This is our final installment of The Practical Guide: Freelancing! Check out the rest of our Freelancing mini-series here:
Organizing Your Time
Ideally, you will get to the point when you will have so many job offers that organizing your time will be something that needs to take priority. Even if you don't have jobs coming in left, right, and centre, organizing yourself is still a crucial part of working freelance.
Most of your work is likely going to be conducted from home. This means that you don't have a boss looking over your shoulder or a clock on the wall that tells you how many hours you're supposed to work for and when you're allowed to take breaks. You have to be both your own boss and your own employee.
Here are a few things to keep you on track:
1) Dress for work. Sometimes I like working in pajama pants at home, and I manage to turn out some excellent material in my comfy clothes (like right now! ). But when I first started working from home, I found that dressing as though I were going to the office helped me to really focus. I'm still only at the beginning stages, so I sometimes like to wear office-appropriate clothing at home as a way to get myself in the right frame of mind.
2) Watch the clock. Always keep a timer close by! Time how long it takes you to do your work. Set yourself a time limit and make sure that you work for a certain period of time before you let yourself stop for a break. Schedule breaks, too: get out of the house every day for a walk to clear your mind and to get fresh air. Don't overwork yourself! Down time is just as important as working, especially when it comes to turning out the best quality.
3) Set goals. In the morning, decide how much you want to accomplish by the end of the day, and then follow through and complete that much. Over time, your accuracy at how long it takes to complete a project will improve.
4) Keep your employer/client updated. At the beginning of the project, give them an estimate of how long you think it will take for you to complete the project, and an idea of the fees you will be looking at. Discuss what the deadline is. Then, as you work on the project, send them the work you have completed at various stages to ensure that it is the style they are after. Communication is essential, particularly because you will likely be doing most of your correspondence via e-mail and phone. You need to keep each other updated as to where you're at, what can be improved, and to make sure that you're both going in the same direction.
5) Clean house. If your workspace is untidy, you won't be able to be as productive as you will if everything is in its proper space. Set aside a specific area for you to work at in your house. Clean it at least once in a week and organize all papers and documents.
6) Write lists. Keep track of all of your projects by writing them all down in one place and making a note of when your deadlines are. A big calendar with large squares for writing notes would be perfect for keeping your freelancing gigs organized (it's what I do and it's wonderful). Failing that, a little notebook or the calendar on your phone/computer can also work.
Chime in with your own suggestions for organization in the comments section below!
Check out our previous sessions of this Freelancing mini-series:
Part Four: Freelancing Fees
When you first become a freelancer (whether it's in writing and editing or something else entirely), one of the trickiest parts to figure out is what to charge your clients. If you charge a fee that is too low, you won't be able to make enough money to pay the bills and you might give the impression that your work is low-quality; if you charge too high, you won't get any clients at all. Clearly, the answer is to charge something in the middle range.
But what is "the middle range"? I have found recommendations on the Internet that went anywhere from "charge $20 an hour" to "charge $200 an hour"; some experts say that you should only ever charge by the word and others have impressive lists detailing how much you should charge for every stage of the process (one fee for research, another for writing, another for proofreading, another for copy editing, etc etc).
Something else to take into consideration is where you are located. If you're working in New York, your services are probably in much higher demand and therefore you can afford to charge a higher fee. More important is your level of skill and experience: you need to prove yourself by being able to show prospective clients the type of work that you've done in the past so that they can see the quality of your work.
This means that before you begin charging, you often have to work for free, as discussed in Part One: Gaining Experience. When prospective clients view your work, it gives them two key pieces of information: first, it allows them to see your style, and second, it allows them to see your dedication and passion to your craft that you were willing to start out for free.
But none of this really answers that all-important question, how much do I charge?
After much indecision, I finally asked my boss, the president of a communications company, for his opinion. "Fifty dollars an hour," he said. "No less than $45." I asked about word counts and about having different fees for different types of work, but he waved them off. His reasoning was that having different fees can often make things more complicated. Having one set fee as an hourly wage is easier to track. Why make things more difficult for yourself and more complicated for your client?
