7 Tips for Succeeding as a Freelance Tech Business Owner
The essential things you need to know to help you make your business a success
The following excerpt is from Shelby Larson's book Moonlighting on the Internet. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
Shelby Larson presents the most reliable and proven ways you can create an extra paycheck for the short term and establish a continual revenue stream for the long term with your own website. In this edited excerpt, Larson outlines seven things you can do to improve your chances on long-term success as a freelance tech professional.
If you're passionate about computers, possess a background in information technology, are naturally analytical, good at problem solving, or have a gift for attention to detail, there are a few freelancing paths in the tech arena that may be just right for you. Trained technicians command high dollar figures, and hanging out your shingle as a freelance tech expert can be an attractive option.
It's important to understand that having a technical skill to market and knowing where to look for your first freelancing jobs are just the start. Employers looking to hire freelancers on job sites generally want skilled workers who are experienced or have a positive feedback rating on the site in question.
A good strategy to build a portfolio and client base is to accept jobs paying less than you're really worth at first in order to get your foot in the door, do good work, and receive positive reviews. Build a reputation this way, then start going after better-paying jobs charging what you're really worth. Freelance tech people are often scrutinized a little more thoroughly than other types of freelancers. Getting those first few jobs under your belt with positive feedback will make your journey a lot easier.
Another virtual guarantee with tech freelancing is that you'll likely be interviewed before prospects make the decision to hire you. For that reason, it's important to develop quality interviewing skills and keep an updated resume. This becomes more true as the type of technology services you're providing become more advanced. Coding a piece of software for someone is a whole different arena from writing a report for them to give away.
As a freelancer, you'll be competing with many other people for jobs, so it's incumbent upon you to not only present yourself well, but also make it clear that it would be a mistake NOT to hire you! Here are several tips to help make that a reality.
1. Assemble a killer personal portfolio.
This one can be a bit tricky at the outset, as you need to make sure you have permission to show work you've done previously for an employer as a sample of your work. Going forward, make sure anything you do as a freelancer you have the right to show. Be careful about signing NDAs (nondisclosure agreements), as they can sometimes restrict you from showing your best work. Put your best, most recent work in your portfolio, and make both a print and online version of it for best results.
2. Get glowing recommendations.
Ask clients to give you written or video testimonials, as these can very often make the difference in whether you're considered for a job. If you've done quality work for them, this should be no problem. Moreover, they'll be likely to use you again and again, as well as refer you to others.
3. Be sure to charge what you're worth.
Once you have some freelance jobs under your belt, decide on your base rate and stick to it. You understand what the work entails, and your clients don't. Explain what they're getting for their money, and demonstrate why you're worth it. You'll always get clients who will lowball you, and who will expect you to do a job on the cheap with the promise of more and better-paying work in the future. This almost never works out, so be willing to decline jobs.
4. Diversify your client base.
It's essential that you diversify your client base as much as you can. It's great to have clients who have projects so large that they eat up most or all of your time, but there will come a day when either you're done, or they head in another direction.
What do you do then? If you plan to remain a freelancer long term, make it your business to always have a steady stream of leads coming into your business. If your work is in high demand, you can take only the highest-paying jobs or perhaps hire a subcontractor or two and realize a little passive income. Wouldn't that be a nice problem to have!
5. Learn new skills and stay up-to-date.
While it's tempting to simply concentrate on the work at hand, if you're going to build a viable freelancing career, you'll need to keep up-to-date on what's going on in the tech world. As you know, this field changes so fast it can be very hard to keep up with, but you must, as clients will be asking you about it, and you need to look well-informed. Consider it a business expense (timewise) you're putting into your future earnings. Learning new skills can also help make you even more marketable. If you find a certain professional certification will help you get some jobs you might be missing, consider investing in it.
6. Learn to network professionally.
For a freelancer, this is one of the biggest areas of opportunity. Almost everyone you run into these days either needs a freelancer or knows someone who does. If you're not out there talking to people, they won't know how you can help them and will likely find someone else.
While it can be hard to venture out into that land beyond the computer screen and actually connect with people, if you want to make the big bucks, this is where the action starts. Start by attending local business gatherings and chamber of commerce mixers. It might be a big stretch for you at first, but when the referrals start flowing in, you may feel differently!
You should also consider attending highly ranked internet marketing conferences. Online, you're just one in a sea of people advertising their skills. But at a conference, you can talk to people, hear exactly the type of work they're looking for, and get a good feel for their experience working with freelance tech up to that point. It's invaluable to be able to listen to people in your target market talk about what they're looking for and what their pain points are. This will enable you to structure yourself as a better solution for them. Plus, you get the opportunity of making yourself and your skills known to them personally.
7. Create an air of legitimacy.
People need to believe that you aren't going to take their check and never talk to them again. Create a real business presence; at the very least this includes business cards, a business checking account, a website, a dedicated business email, and a phone or Skype line. When you meet with a prospective client, make sure to present in a professional manner. Most businesspeople you'll come in contact with and try to solicit work from won't appreciate or hire someone they feel is not a pro.
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