In today's uncertain job market, many people are freelancing to keep bills under control while looking for a more permanent gig. Though this strategy can obviously help you keep your lights on and food in the fridge, it can also prepare those would-be entrepreneurs out there for the daily rigors of working for oneself. Freelancing -- like running a business -- isn't easy, however.
Consider these basic tips before jumping into the fray:
Know yourself. What are you exceptionally good at? Can you write well? Don’t confuse writing skills with getting A’s in college. The kind of writing that's required has limited use in the marketplace. You could get work writing papers for students who would rather spend money than learn something, but it’s not very lucrative -- and it's borderline unethical. Blog writing can be a good place to start, but for beginners it doesn’t pay much.
How about layout and design? Can you create Power Points that get people talking? Everything from helping people organize to coordinating an office move can be outsourced. Your first step on the freelancing path is really figuring out what others would be willing to hire you to do.
Speak up. Remember these magic words, I can do that! When you see an opportunity to market your skills, whether it’s to Uncle Bill who owns a hardware store or your neighbor who wants to compile a family history for his grandchildren, if you can help someone and you know your skills are up to the task, ask for the work. Most freelancers start building experience by working for people they know. Then you can start going further afield.
Related: 6 Steps to Better Networking for Young Entrepreneurs
Say no. If you are not comfortable with a freelance job, for whatever reason, walk away (politely). It may involve a set of skills you aren’t up to or people with a reputation for being difficult. You don’t want to risk a failure, particularly at the start of your freelance efforts. Plus the time you spend battling through that project could have been spent strengthening your marketable skills or looking for a more appealing opportunity.
Ask for the money. Many budding freelancers and consultants think that if they work for free for a while, the potential client will be so impressed that they will be willing to pay later. This almost never happens. People will value you at the same dollar level you value yourself. If you demonstrate that you think working for free is OK, they will happily agree with you. Also, the cost of something helps determine its perceived value. Do your market research and determine prices that fit the market.
Warm call. Once you’ve successfully completed a project for a client, keep in touch. At least every three to six months, send an email, make a quick call or send a note to touch base. One key to long-term client relationships is to stay top of mind with them. Over time, you’ll notice that your contact efforts frequently lead to more business. It’s not their job to remember you. It’s your job to remind them.
Reinvent yourself. Over time, needs will change, and you want to be prepared to change with them. For example, social media was not even on the horizon as a marketing strategy ten years ago. Opportunities come as industries and technologies change, and by staying up to date and adding or dropping skills and capabilities, you can keep yourself current with the needs of your market for decades.
What freelancing tips would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.