At first I had some misgivings and wondered if it might be too high of a fee to charge. I was nervous the first time I told my fees to a prospective client. To my pleasant surprise, I received a positive response with regards to my rate. Fifty dollars is a very reasonable fee for someone just starting their freelancing career. You can always ask what your prospective client is offering, too, and go from there. They might even make you an offer higher than you would have originally charged, as what happened to me for my first real freelancing gig (a two-week writing project).
Most projects will likely be small, writing some website content or editing newsletters, which means that you might only need to work for a few hours and your client pays the low fee of a few hundred dollars for the work you provide them. Considering the quality of the work that you do, and considering that your client likely doesn't have the time to do it themselves nor the same sort of skills to market themselves, it is well worth the price.
The lesson here is this: do research to see what other freelancers are recommending, get some advice from an expert you trust, evaluate how much experience you have and identify your skill level, and then tell your client what your fee is. Depending on how important the job is to you, you can always re-negotiate fees if your client tells you that they cannot afford you. But if you don't ask for the price that you are worth, you won't receive it! Certainly don't over-price yourself - but never sell yourself short, either.
Check out our previous sessions in this Freelancing mini-series:
You have the experience, you've prepared yourself to have a real from-home business going, and now it's time to get work! As we discussed in Part Two, it is important to have business cards for yourself. You need to advertise yourself and put yourself out there in order to find work.
Only a few weeks after making my business cards, I attended a huge conference. It was the perfect opportunity to do some networking. I didn't get any freelancing gigs out of it, but I made some good friends, and I also learned how best to market myself to strangers. I met dozens of people and exchanged business cards many, many times during the conference, so it gave me lots of "practice" with marketing.
Keep business cards in every bag you carry and coat you wear. You never know when you'll meet someone and need to exchange cards. I keep a stack of business cards at one of the offices I work at and it led to my third freelancing gig.
Sending your resume to companies you would feel comfortable working for is also a good idea. Research the company to check that their philosophies are in line with your own. E-mails aren't as professionals as a hard-copy of a resume, and e-mails are also easier to delete without reading; sending your resume by mail will catch your potential employer's attention and increase the likelihood that they will read your cover letter. It takes more time and effort to print out a resume, find a mailing address, put it in an envelope with stamps and take it to the post office or a mailbox than it does to fire off a quick e-mail. Your potential employers will recognize that.
Besides business cards and resumes, you should also focus on building relationships. This is key to success in everything you do. I've worked with some excellent people in the publishing and communications fields of work, and I would point people in their direction in a heartbeat. If you are also efficient at your work and genuinely interested in ensuring that the work you perform is of the best possible quality, you will generate more work for yourself. Word of mouth is the best possible way to make more work for yourself.
Four of my first six freelancing gigs started up because they had heard good things about me from someone else. The best form of advertisement is the one that speaks for itself: do a quality job and it could lead to three more.
What are your tips for finding work in the freelancing world?
Check out the previous session in this Freelancing mini-series, Part One: Gaining Experience.
Building and Preparing Your Business
Gaining freelancing experience is likely to take months and years - it's a slow process, but it's a work in progress. The more experience you get, the better the quality of your work (hopefully), and the faster you will be able to start really "selling yourself". And to properly sell yourself, you need a game plan.
Until you start making serious money from your freelancing gigs, you do not need to register yourself as a small business. That being said, make an appointment with an accountant to discuss your business expenses and income. They'll be able to advise you on how to set up a business to make sure that everything you are doing is legal - for example, once you make a certain amount of money from your gigs, you will need to pay taxes.
Most likely, you will be working primarily from home. You need to create your very own at-home office! Equipment that you will need includes:
- Computer or laptop: I own a laptop, which I find is a much better purchase than a desktop computer because I can take it with me anywhere I need to be.
- Printer, ink cartridges, and paper: A small printer will do just fine for your home. You never know when you need to print something out, so it's preferable to own a printer than to go to a shop to print materials.
