become pro freelancer

What you need to become a professional freelancer

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become pro freelancer

The usual office job isn’t for everyone anymore. If you’re reading this, you probably agree at least a bit. I mean, really now, how can you love spending more of your life with work colleagues than with friends, lovers, kids and pets or maybe travelling?  Many professionals today consider becoming a freelancer. Because being a freelancer means working for yourself. All your time is your own. You decide what your workload is by deciding the work you take on. You can try new things, learn new skills, specialize, travel, work whenever your energy is highest, eat over your keyboard if you want and bang that heavy metal as loud as you like.

Why you should be a freelancer 

Other than what I’ve mentioned in the lines above here’s some extra reasons:

1. Extra income

You don’t necessarily have to quit your day job to be a freelancer. If you’re fine and dandy as an employee it’s all good. Actually, doing them both can be a great solution if you are more of a control freak and need certain conditions before you fully dive into full-time  independent working. Uh, I know I am. My freelancing days started about 7 years ago and I took on about 3 projects per year in the first 2 years. Slow, yes, I know. I was young and shy and scared and so on.  So as I was saying, freelancing on the side can bring you some extra cash to pay off debts or to save up for a safety net. Safety nets are awesome. Most of the times we don’t need them, but they help us sleep like babies at night. However, juggling employee life and freelance projects can sometimes be overwhelming. And the solution to this problem is balance.

2. Carry on your work

As a freelancer, you can exploit the skills you’ve gathered as an employee. If you’re a social media manager, you can be a freelancing one. Same goes for IT, PR, event planning, consultancy and almost all imaginable jobs out there. The coolest part about using a skill you already have is that your only cost will be time, other than the cost of living, of course. Bottom line is, you can take your day job skills and use them as a freelancer.

3. Small step towards greater independence

Whether you lack the money, the confidence, the pro skills, the support, the peace of mind, the related skills (like legal stuff no one understands or accounting that gives everyone eye pains) freelancing is a good first step towards a greater independence. If your dream is to travel the world 10 times over, but lack certain things, start as a freelancer and build from there. I say this because a lifestyle change can have an unpredictable impact. Sometimes it’s best not to jump head first and go all in. Maybe between life as an employee and life as a digital nomad, a few years as a freelancer would be just perfect.

4. Flexibility

Ever thought what it would be like if weekends would be on Wednesdays and  Thursdays? Sounds unnatural, huh? They could well be so if you are a freelancer. Flexibility is more than just setting your own working hours. Yeah, that’s cool. No more waking up at 6 a.m. and commuting for more than an hour each way everyday. But you will also have the flexibility to skip endless and pointless meetings. How many times have you concluded that the meeting you’ve been stuck in for 3 hours could have easily been an email?

What do you need to get started 

Every successful freelancer out there has a system or a method by which they do things. Those who applied the “wing it” protocol and actually made it are very few and they got lucky. Things don’t happen if you don’t plan them right. And they don’t happen if you just wish they did. You need to make them happen.

We like to call systems and methods smart discipline. It’s not a military program because there is no high commander screaming at you, there is no mandatory waking hours before the chickens and no cleaning out the toilets in the whole base. But it is something that brings order, predictability, effectiveness and efficiency as well as the best chance to succeed. So we called it smart discipline.

1. A skill you can sell

Sounds a bit naughty, but this is the simplest way to put it. You need to offer your clients something you can do well in exchange for money. Okay, still naughty, but you get the point. Design, programming, event organizing, web design, advertising, consultancy, therapy and coaching, even carpentry. Anything you can do well enough to charge for is awesome.If however you have you have an interest in a subject or want to learn something new and make a complete career change, go for it. I know former engineers who became great photographers and a PR specialist who runs a mobile pet salon.

2. A business plan

You read that right. You may be a freelancer, but you are not just an independent worker. What you are is a one man business and you need to treat yourself as one or you risk others thinking little of you and your work. Make a plan that outlines what services you’ll provide, the market you’ll cater to, possible growth paths, marketing strategies and so on. Simpler put, you need an overview and a map of your professional independent business life.

3. Set clear rates and negotiation margins

Do not for the life of you settle with whatever the client is willing to pay. If you’re superstitious you are allowed to accept whatever the first client is paying. But only the first. So set yourself fixed rates for every service you provide and think of numbers over and under your rates that you are comfortable with. I am saying this because there will almost always be a negotiation and you need to know beforehand where you are willing to settle. Remember, you are a business and you have to be profitable otherwise you’ll be stuck living on a day to day regime.

4. Budgets and forecasts

As a respectable professional freelancer and one that wants to succeed you need to be able to keep track and keep in check your cash flow. There’s a balance you have to watch out for. There will be months when you’ll cash in pretty amounts and there will be months when you might cash nothing in or barely cover your living costs, food not included. This is why you should have an Excel, yes that horrid old thing, in which you keep track of what comes in and what goes out cash wise. It’s the best way to not wake up broke one day.

5. A good accountant

It would be advisable to keep your work and earnings legal. Meaning declaring the money, paying taxes and making sure your contracts are registered and so on depending on the rules in your country. Be advised, there may be rules you have no clue about. Many freelancers had issues in this department and it’s never a good idea to say FU to the old financial institutions. They always win, even when it’s not fair. This is a less sexy aspect of a freelancer lifestyle. I suspect this is why many don’t talk about it. If it’s not your specialty, accounting can be pretty much like a foreign language. Hence the recommendation to find a good accountant.

7. Define your clients

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to make a list of clients you’d like to work with. Just imagine the type. For example, money aside, our target clients are clients we would like to go for a beer with. You know, a bit more relaxed, open minded, open to conversation. We aim for clients that want a partnership, not someone who executes commands. Think about what kind of clients you would be happy with.

8. A good website

Keep it simple, but have it. It is a great place where people can contact you, find out stuff about you and where you can showcase your portfolio. You’ll need one especially if you want to live and work in this century and be cost effective.

9. Good Social Media a.k.a self promo

Social Media is it. You know this. Everyone uses it, everyone sees it. There is no escaping it. Social Media is everything from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and Linkedin. Linkedin is especially good for freelancers as it’s the more professional of the options. Of course, the social media platform you should focus on is the one where your clients are most likely to be. Try to always be marketing.

10. Good networking & community

Not all your projects will come over the internet. In fact, many will come from friends and acquaintances recommending you, even more so in the beginning. So be sure to socialize and be nice to people, help them out when they need you to and ask about their health from time to time. Keep your people close. They will be useful in times of need. Mark my words because this is a tested theory.

On a more human level, you need: 

  1. Patience – it won’t all happen over night. Becoming a freelancer is a process. Let it happen, help it happen and give it patience.
  2. People skills – communicate openly, make friends, be nice to clients, be polite to strangers and try to build a community around you or maybe join an existing one. There is strength in numbers.
  3. Perseverance – it will take some time, yes. But don’t quit in the first 6 months. Keep going even on bad days.
  4. Constant reality checks – you will have good streaks, but like everything in life they won’t last. Be careful with your spending and be careful with taking on too much clients as well. Try to be realistic about everything.
  5. Professionalism – you don’t have to be uptight, in fact I advise you not to be, but act like a pro. Update your email address, your Social Media name and handles and so on. Seriously now, busty_brunette90 and sk8tr.skinhead will probably not get you the jobs you want. Or who knows. I’m not here to judge, just give out pointers.

To conclude

Whenever you’re insecure about a decision, remember this: If no one from the future came to stop you, how bad can your decision really be?

Check out the TALKS WITH MAVERICKS section for info from digital nomads themselves and the RESOURCES section for more tips, tricks or advice.

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May the discipline be with you.

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