10 tips for successful freelancing

1) Keep an eye on the competition

Other freelancers around you may offer a slightly different skillset to your own, they may charge more or less. A thorough knowledge of the competition will enable you to define the strengths of your business and pitch to clients with that knowledge. Identify your competition (local online directories) then Google them – many will have websites and blogs. Never before has the competition been as open as it is now - you may even find out what they charge. It’s information that can help you make decisions on how you pitch yourself and what you charge.

2)Protect yourself

There are legalities and formalities involved even with the simplest of freelance jobs. Even if you’re referred through a friend (often murky territory!) protect yourself with a contract and your standard terms and conditions for doing business. Scope of work, schedule and payment terms all need to be in writing, and signed off by the client. Never be embarrassed, it’s good business sense! Understand copyright law, the copyright of the work you create and infringement of anyone else’s copyright (fonts, reproducing copy found online etc).

3) New business

Spend a portion of your working week canvassing for new work, even if you’re inundated – orders get cancelled, clients have a change of heart, often at the last minute. It’s what everyone says you should do, not everyone does it! If you have profitable clients in a certain industry sector, leverage that experience as an opportunity to target others to become your specialist field. If targeting new clients in new industries, ‘pilot’ the research by carrying out whatever marketing activity on a small scale initially then closely following it up to measure its success before investing vast sums of money and time. Divide up your new business time in proportion to the likelihood of success: upselling to existing clients and closing ‘nearly done’ deals are a much warmer prospect that cold calling.

4) Repeat business

There is a well known business theory that 80% of your income will come from 20% of your clients. Know who those profitable clients are and focus your new business efforts on cultivating them. Keep in regular touch with that client, keep up to date with their industry and emerging trends and suggest work you could undertake for them in line with that knowledge. In many industries customer loyalty is a dying concept, however we don’t believe that to be the case with freelancers, so long as you give clients a reason to keep coming back. As a resource already versed in your clients’ markets and objectives you can offer cost-effective services as and when you’re required without the need for an entire ‘background brief’ from the client. If you always deliver on time and to the highest standard and keep in touch, then if the client has other requirements, that income should be yours. Build on customer loyalty by emailing newsletters. Another interpretation of the 80/20 rule is that a handful of services will prove more profitable than others. Does designing Annual Reports prove more profitable than Corporate IDs? An analysis of where your future profit lies will be time well spent.

5) Getting clients to appreciate the financial value of what you offer

Don’t undervalue what you’re selling. Gain a thorough understanding of the value of previous work done for clients by keeping in touch, if you spend time developing a good relationship with your client list not only will they automatically remember you for further work, they’re likely to tell you your brochure, PR campaign, website or product image photography/copy helped increase their sales X%. If you’re interested, then it’s likely the client will keep you in the loop; it’s ‘after sales’ care after all – how well did your work fare? That demonstration of contributing to your clients’ bottom line then goes straight into the equation when you’re demonstrating the difference between your services and another freelancer who works for far less. Are you offering multiple skills? Do you proof read client copy as well as brochure design? Does your PR contact list add extra clout to the campaign? Or perhaps your style of photography is unique.. Have a firm grip on your strengths and be able to demonstrate them when asked. It builds a strong case for not being negotiated down on cost.

6) Training

Another string to your bow is being versed in the latest technology or emerging trends. Freelancers are often self-taught due to financial constraints, but if you fill the inevitable quiet moments reading up on the latest software/tools/resources it will keep you ahead of your game. This industry knowledge again forms part of your pitch when demonstrating value.

7) Managing your admin

Be organised, it will save you time and money! Setting up procedures for your working week is vital, a system for managing your work flow and a diary for dates important to your company (accountant/Companies House deadlines) . Just as you need by a good salesperson by default, you also need to be hot on admin to reduce time spent managing tasks. Set up a client database with contact details and contact notes for existing and potential clients so you can call back when you promised. Have a workflow system with the related templates ready to handle each job as it comes in, such as the contract, T&Cs, Schedule, Contact Report, Artwork/Order sign off, Artwork release form, invoice, statement, payment chase letter. Such a system should be designed to carry the job through to completion and payment. Keep your book-keeping up to date, half an hour each week is a lot less stressful than filing a carrier bag of receipts and 6 months of assorted invoices. Routine is often key, find a time in the week best sorted to each task, perhaps a bit of ‘housekeeping’ in the morning with sales calls after 10.30 etc. Use your diary or online reminder regarding company deadlines you have to keep and set yourself a reminder well in advance – your accountant’s deadlines, Companies House filing deadlines etc – those that may slip by unnoticed in favour of client deadlines otherwise, missing these deadlines will cost you dearly in penalties. Move unfinished admin jobs to a ‘procrastination list’ and tick off difficult tasks in quiet times, and reward yourself at the end.

8) Cashflow

The financial management of your business could make or break you. Managing your credit should be an integral part of your every day business. Carry out credit checks on new clients, you might not agree to 30 days free credit if you knew that company’s history. Minimise any risk of payment dispute by noting changes to the original brief on a Contact Report and requesting the client’s agreement to such changes. Always be clear when additional costs are involved. Forward your invoice as soon as the work is delivered (and the client happy), and send polite reminder requests, by recorded letter, when necessary. If the client does not settle in full one option is to take advice from a credit management company for recovery such as safe-collections.com who will collect a small percentage for recovering the money owed.

9) Presentation is everything

From your website, your telephone manner, emails and how you look – this is your brand. Check your spelling, invest in a professional looking website and look the part for client meetings. Some creatives may think they’re expected to look like an “artiste” whereas that’s very likely to frighten the living daylights out of your average prospective client. You can convey having a creative edge without dressing and talking like YouTube’s Design Gangsta

10)Enjoy what you do!

Starting out as a freelancer is not easy; tax and legalities, company procedures and client retention all make for a complex juggling act. Talk to other freelancers on Freelance UK for moral support – everyone has to start somewhere – but a few months down the line most freelancers have found their business feet and can concentrate on their trade, and interestingly, through the love of working for themselves, most deem themselves ‘unemployable’. We wish you well!

If there is anything we’ve missed, or if you have specific questions, please email us at editor@freelanceuk.com. We’ll do our best to answer as many as we can.


4th September 2007

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