In today’s shaky economy, freelancing is on the rise. In the U.S. alone, one in three workers are now doing freelance work. That’s 42 million Americans going without employer health insurance, 401(k) plans and flexible spending accounts.
But it’s not all doom and gloom — freelancing is often fulfilling work. Plenty of people freelance by choice. Some do it to supplement their existing income, and others do it because full-time work is simply hard to find. Creative types often choose this professional option because freelancing offers flexibility and the opportunity to showcase work in a variety of arenas. Freelancers can be anyone — artists, writers, graphic designers, lawyers, financial consultants, accountants, journalists — you name it, someone’s probably done it via freelance.
If you’re looking to start a gig as a freelancer, follow these five tips to perfect the art.
1. Market Yourself
It can be helpful to be a jack-of-all-trades in the freelance industry, but you may have an easier time marketing yourself if you choose a niche within your industry. Personal branding efforts are a must for anyone looking for freelance work. Show your worth: Start a personal website, ramp up your social media presence and start a blog to discuss pressing industry issues and offer new perspectives.
Sure, there are plenty of established freelancers who are approached regularly for work. But freelancing is also a business, and that means there may be times when the well runs dry. Constant networking is a must for freelancers who desire regular work. Make networking a regular task — use the Web, attend industry events, send out e-newsletters or make cold calls to get new clients.
3. Secure A Contract
This may be the number one rule of successful freelancing: Always write and sign a contract with your clients before completing any work. Check your state laws to determine the appropriate contracts you’ll need to write, and spell out pricing and timelines if necessary. Too often, freelancers get taken advantage of and end up working for free. A contract ensures your client is legally bound to pay you, so don’t skip this step!
4. Stay Organized
Freelancers often juggle multiple projects at once. Determine how long a project will take to complete, to properly block out your time, or set up appointments with clients in your home office or even a local café. Use spreadsheets to track your progress and keep tabs on payments. Freelancers work without the oversight of a boss to keep them on schedule — that means it’s up to you to ensure you’re staying on track.
5. Be Flexible
Being a freelancer means you may not have creative control of your projects. You’re working at the mercy of clients — you know, the people who are paying you — and you have to be flexible to clients’ needs if you want to succeed. Many freelancers struggle to give up creative control of a project; they often feel they know their market or niche well, but hit a brick wall when clients ask for changes. Freelancers need to refine the art of flexibility, offering their expertise and guidance to clients while also taking into account client needs.
Freelancing can be a great way to supplement your existing income or create a new career. Use the skills you already have, and you’ll l be well on your way to creating a thriving personal business.