Career
January 17, 2023

How to become a successful freelancer

Are you thinking of going freelance, but don't know how? Having the freedom of being your own boss makes freelancing an attractive option, but making the switch successful requires careful planning and dedication. This ultimate guide will provide you with knowledge, tips and tricks to help you become a successful freelancer.

What we will cover

  • Introduction
  • 11 questions to ask yourself before you decide to go freelance
  • Financial planning for freelancers: how to build a financial plan
  • How to set your freelancer rate
  • Networking for freelancers
  • 5 ways to market yourself as a freelancer
  • How to get your first freelancing job
  • The best tools for freelancers
  • Tips from freelancers in the Femme Palette community
  • The don’ts of freelancing - common mistakes to avoid

Introduction

Working as a freelancer is becoming a popular choice in this day and age for a number of reasons: it allows for flexibility, planning your day the way it suits you, and choosing who you will work with. However, making the switch from employee to freelancer involves more work than it may seem, and many freelancing beginners run into trouble simply because of not taking all the necessary factors into account.

This guide is a great starting point for anyone wanting to go freelance. Its contents will allow you to think things through more deeply and cautiously, enabling you to take the right steps.

The guide includes:

  • Things every new freelancer should know
  • Practical tips for finding your first clients, setting your prices, building a network of contacts, and more
  • Checklists to make sure you’re not forgetting anything
  • Common mistakes you should definitely avoid

Let’s dive into it and make your freelancer leap a successful one!

Is freelancing right for you?

Switching to freelancing is a big commitment which requires meticulous planning to ensure no nasty surprises occur along the way. Here is a checklist with questions which you absolutely must ask yourself to discover if freelancing is right for you.

  • Why do I want to go freelance?
  • Do I have an area of expertise?
  • What makes me unique?
  • Do I have (or can I afford) the necessary equipment?
  • Can I afford to have a reduced income? If yes, then how long for?
  • Do I have a good portfolio and enough references?
  • Do I have good time management skills?
  • Am I self-motivated and able to work independently?
  • Do I have a suitable space to work from?
  • Do I have a good support network?
  • Do I understand what’s legally required of me as a freelancer?

Financial planning for freelancers: how to build a financial plan

You have it all lined out in your head and so far, going freelance seems like a great idea. However, now the time has come to be brutally honest with yourself - will this work financially? When it comes to finances and freelancing, the more you plan ahead, the better. To help you get started, and hopefully to make this task less daunting, let’s take a look at planning costs and setting the right price for your services.

Freelancer costs you should consider

This template should help you get a better idea of how much going freelance is going to cost you. It includes items which people tend to forget about, but which are necessary costs and could be a nasty surprise in the future if left out of your budget. Try filling out the expected costs of these items, and include any additional items that are relevant to your specific situation.

Freelancer budget template
How to set your freelance rate

As a freelancer, it’s important to understand how to price your services. Freelancing rates can range dramatically depending on the type of offering, client, and market. Researching what other freelancers are charging is a good place to start when outlining your rates, but you should also have a firm grasp on your hourly rate (you’ll be asked what it is often) so that you don’t undercharge and then find yourself in a challenging financial situation.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your desired annual salary?
  • How many hours a week can you realistically work? (We suggest starting with a maximum of 25 hours per week for this calculation*)
  • How many days off will you have? (Don’t forget to include holidays, vacation time, and potential sick days)

Here’s a simple formula to help you calculate your minimum hourly rate:

Annual salary ÷ ((hours per week x 52) - (hours per week x weeks off)) = hourly rate

Example:

€70,000 ÷ ((25 x 52) - (25 x 4)) = €58 per hour

*Note: Be careful not to overestimate how many hours you can realistically work in a week. Freelancing requires many administrative tasks such as pitching clients, negotiating terms, invoicing, filing taxes, etc. that will take up a lot of your time. You should factor this into your rate. Your workload will likely ebb and flow, especially as you’re getting started as a freelancer, so it’s important to plan for slower periods.

Networking for freelancers

For any freelancer, contacts are everything. Ideally, you should already have an extensive network of contacts established before you embark on your freelancer journey, as well as keep working on it throughout. Here are a few great ways to build your network.

Use your LinkedIn contacts

Let people in your Linkedin network know that you’re going freelance and offer them your services. If relevant and appropriate, you can also ask them to let others in their own network know about you and recommend you.

Join a community

Joining a community of like-minded people is great not only for getting support and receiving shared knowledge from people who were once in your place, but also for gaining contacts. Communities such as the Femme Palette community are full of professionals who could prove very helpful on your journey.

