most parents and spouses are likely to be uncomfortable with the sight of you lounging around the house in your shorts on the sofa in front of your laptop.
And it’s not their fault, for the idea of making a living has long been tied with going to an office. So get them on board, explain to them what you do and how it works. Share the joy of cracking a big account with them. That should help them ease up. It’s important that they understand the highs and lows of freelancing and don’t add to the stress that’s bound to be there.
What do you think? Intimidated? Excited? Whatever you decide to do, here’s wishing you good luck.