Have you been working in an agency for a while? Sick of the crazy deadlines, demanding art directors and clients that don’t understand what you do? Have you thought about going out on your own?
So you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer.
Great! Freelancing can be a lot of fun. You can work when you want, pick the jobs that you want and still make good money.
There are a number of things that every freelancer needs to be able to do. Some of these you will find really easy, others you won’t. Here are some hints and tips that can help you work around your weaker traits.
Ability to focus
As a freelancer, you won’t have a boss looking over your shoulder and making sure you are on track – and you are also more likely to be interrupted by client phone calls or emails. You need to work out when you focus the best. For me, I work best in the morning, from 8:30am until about 11:30am, then I have another burst between between 3:00pm and 6:00 pm and I’m super productive between 10:30pm and 12:30am. Knowing this, I try to limit my distractions during those peak productivity hours. Don’t be afraid to turn off email, put your phone on silent, and turning off twitter.
There is an important point here in regards to client expectations. A two-to-three hour email or phone response time is actually pretty good – there is no reason why you have to drop everything to answer the phone. Explain to your clients that you block out time for work, and may not respond straight away. If a client thinks this is unreasonable, then you should think about getting rid of them.
Good communication skills
Speaking of speaking to clients… As a freelancer, you no longer have an account manager or project manager to act as a buffer between you and the client. When you are “in the zone” if can be hard to switch into “talking to client” mode – I know if I’m concentrating on a problem and get interrupted, I sound quite grumpy. I recommend using a less-immediate form of communication. Emails are good, as you can easily sit down and batch respond to them between productive periods.
When should you use the phone? Anytime things start getting confusing, or a little heated over email. Written communication lacks many important social cues. Often people who sound snarky on email are just distracted, and a quick phone call will defuse the situation quickly.
Time management skills
This is probably the hardest part of freelancing. Because there is only one of you, you don’t have extra resources to throw at a project that is running late. If a project is taking longer than you expected it affects all of the other jobs in your schedule. I try to ensure I only have one big task and maybe two or three smaller tasks to complete in a day. And don’t fall into the trap of scheduling 8 hours of billable work a day. I’ve found that 4 hours of billable work is a good number to aim for.
This allows you to account for non-billable, and unproductive time (like the post-lunch sleepies I get at about 1pm), and most importantly it gives you a bit of slack – if a job is taking longer than expected, there are some backup hours at your disposal.
Make sure you track what you do during the day. You need to track all of your billable time so you know how much to bill your clients. Remember: Your time is what you are selling. You should also track your non-billable time, just so you can get an idea of how long you are spending on things like accounts and marketing. If you are spending lots of time doing your accounts each month, it might be worthwhile hiring a bookkeeper.
This is also hard, but only because many freelancers start their own business because they are good at what they do, not because they are good at business. The basic formula for success in business is to make sure the amount of money you are earning is more than the amount of money you are spending, so it’s pretty important to track that too. 88 Miles has the business health dashboard that will show you at a glance if you are working enough hours, and making enough money.
You should also get an accounting package like Saasu, Xero or Freshbooks and be vigilant about entering the money that you make and the money you spend on your business. Using an accounting package also makes it easy to see who still owes you money.
Unfortunately, not every client will pay promptly. Some have account departments that will take 30 days to cut you a cheque; Some will try to stretch you out to the end of (and sometimes beyond) your due date; and others will just plain forget. Sending them a friendly reminder a week before the due date and on the due date is a nice things to do, and will often end in a prompt payment. If you are continually having to remind a client or they are constantly late – get rid of them. They are costing you money.
Freelancing isn’t hard, though every person will have different strengths and weaknesses. The key is identifying them and looking for tools and techniques that can help reduce your weaknesses.