Attend networking events

Search for live networking events in your area. This is a great way to meet local professionals and make them remember you. Make sure to share your contact details, LinkedIn, or have cards ready to hand out at such events so that people can easily contact you when they need.

5 ways to market yourself as a freelancer

Even if you’re offering top-notch services, gaining clients will be very difficult if people don’t know about you and can’t find out more about your work. Being able to check all the following points on this list should be a good start.

1. Reach out to all your contacts

As was mentioned in the previous chapter, reach out to your network and let them know you’re now offering services as a freelancer.

2. Ask others to spread the word

While you’re at it, ask those you’re reaching out to to also let others know about you.

3. Use social media

Although many people feel shy to put themselves out there, using social media the right way will work wonders for you. Find a way of producing valuable content which showcases your product or service. Post regularly and engage with your followers to build a community around yourself.

4. Invest in a website

For those using Google search, your website will be the first place they find out about you. Invest in an attractively designed website where all information is easily accessible, and consult an SEO specialist to make sure you show up in people’s searches. It’s worth it! If you are a design beginner, you can use templates on Squarespace or Wix to create a website quickly and by yourself. If you are advanced in design, try out Webflow.  

5. Run a special offer

Beginnings can be slow and frustrating, but a good way to speed things up a bit is running a special offer when you launch. Offer your first clients a small discount or add something small but free to motivate them.

How to get your first freelancing job

While it’s great to be marketing to your ideal client through your website, social media channels, network, etc., there are also other ways you can proactively secure your first clients.

Define your ideal client

Before you put yourself out there, it’s a good idea to think about who your clients will actually be - whose attention are you aiming to catch? Build a profile of your model client and, based on that, define which channels you can reach them through. For example, if your clients are a mostly offline demographic, reach-outs via social media would likely be a waste of your time.

Join a freelancing platform

Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr can be great places to help get your freelance career off the ground and help you build your portfolio. However, these platforms often charge a fee and are oversaturated in some areas so while they’re a great place to get your feet wet, it’s important to keep nurturing your other marketing channels.

Utilize job searching websites

Some of the places where you would search for a full-time job, such as LinkedIn or Indeed, may also be a good place to start when looking for freelance opportunities. The freelance jobs posted on these sites tend to be for longer-term projects so they can be great for landing an ongoing gig. Just watch out for job postings that are offering a full-time job without benefits under guise of freelance work.

Join freelancer communities

Cooperation over competition applies to many freelancing communities. There are many industry-specific freelancing groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where freelancers share opportunities with each other and can network with potential clients. Other freelancers often provide the best advice for finding work so research communities in your niche, join, and contribute.

Before you start applying make sure you:

1) Have a portfolio ready to share

2) Know your hourly rate

3) Can show how you will bring value

The best tools for freelancers

Managing your own time is exciting, however it does require a higher level of self discipline and commitment in order not to get overwhelmed and avoid chasing deadlines last minute. Luckily there are lots of tools to support effective time management. Here are some of our favorites.

Asana

Asana is a web-based project management tool which will help you keep track of all your tasks, allocate them to different projects, and set deadlines. It’s a game changer for keeping you organized and spreading out work in a way that effectively uses your time. Use it for your own tasks or invite others to join if you’re collaborating to make sure that everyone knows what they’re doing and when to get it done.

Toggl Track

A time tracking app which lets your activities on a wide range of different platforms. This allows you to use the insights from this app to optimize your task and time management. It even has an Asana integration which allows you to track how much time you spend on each task with just one click. It’s intuitive, easy to use and super helpful!

Focusbooster

If you’re someone who procrastinates a lot or feels easily overwhelmed by the idea of starting tasks, try Focusbooster! This tool makes use of the Pomodoro technique (alternating between periods of deep focus and short breaks). Following this technique will help you stay focused and become more productive, and Focusbooster will guide you through it all in a simple, user friendly way.

The good old pen and paper

In a world where we have more apps to choose from than we could possibly use in our working lifetime, the trusted pen and paper can still be a very effective way of managing your tasks. For some people, to-do lists, mind maps or notes just work better when written down by hand. If this sounds like you, make sure to keep all your thoughts in one place with a large, unlined notebook. Color code your notes for better clarity.

Tips from freelancers in the Femme Palette community

Never plan your capacity for 8 hours a day. Head for planning max of 5 hours, where you need to manage the activities you do to earn your living and those you love doing, like mentoring. The extra "free hours" a day are for all the stuff that appears out of "nowhere". Do not try to squeeze mentoring on top of your current work. Take it as one of your projects for which you need to find a place as if it was any other commercial project, your education, or other work you need to do.

