Freelancing requires very little capital or equipment. What it does need is expertise and strong business skills to grow in the field. With just the right moves, you can turn gigs and side jobs into successful businesses and become your own boss.
In The Freelance Way, author Robert Vlach compiled data, advice from world-class experts, basics, and best practices for beginning freelancers, as well as career strategies and tools for veterans in the field.
Early on in the book, Robert writes ‘Businesses can be learnt, and you can learn it too’, elaborating that it isn’t luck that will guide a person towards success, but their set of skills. Freelancing, he notes, has three core pillars – expertise, administrative obligations, and business.
Here are some key tips from The Freelance Way:
Set long-term schedules
For freelancers who are just starting out, it is important to prioritise side jobs such as gigs through acquaintances, family, and friends. This will give you an idea of what is in store in the field, without having to commit to the freelancing life. It is also important to clarify what the core of the business will be, based on your expertise and interest. This protects you from splitting investment and attention. Robert adds that freelancers need to set a long-term schedule to map new trends in their chosen field or market. They need to keep improvising and upskilling. “Consider getting one new foreign client. Try atleast three ways of finding one – approach a foreign agency, ask peers, or register on an online portal,” he writes.
Reputation is crucial
A good name in the market can lead to more clients. Alongside expertise, it is equally important to have a good name to attract more clients. Customers know perfectly well that demanding work needs years of experience and that’s why they look for known names in the profession. Lasting names in the field is a good way to judge quality. Clients tend to pay more to expert freelancers for whom they have received recommendations. And since people will discuss your work only occasionally, it is critical to be consistent with the quality. Robert notes that things are much better for professionals who have worked on their craft for years. “In advanced economies, independent professionals’ careers often hit their peak well into their sixties. Over even later,” he writes.
The truth about freelancing
While the efforts of employees go to employers, freelancers get to create work of lasting value which can turn into a massive source of income if protected. Independence and freedom are an important element of freelancing along with time flexibility, freedom to work from anywhere, being your own boss, being able to choose projects, respect, and more. But this life also has its downside which include financial uncertainty, loss of work-life boundaries, searching for clients, workaholism, loneliness, high taxes, among others.
Productivity is vital
“Freelancing takes on so many forms that it is unthinkable for one personal productivity method to work for everyone,” Robert writes. Freelancers who have aced the productivity game are the ones who have developed their own system out of situations they have found, studied, and observed elsewhere. So having your own routine and methods is important. Discipline plays a key role – no matter how unsure you feel, you need to focus on the day’s goals and turn up the heat. Reducing workload is equally important, because it drains your reserves and reduces efficiency. “If you are working nonstop against your wishes, it is usually the result of bad or neglected pricing,” Robert writes, encouraging freelancers to raise their prices.
You are as good as your clients
Robert says that a freelancer’s client portfolio needs to be balanced and well developed. While each client has their own unique value, the important ones must come first as they hold the most value. Stepping up the quality of customer experience you provide to an important client is crucial and can go a long way.
Problem solving is a part of business. While customers know that problems may arise, it is up to freelancers to solve these problems to their satisfaction. Offering compensation and an apology even before they ask for it can help maintain a solid relationship.
It is also critical to remember that the customer is never wrong – the fault lies in bad order management. Whenever you encounter a problem with a customer, fix it but also fix your general order management, Robert writes.
Negotiation skills are key
Robert mentions that freelancers need to get better at negotiations as that is the only way to successfully face business practices and situations. “Knowledge of common negotiation strategies, manipulation techniques and customs is an indispensable foundation,” he writes. He adds that freelancers need to differentiate people with whom it makes sense to negotiate. A good negotiator is polite and calm towards the person they are negotiating and building a relationship with, but they also don’t retreat into bad positions. He goes on to write that your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) needs to be strong. “A strong BATNA means not reaching an agreement won’t really hurt. You have other better possibilities. Your negotiating position is strong, and you only compromise out of goodwill,” he adds. Solidifying your BATNA i.e. having a reserve such as work for two-three months will give freelancers a strong edge against bad deals.
The risk of non-payers is real
Non-payment is one of the most critical issues freelancers face, and it is sneaky, significantly growing over time. While things are subsequently improved over time, it is helpful to do business with legal awareness and with the help of a lawyer. Robert writes that freelancers must not overlook initial warning signs such as unwillingness to make upfront payments, which is the most reliable security method. Orders and work should be properly documented in case of any dispute.
Customers will be searching for you
Robert mentions that freelancers must appear in all online searches to gain more businesses. Social media is useful for freelancers as it is the glue for the community where their expertise lies. Robert lists Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube as the main platforms to be on. “Update your picture, bio, contact info every year or so,” he adds. If you are a creative freelancer, it is important to have an online portfolio. Another creative way to grab eyeballs is through video blogs and podcasts.
For more tips and tricks about freelancing and growing your business, get your copy of The Freelance Way by Robert Vlach.
TITLE: The Freelance Way
AUTHOR: Robert Vlach
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins India