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Becoming a Successful Freelancer

Darrell Ritchie

Okay, so you’ve had it with the day job, your boss is a jerk, and you dream about breaking free and doing your own thing. You want to call the shots and you want to be the one that the buck stops with, namely because you are convinced in your soul that you can make better business decisions and do what is best for your life and career.

Before you make that jump into freelancing, you might want to stop and consider a few things. Firstly, make sure that you have a real talent or service to sell. Without that, even the best marketing and promotion will get you nowhere. Know what you have to offer and how it can be of benefit to a great many people (because that is what you are going to need).

The benefits of freelancing are numerous, the freedom, flexibility, making your own rules, etc. But there are some things to remember and consider.

Establish your focus and maintain it. You need to remember that your income is now solely your responsibility. I was a freelancer for 20 years and I very quickly discovered that the amount of time and effort I put in was directly proportional to the amount of money I had to spend. I recommend jumping in with both feet and accumulating a solid backlog of work, clients, and various assignments. The faster you build your clientele, the faster you will reach a point where you can sit back and coast for a bit, enjoying your newfound freedom.

Specialize. You want to zero in on what you do and do it very well. Trying to cover a whole lot of bases or services will only culminate in half baked results. Believe it or not, specializing in one area can actually increase opportunities for work.

It’s lonely at the top. Unlike corporate America, freelancing is a solitary business. In all likelihood you’ll be on your phone or online much of the time, with little interaction with the outside world. This can have some not so pleasant effects. The key is to get out of that office for a while every day. I used to make it a point of going out for lunch somewhere almost every day. It got a little expensive, but it was worth it when it came to keeping from going stir crazy. You might also want to learn to network with other successful freelancers, spending time with and encouraging each other.

Cash flow. This is the single trickiest part of the process. Freelancing rarely involves a regular paycheck, and some assignments may have you waiting 30 or 60 days for payment. When you are staring a mortgage payment in the face but there aren’t enough digits in your checking balance to cover it, well, that can be depressing. It isn’t easy to do, but building up a cash reserve buffer can help see you through those dry times. I was a musician for twenty years, and I typically found that for me, December was a very dry month, one where I might perform only two or three times as opposed to the 12-13 in a given month. I learned to put enough away so I could afford to coast for a month around Christmas. And having the time off to spend with family uninterrupted was very nice.

ABC…..Always Be Closing. Continue with your marketing and promotion efforts even if you do have a solid client base. All it takes is for one major client to back out on you and suddenly you are left trying to make up for considerable lost capital. Have your market targeted and go specifically after those clients that will offer the best return on your time and talent. Basically, have enough irons in the fire that your operation won’t be disrupted for the long term in the event that something unfortunate happens.

Keep work at work, even if it is at home. This is a difficult one. I know how hard it is to work from home when you are easily distracted by the dryer buzzing, kids crying, the wife needing your attention for something. Establish regular work hours and stick with them. Inform your spouse, your kids, heck, even your friends and extended family that during these hours, you are to be considered “at work”. You wouldn’t be called home from the office to empty the dishwasher, so likewise you should be allowed to work uninterrupted in your home office as well.

By the same token, have a stopping place every day. And once you have left your home office, resist the urge to return. Again, you wouldn’t just run back to your downtown cubicle at the drop of a hat during the evening, would you? Leave work at work.

If you play your cards right, there is no reason that you cannot become a successful freelancer. Now go and be successful…..

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