Being a freelancer means a lot of freedom to plan your own days at work, but it also does require discipline and planning. Being your own boss, you need to be good at making the right rules to succeed. Most of these tips sound just like common sense, but actually remembering everything when it’s needed isn’t necessarily as easy as you would think.
Different rules work for different people. Having worked as a freelancer on and off for over ten years, I’ve created this list of my best tips on how to succeed. Maybe you already use several of these or versions of them, great! Hopefully you will also find a tip or three that can help you to succeed in what you do! :)
The most important tip coming above all of this. You are in the web design industry, that changes quickly so you must be committed to never ending learning. You gotta love what you do to do this. But when you do, you will be able to offer higher end services for your clients and eventually double your freelance rates.
1. Make a marketing/business plan
This should be the first thing you do. Even though you have all the info needed in your head, putting it on paper will give many advances and definitely be worth the extra work. Not only will you that way be «forced» to think through important issues and possible challenges before they occur, but it can also be a lot easier for you to get the needed help from potential business partners or investors when you have a good business plan to show them. You need to know how you will find clients, you need a plan in place, here is an article to get you started.
2. Plan your days ahead
Allow yourself an hour or so at the beginning of each work week, or the last hour of the previous week to plan the upcoming week. Then it’ll be easier for you to plan how to spend your hours to reach the deadlines you have upcoming. The more ongoing projects you have, the more important this is.
3. Use free software, but buy few premium tools that will make you more productive
Starting up as a freelancer can be challenging economically, and by choosing from all available and good free software you can save a lot of costs without necessarily having to give up a lot of functionality. Free doesn’t have to mean it’s not good software, there are more and more options available every day so make sure you check out what can be used related to your business. When you buy a computer, camera, tablet or printer make sure to check out the software that comes with it as well. You may be in for a positive surprise.
Don’t try to pay for everything, but pay for the premium tools you would use daily. For example, when building websites, I never use free themes, I always go either for a quality premium WordPress theme or framework. But again, this expense doesnt make sense to you if you are a graphic designer. If you are building websites regularly for your clients, it totally does make sense to become 10x more productive.
4. Create an eye-catching logo
To look professional and catch those potential clients in a tight market, requires hard work when it comes to branding yourself. Creating an eye-catching logo (or getting someone to do that for you if you lack the skills yourself) can make you seem more professional and easier to see. The power of a good logo and actually using it on business cards, websites and such will give you that professional look which could be the extra inch needed to catch the attention of a new client.
5. Learn to say NO!
If you don’t have the time for another client at the moment, it’s important to be able to realize it and say no. It is the most fair thing to yourself, your existing client and the new ones that knock on your door. Worst case scenario is saying yes to too many and it having consequences for existing clients. You always want to make sure you have enough time to give your current clients the best service you can. A client too many could be the thing that lowers the quality of all your work.
6. Make a blog/website
In this Internet age that we are, having a website of your own can mean a whole lot. Not only does it make you look more professional but it is also a gateway to new clients. Many do surf the net to find people for their next projects and if they can’t find you online they won’t know you’re there.
7. Update your website regularly
Do you already have a website or blog? – great! But to maximize its value to you it’s very important to update it regularly. If new clients visit your site and see that you haven’t updated the content for a very long time, that might just be the reason for them to choose someone else instead. Updating regularly will require an hour of your time every now and then but can pay back multiple times rewarding you with new clients.
8. Give your online visitors something free
Giving something extra to the visitors on your website always is a good thing. If you work as a designer you can for example consider putting up some free textures or buttons. This will give your site more visitors and potentially more clients for you. Or how about offering every visitor a percentage off on their first order with you? Again, this could be the extra thing needed to stand out to new clients.
9. Use social media
Social media is where many relationships are made these days. No matter which country you live in, using social media can connect you to potential clients and partners all over the world. Twitter is a must, and you should consider Facebook and also forums related to your business. If you are a designer consider having a look at deviantArt and YouTube as well. In several of these media you can advertise for your own business as long as you make sure to not spam it too much.
10. Get allies
Having allies can mean everything. Connecting with people through social media or even spreading the word of your business through friends and family can get you just that word out there that you need. Also making relations with people who can do things for the clients that you can’t can help, you give the clients a more complete package of what they need. One day you are the one sending a client to an ally that can offer a more suitable service in that case, the next day you could be the one having clients sent your way.
11. Save for rainy days
Even though your business may go really well, there can and probably will come a bad month or two every now and then. Being a freelancer is being vulnerable to changes in the market. My advice would be to save up a little bit of your income each month, save it in an own savings account so that you have it as a safety buffer for when times get rough. You sure wont regret doing that. It would be a shame if a couple of small bills would ruin everything for you in a bad month.
