Friday, December 7, 2012

Guest Post: Four Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Freelancing

Hi everyone! Today I'm welcoming writer Kate Wilson to my blog. She has shared a piece she wrote on freelance writing. If you have followed my blog, you know how much I recommend freelance writing to make a supplemental income.

I'd like to address the writers, designers, and entrepreneurs out there who're considering giving up their day job for a career as a freelancer.

Starting out as a freelancer sounds like a great gig, especially when you're daydreaming about it at a typical 8-5 desk job. But I can tell you from experience that the realities of freelancing are much more nuanced and far less glamorous than whatever you might be dreaming up while typing up a fresh batch of reports for the office. Some bloggers make freelancing out to be the best thing since sliced bread—and while it is a great vocation, there are some aspects of the job that aren't for everyone.

That's not to say that I want to discourage your from starting out on your own as a freelancer, far from it. I just want to equip you, dear reader, with the realities of a life change as drastic as working for yourself. So without further ado, I'd like to share with you four tidbits of advice that I wish I had known before I started out as a freelancer myself. Enjoy, and good luck to all those who do set out on their own!

Money will be tight for a while
I saved about three months' worth of salary before quitting my day job to become a freelancer. I had no illusions about the fact that it would take me quite some time before I could hope to earn a sustainable income, so I had to play it as safe as possible.

Let me tell you this: three months' worth of salary from a decent desk job will only stretch so far when money's tight and projects are few and far between. I was paying for upkeep on my own supplies and appliances, lunches with potential clients, travel expenses, etc. While there's no magic number to save before setting out on your own, one thing is for sure: if you have some money saved, chances are that it's not enough. In other words, save as much money as you can and then some before you quit your job!

Don’t be choosey about clients, even those that are difficult to work with
There is no guaranteed work as a freelancer; you're only as financially stable as the number of clients and projects you have in your docket. That means that you really have to be proactive about finding new sources for work and keeping those that you already have happy and content with your work. Sometimes you'll come across clients that seem like a godsend, ones that can articulate what they want and how they want it done, whether it’s a batch of writing or a web design. These clients are to be cherished.

Many more clients (in my experience) aren’t as skilled at articulating what they want exactly from freelancers. They'll sketch a rough idea of how they want a project to turn out, and it's up to the freelancer to meet those expectations and try to produce content that will please them. Typically this process involves a lot of back-and-forth between the client and the freelancer, including several critiques and maybe some snarky emails. But this is all familiar territory for freelancers: clients are clients, money is money, even if it comes from employers that aren't exactly pleasant to work with.

Get an agreement in writing from a client before working on a project
Which brings me to the subject of making money. This should go without saying, but it's absolutely critical that freelancers get paid for all the work they do for a client. If you're uncertain about how a client will pay for your services, be sure to enshrine your rates and policies in a contract that they will agree to and sign prior to doing any work on the project.

At the very least, your contract should include hourly rates, stipulations for overtime, and precise language on acceptable methods and dates of payment. There's nothing worse than working on a project for a client before they've signed anything, only to find out that they no longer want your work. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you by writing up a solid contact and you'll be fine.

Being your own boss is a lot of work
Again, when I pictured being a freelancer, I thought of all the stereotypes: working in my pajamas, waking up whenever I wanted to, accepting and denying work at my leisure, and taking long lunch breaks. But once you start freelancing, you quickly realize just how responsible you have to be to earn a sustainable living. Sure, you can wake up at 11AM every day as a freelancer, but you probably won't win over many clients that way. Freelancing could be a harsh wakeup call for writers and entrepreneurs who aren't used to so much responsibility, but it could also be a springboard into success for people who can handle it.

Kate Wilson is a freelance writer currently writing about political involvement in higher education for Kate also covers topics related to higher education and mobile tech innovations, especially when both of those topics intersect. Feel free to send some comments her way!

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