I’m going to be completely honest with you. I’ve been a full-time freelancer in social media for 14 months now, but when I quit my full-time job and decided to go freelance, I didn’t actually have a plan! All I had was some money saved up and all I thought about at that time was that I wanted to pursue a life of happiness…but even that needs a bit of planning... Since a lot of people ask me how to get into what I'm doing, I thought I'd share the basics first.
The transition from working for someone else to working for yourself is different for everyone, but I've had a good think back to my very first week/month starting up as a full-time freelancer and these were the 7 key things that I went through.
Think you’re not working for the man anymore? Think again.
If the reason why you want to go freelance is because you're sick of working for someone else or sick of taking direction/orders, then the first thing I'll tell you do is to quit whining because as a freelancer - you're still working for someone else, just on different terms. You need to build trust with your clients and keep them happy, ALL of them. When it comes down to it, it's even tougher than simply having a boss sign off on your actions, because you're going to have to put in a lot of time and effort to convince people to hire and work with an external like you. If you're still stuck on that thought of not wanting to work for the man, you might actually need to look into how well you communicate, deal with confrontations/conflict and how you reach agreements.
Decide whether you are a generalist or a subject matter expert.
Figure out what you're good at and what you want to do. I have experience in social media, content strategy, campaign management, copywriting, email strategy, customer experience and so on but I only focus on social media and content strategy 90% of the time. Don't promise the world to try and lock in a new client only to under-deliver when the time comes. That ruins your credibility. Not everyone has to be a subject matter expert either. I'm a subject matter expert and I help to solve problems, while generalists (in digital marketing, for example) are just as valuable because they have the strong skills for when a client is lacking execution support or time.
Build your list of skills, services and fees.
Once you know what you're willing to offer to the world, have a list of this published or ready to go when someone contacts you. You'd be surprised at how many enquiries you get and you'll be finding yourself writing the same kind of responses over and over again. When it comes to fees, if you don't want to share too much just yet, be confident to set a minimum fee to show potential clients if you're both going to be a good fit for each other without wasting each other's time.
Establish your collaboration process incl. researching, briefing, meetings etc.
If you've just set up and you're a little quiet on the client and workload side, use that time to establish how you want to work with people. Set realistic timeframes that you can share with clients, create a simple brief-to-execution guide for potential clients on how you work, let them know whether you're a skype or Google Hangouts person. This might not sound like much, but helping people to visualise how they'll collaborate with you gives them more confidence and trust, and they'll be more likely to give you a chance.
Save for tax time
This is probably the biggest mistake I've made. You see, I was prepared and put tax money aside for the last financial year... but I also got another letter from the ATO saying that I had to pay THIS financial year's tax (a projected amount) upfront in 4 instalments. I'm not registered for GST so if you are, things may be different for you. When it comes down to it, do your research NOW about taxes. You don't need to know every single thing, but the easiest way to guide yourself is to ask yourself "What do I have to do about taxes for the next 5 years?" Things may change but that will be a good starting point for you to prevent any surprise bills. Don't worry, I still had money saved up so it's a tiny pinch, but it wasn't exactly the best news either!
Create a setup checklist to motivate yourself
We all go through highs and lows when it comes to motivation and working. The best thing I did in my very first week of self-employment was creating a setup checklist and the main things I included were:
- Check my ABN status
- Look into contract and agreement templates
- Set an invoicing system
- Update my LinkedIn profile
- Research and compare website builders
- Create a professional email account
- Update any relevant social media profiles
Don't panic! It's non-stop research and learn.
I know my skills are valuable but the second I shifted from working for someone to working for myself, I wasn't just a social media manager anymore - I became my own social media manager, consultant, business development manager, admin support, payroll and a whole bunch of other things! Sure, you can outsource a few things over time but it's ultimately down to you to make decisions and manage everything. The amount of times I've asked for help, the amount of times I've Googled for answers, the amount of times I've felt so indebted to someone for answering what now seems to be the simplest question on the planet. And I can tell you now, I still do it to this very day. It's not possible to know everything. You'll learn something new every day. You need to be self-sufficient. And once you've done all of your research and you still need answers, it's also OK to ask for help.
These were the 7 most crucial thought starters for me as a freelancer. I wish I had known some of these things much earlier on, but I'm glad I've learnt a lot and now I hope they help you.