12. Be creative
There are many ways to be creative, to get new clients or to make better use of equipment and office space. Some examples can be to upgrade an existing computer if you can’t afford a new one, redecorate a spare room if you can’t afford the rent for an office outside of your home. Add a new product or service to your current list or ask friends or family if they know anyone that may be in need of your services. The options are many, all you need is to try think a bit out of the box
13. Reward loyal customers
If the market is tight you need to do what you can to have your customers back a second and third time. Being friendly and service minded is always a must, but what about giving them a discount the second time? Or sending them special offers of various kinds. Use your fantasy and implement these things into your business plan. Make customers want to come back and you will have the best possible chance to survive.
14. Treat every client as if he is the only one
Giving existing customers good offers as mentioned in the previous tip is important. But remember to be service minded. If a customer feels important that will make him more loyal as well. Use positive language when you talk or write to him. Don’t be afraid to say that you will go out of your way to make sure he is satisfied with the product/service he is getting. And remember to let him know that feedback is appreciated. That way you can keep making your services more and more attractive and get happier clients. Don’t forget that existing clients can be the best advertising you ever get!
15. Work when you are at work
If you have decided to work from lets say 8am to 4pm every day, then do so. If you have errands to run, private mail accounts to check, private phone calls to make and so on, these will quickly eat of your much-needed work time. Make a promise to yourself to only do this when you are not supposed to work, as in before or after work or during your lunch break. It may not seem that much to you, but I’ve seen several great freelancers getting their days completely messed up because they were not good enough at managing their time properly.
16. Know when to start and stop
Just as important as actually working when you are at work, is starting when you should and stopping when you should. You may have to prepare yourself for working extra hours every now and then to keep your business alive, but it is very important that you have free time too. You need to recover and get your mind filled with other things or you will get burned out and ruin things for yourself. The more hours you work at once, the less productive you get. So remember to follow your own rules on when to start and stop the day at work.
17. Keep your finances tidy
Keeping your finances tidy probably sounds easy, and it can be – as long as you keep an eye on them regularly. No matter how small a business you are running you will run into trouble if you only spend time on billing and accounting once or twice a year. Set up dates for when you pay your bills, when you send out invoices to clients and to make monthly budgets. Not only will this make it easier for you throughout the whole year but you will be able to fix errors quicker, do adjustments if needed and so on.
18. Remember to breathe
Breathe you say? Yes ;) And by breathing I mean that you need to take care of yourself. You may be freelancing using a computer or two, a camera or other tools, – but the most important tool will always be yourself. Remember to continue to spend time on your hobbies, friends and family even if you have a busy work schedule.
19. Get out of the house occasionally (especially if you work from home)
If you have a home based office it’s important to get some fresh air. Book some of your meetings somewhere else, meet business partners for lunch, or spend an hour or two working from a library or coffee shop with your laptop if you can. The change of scenery may boost your energy level/creativity and give you a lot back.
20. Make an inspirational string
Rough days come and rough days go. Simple as it may sound, having something around you to remind you of why you are working this hard can be what you need to get some extra energy on that one difficult day. Make your own inspirational string! Take a piece of string or use a cork board/whiteboard, whichever you have available. Add a picture of your kids, of the vacation spot you are saving to go to, or maybe a car you hope to be able to buy. Add some of your favorite inspirational quotes or pictures, whatever inspires you really. And there you go, your own inspirational string! Taking a look at it when you are close to giving up or when a day is extra stressful can work wonders for you. You should give it a try :)
21. Be humble
No one is born an expert or world champion. If things go well or you feel on top of things it can be easy to get a little bit too confident, which can be bad for your reputation and bad for the quality of your work. You should always aim to be humble, listen to your clients on what they want. Give them your professional opinion when needed but in the end it is the client that generates your paycheck. Also remember to willingly take advice from colleagues or others who have been in the market for a while.
22. Look professional, in every way possible
You have the logo, the website and so on and things are starting to look pretty good. Remember to also meet clients with respect, look presentable and be polite. Being your own boss doesn’t mean you can talk or act in any way and still keep your clients. Remember that.
23. Ask for feedback
Not only should you have comments enabled on your website but you should also ask your friends/family/allies for feedback on your work. And most important of all, after you have finished your project – ask the client what he thinks. Not only do you get a great chance to improve but the client also feels important. Getting someone else’s opinion is always good and this will help you to become even more successful.
24. Always carry a notebook around with you
It being a normal notebook, your iPhone or any other digital form of “notebook” you should carry it with you and remember to take notes. This is for many reasons. Not only can you unexpectedly run into a potential client or an existing one, but you may come up with valuable ideas when you are on the bus, on the plane or basically anywhere else. Several times have I had amazing ideas, not had a notebook, forgotten the ideas and seen them used somewhere else a year later.
25. Take the time you need!
This is so important, it can’t be mentioned enough. Same as with the tip about learning to say no. Once you have said yes to a project you need to make sure that you take the time needed to do the best you can do. Handing over a project that is half done will not only give you a client who won’t come back, but it can give you a bad reputation. Your clients are your best references to show in the future and no one want a freelancer who leaves the work half-finished.
Feel free to leave your own tips or feedback using the comments, and good luck in the world of freelancers! :)