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Welcome to the first post in my blog series, “The World of Freelancing”. It’s a guide for those looking to start freelancing, & those who are already freelancing and want to get better at managing their time, projects, finances & clients. It will have guides, tips and tricks that come from my experience as a web & graphic freelancer in Ireland, from the age of 16 to 20, but most, if not all of the lessons in it will be applicable to any freelancer, regardless of your location, vocation or age.
The series will feature these topics, and more will be added overtime:
- An introduction to freelancing (what you’re reading now)
- How to get started with freelancing
- Getting your first clients: Cold calling and networking
- Managing your projects – File organisation & proposals
- Managing your finances – Invoices & billing
What is Freelancing:
Let’s begin with what freelancing is. A freelancer is someone who works for themselves, and gets to pick the clients/customers they work for. They can work alone or as part of a team. Many of them are remote workers, working out of their homes, co-working offices, cafes or on the road. They’re typically selling a product or service over the internet. Outsourcing is a term that comes up a lot in freelancing. It means getting someone outside of your business to do the work for you. So a business might outsource all of its graphic design work to a graphic design freelancer, instead of paying to hire their own graphic designer. Businesses will typically do this if they don’t need enough work done to justify hiring a new person to do it. If you only need four posters made every week, hiring a graphic designer full time, even part time, is probably a poor decision.
I want to quickly make an important distinction between a freelancer and an entrepreneur. A freelancer sells a skill or skills as a product or service, by themselves; their output is limited to the amount of hours they have in a day. An entrepreneur sets up a business that, eventually, can be run without them, making money in their sleep. For more on this distinction, read this short and excellent post by marketing magician Seth Godin:
The Pros & Cons
A freelancer can choose his/her own hours, holidays and people they work for. They can set their own rate and run things the way they want. As a college student, freelancing works really well, as I can schedule the bulk of my work for the weekends, or in the evenings during the week, letting me party, sleep in & recover, & get to work when the last Jägerbomb has left my system.
Compared to a normal job, freelancing is fantastic for networking & getting to meet people in your industry. If you work for another business, you’re usually confined to the people inside it and whatever clients you deal with. Freelancing has let me meet and network with a multitude of people from many industries. I’ve worked with musicians, entrepreneurs, printing companies, estate agents, supplement stores, etc etc etc.
You learn a lot of professional & life skills as a freelancer. A normal job is pretty safe; you get told what to do and how to do it, and you can sleep easy knowing you’ll get a reliable paycheque. Freelancing is a lot less stable but oh boy, do you get more experience! I’ve had to chase down clients who are late paying, three days before my rent is due. I’ve taken on jobs that were way out of my depth, accidentally deleted an entire website, been threatened with legal action… the list goes on. I’ve had great successes and also made a lot of mistakes. But these mistakes have taught me lessons that a lot of people won’t learn unless they strike out on their own after college.
Some of the cons are:
You need to have a lot of motivation, determination and the ability to take the initiative. You are the sole driving force behind your ability to make profit. All of the responsibility is on you. Important decisions will come down to you. You’ll have to learn the basics of a lot of new areas – marketing & self-promotion, networking, cold calling, accounting – unless you can afford to pay someone else to do this. Any other issues that arise are down to you to solve. But view all of this as a fantastic opportunity to grow and self-improve. Throwing yourself into a new, difficult path like freelancing will see your professional & organisational skills take leaps and bounds.
Freelancing can be difficult if you’re not confident in your own abilities. You need to have the confidence to take on difficult jobs, and charge the price you’re worth. What to charge people for your time will be a post of its own in the future, as it’s very important but is something I struggled with at the outset. Don’t be afraid to say what you think you’re worth; it’s a lot easier to bring down the quote for a job than it is to bring it up!
Freelancing will usually require some money up front. If you want to make jewellery, you’ll need some resources and possibly some tools to get started. For me, I needed my own laptop, 3G mobile data, a web server for hosting websites and a monthly subscription to Adobe’s software suite, Creative Cloud.
It’s a good idea, where possible, to save up living expenses, especially if you want freelancing to replace your normal job. I, and most articles on personal finance, suggest having three months living expenses saved up before making any risky or uncertain decisions regarding your job.
Things to consider before starting:
Other than the pros and cons listed above, you’ll need to see if you’ve the resources needed to start freelancing. Most of what you’ll need will come down to time and money. If you want to make jewelery, you’ll need the equipment to do it. You’ll need to put time into researching how to best go about it, and you will need time to actually go and do it – make the jewelery, sell it online and ship it.
With careful planning, you should be able to start exploring freelancing while keeping your regular job. In a larter article, I’ll cover the steps you should follow before quitting your job to freelance full time.
You should be able to explore freelancing without much risk, other than the time and money you put in. Think it through and test the waters. There’s a great saying in business: “Fail fast.” If something isn’t going to work, you want to find that out as quickly as possible, so that you can shut up shop and move on to something else.
How I began freelancing:
In 2012, I was about to start Transition Year; a year in second level school in Ireland where you take a years break from the normal curriculum to work on a variety of different projects, go on tours, and generally take a break from studying from books. You get a good bit of freedom to work on your own projects. I was 16, and it was during this year that my desire to work for myself began to grow.
My Dad introduced me to Lynda.com, an online tutorial website where you can learn a whole range of skills, from business management and web development to 3D modelling & photography. I began using it to learn to build websites. After some Googling on the best way to start, I learned the bare-bones basics of HTML (blatantly skipping over CSS) and then learned to use Drupal, a content management system. When I was able to put a basic website together, my Dad (always looking to ignite my curiosity and do things for myself) suggested that I started building websites for people. I didn’t think I was ready to do that, but he urged me on, and set up a meeting with a friend of his: a local author who needed a website. We had a short, informal meeting and I agreed to do her website for €200; a lot of money for me at that age. It’s still a lot now at 20 years of age…
And that’s the short story of my first client. The site is long gone but it worked, looked decent and did what the client wanted. It gave me a huge confident boost, and got me thinking about how far I could take freelance web design.
From there, I started learning more about freelancing, business and web design. A few months later I made the switch to WordPress, a different content management system (system for building websites). I built my skills, my portfolio of work & clients, & my network, and got to the point where I was able to support myself through my freelancing work.
And that’s it for the first blog post. I’ll be posting once every weekend, and the next topic will be on how to get started yourself. Enter your email below to get notified of the next one, & leave a comment if you’ve any questions or feedback.