- Invoice layout: An invoice should have your client's name and business address, your name and address, your SIN, the project title/description, and the amount owed, as well as the date. You will need to give an invoice to each of your clients and you should keep copies for your own records, too.
- Receipt book: Go to Staples or another office supplies store for a small receipt book. You should give each client a receipt after you have completed the job and after you have received payment for your work.
- Pens, pencils, notebook: Obvious essentials for being at home or on the road! You will also need these items in order to keep track of your hours.
- Timer: Always keep track of how much time you spend on every project, no matter if you are being paid by the hour or by the word. You need to do this so that you can see how much time to allow yourself for future projects, and so that you can more accurately judge how much you should charge in the future.
- Hole-puncher, stapler, paper cutter, shredder, paper clips: Basic office equipment for anyone working from home.
- Flash drive and hard drive: Back up your work. You won't regret backing it up, but you will regret not backing it up if you lose all your work from your computer crashing!
- Resume and a selection of writing samples to give to a prospective client in case they're interested: I am currently working on creating a binder which will include all of my published work, but in the meantime I have a few articles which I am particularly proud of that show my adeptness in a number of fields. Have writing samples ready to show at any time. They should also be updated regularly.
- Business cards: Before I had ever done my first paid freelancing gig, I made up business cards that said I was a freelance writer and editor. This achieved two things: first, it brought home to me that I was serious about it and that this was my job; and second, it made it more accessible for others to reach me when I started giving out business cards to everyone I knew. Business cards demonstrate professionalism. It is tangible evidence of your credibility.
Do you have any other necessities for building a freelancing business? Leave your ideas and must-haves in the comments section below!
Welcome to our latest mini-series on Freelancing! In this series, we'll address:
Part One: Gaining Experience
Part Two: Building and Preparing Your Business
Part Three: Finding Work
Part Four: Freelancing Fees
Part Five: Organizing Your Time
If there is anything else you would be interested in learning about with regards to freelancing, please don't hesitate to leave a comment with your request.
Part One: Gaining Experience
Gaining experience and developing your unique set of skills is the first step to building your freelancing career. Before you can get clients, you have to show them that you are worth hiring.
University and college educations are incredibly useful, though not always necessary. An academic background shows that you have discipline, can work on a deadline, are able to deal with stress, and can multi-task. If you have a degree in your field (such as a B.A. in the Rhetoric, Writing, and Communications department when you're going into freelance writing and editing), this also shows your clients that you have studied your craft and are a specialist in that field.
Besides having a diploma or some experience in a university or college setting, volunteer experience is also crucial. In university, I was a note-taker for one of my classmates through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I had to take detailed, clear notes each class to ensure that my classmate was getting all of the information he needed for studying. When we both received marks in the high 90's by the end of the year, it was a good indication that being a good note-taker is an invaluable service - and it also honed my skills at writing quickly and paying strict attention to in class.
Another good volunteer experience is to write articles for print and/or online media. My two years working at a university newspaper as a volunteer health columnist, art/theatre/film critic, and proofreader show that I have been published and that I have experience working in a journalistic environment. Writing two blogs on my own time is also indicative of my experience with and passion for writing and editing.
Not only can you show clients your published work, but having been published (even for free) is also like practicing your craft. With every article that I write, I'm able to improve my style and writing technique. My grade 11 Creative Writing teacher once said that he wanted us to write a story that was the worst thing we'd ever written, so that we could get it out of our systems and improve from there. Practice is the only way you'll get better, and you might as well get published while you're at it!
Newspapers and magazines can be tricky to get into, which is why I recommend writing a blog. Choose something that you are passionate about so that you will be able to continue writing it on a regular basis, always updating with new, fresh content. The blogging world can open up a lot of doors for you, beginning with writing guest posts on other blogs and moving up to getting noticed by print media. Keep writing for the public to see and you will be gaining the experience you need to prove yourself as an accomplished writer.
What things have you done (or are you doing) to gain experience for your chosen career path?