- Irena Zatloukalova, freelance communication strategist

When negotiating the terms with a client, always consider if working on a monthly retainer is an option. Setting up contracts this way can help keep you off the income roller coaster by providing consistent work and income as a freelancer.

- Victoria Borisch, freelance PR & communications

Place boundaries in the relationship early on and gently let other people know how you wish to be treated and what you need for your work.

- Veronika Duranova, freelance IT recruiter

Have a clear vision of what you want to do, but also the small steps to achieve your goals. Be ready to change plans, to adapt, to start over again, to get out of your comfort zone, and develop.”

- Natasa Ivkovic Lovric, freelance consultant & mental health professional

The don’ts of freelancing - common mistakes to avoid

Not having a contract

Contracts are necessary to protect yourself. Always provide a contract to clients that clearly outlines the scope of work, payment, ownership of work, and liability. If your client provides a contract for you, be sure to double-check for any liability and non-compete clauses. This could prevent you from taking on similar clients and cause big problems down the road if you’re working in a small niche.

Not setting boundaries for yourself and with clients

No one will respect your boundaries if you aren’t firm on them, so it’s vital to establish clear boundaries with clients from the beginning. Set expectations from the start about the best method of contact, your working hours, and if there are any extra costs associated with contact outside of your agreed upon terms. Also, don’t forget to set boundaries for yourself. Work-life balance is important!

Allowing scope creep

Scope creep is an easy trap to fall into. Sometimes, if you give a little extra, clients will keep asking for more and more and before you know it, the project has turned into something way bigger than what you bargained for. That’s why it’s important to have a contract that clearly outlines what will be included in your work and make it clear that anything above and beyond that will incur an additional cost. For example, if your client wants to have additional weekly calls that weren’t factored into your pricing and proposal, that should be an additional cost as it involves additional time on your part.

Not saving for taxes

Depending on where you live and your freelance business registration, you may pay taxes in a lump sum at the end of the tax year. This can be quite a shock if you haven’t been planning ahead for it. A great trick from the book Profit First is to open an additional bank account and move 15% of every paid invoice into there and then don’t touch it until it’s time to pay taxes. This will help ensure that you’re covered when tax season rolls around.

Thinking you can charge the same hourly rate as you would have at a full-time job doing similar work

Freelancing involves a lot more than just the work you’re doing for your clients. There are many administrative tasks, from finding new clients to invoicing, that will take up a lot of your time. This should be factored into your pricing. You also likely won’t be working a solid 40 hours a week on client work so charging an hourly rate based off of the salary of a full-time job will leave you falling short of your income goals.

Not factoring in time off when calculating your hourly rate

Freelancers need time off too! Unlike a full-time job, you don’t get PTO when working for yourself. In most cases as a freelancer, if you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not taking time off because you feel like you’re leaving money on the table by doing so. Budget accordingly and factor time off into your hourly rate so that you can get some rest and relaxation without putting a strain on your finances.

Not using an accounting system (there are some good free or low cost options available)

While Excel spreadsheets will do in a pinch, using an accounting software will make your life a lot easier, especially when it comes to tracking unpaid invoices and preparing taxes, and will make your invoices look more professional. Wave, Zoho Books, and iDoklad are just a few free options that can help get you started.

Neglecting other areas of life

When you’re your own boss, it can be easy to get consumed with work and forget to set healthy boundaries for work-life balance. Don’t forget to prioritize other areas of life as well as your work in order not to burn out.

Not asking for referrals

Referrals are so important! Having good feedback from clients which you are able to present yourself with will boost your credibility and let everyone know that you deliver great results. Don’t be shy and ask happy clients for a few lines of praise!

Taking on too many jobs

Knowing how much work you can realistically manage in a day can be hard for those new to the freelancing game. Unfortunately, many learn the hard way by taking on more jobs than they can get done. Take it slowly in the beginning and get to know your pace so that you never miss a deadline.

Make a successful transition to freelancing with our Coaching and Mentoring program!

Not 100% sure if freelancing is the right step to take? Need some help establishing yourself as a freelancer from an experienced professional?

The Femme Palette Coaching and Mentoring program offers exactly what an aspiring freelancer needs. Start out by spending 3 or 5 hours (the choice is yours) with a coach to help you decide on your next big step, discover your needs and set your goals. After that, you will be matched with an experienced professional from our global mentor community for up to 12 hours of mentoring. Your mentor will guide you towards achieving your goals and help you get set up to be a successful freelancer.

Learn more and join the program here.

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