• Community, Advice

Getting Started: The 7 Knows

Continuing the conversation of #WeAreWhatWeNeed, here are a few tips about how to hit the ground running. There’s nothing sweeter than landing that first gig. But you don’t want to spin your wheels. Wasted motion, for freelancers, is money lost. These 7 “knows” from Sara Horowitz's new book, The Freelancer's Bible, will help you launch a calmer, more successful, more satisfying freelance life.

1. KNOW why you’re freelancing
Ask yourself real questions about your goals: Do you want to make significant money, or supplement the family income? Do you want to grow your career, or taper down? Being clear about what you want from freelancing will help you embrace it, give you courage to make the leap, and allow you to make real career decisions. Evaluate how your dream life can match reality as a freelancer with research and planning before you dive in. Take time to ask these questions, especially if you’re burned out or coming off a layoff and need a breath to think about the future.

2. KNOW your strengths
Make a two-sided list. On one side are the skills you love to use and could happily exercise daily. On the other side are skills you don’t enjoy as much, but they’re in your bag of tricks. Include all your skills, from all the parts of your life, that you can legitimately offer for a fee.

  • This list will help you see different ways to market your­self and find the project mix likely to be most satisfying. Is there work you love that others find not-so-fun? Congrats – you might have just discovered a high-paying niche.
  • You can, and should, have multiple specialties. It’ll tide you through dry time and make you a rainmaker year-round.
  • Pull out the value results of your top skills into real metrics you can market.
  • Carve out some time and money for some skill upgrades while you still have the security of the regular paycheck. Or if you’re already freelance, take midlevel gigs while you save for that workshop or class.

3. KNOW your customer's needs
The best freelancers are empathetic in their analysis of what clients need, fit their skills to those needs, and distill it into a pitch of utter simplicity. Go back and match your skills, your metrics, and your specialty ideas to what your market needs – not what you think they should need, but what they actually need. What’s important to them, and in what order? Now you can come up with one succinct sentence that says what you do and how it connects to your client. Think of it as a “tweet” to attract an avalanche of future clients

4. KNOW what you’ll charge (more or less)
Getting a handle on your rates is definitely an art, not a science. You’ve already taken the first step in pricing: knowing your skills and your value. Run your numbers, talk to your peers, trust your gut, and learn from experience. Everyone else does. You really need to personalize this for yourself, but a very general equation to keep in mind is: (annual salary + annual expenses + annual profit) ÷ annual billable work hours = your basic hourly rate.

Some great resources: The Freelance Switch Hourly Rate Calculator is an online tool that helps you get a great start on calculating your hourly rate. From there, you can fine-tune the results using your knowledge about your profession and the marketplace. In their book The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing, Ilise Benun and Peleg Top provide a clear step-by-step process for calculat¬ing a basic hourly rate derived from your desired salary, your business overhead, billable hours, and desired profit – which you then adjust based on other factors in play (the nature of the gig and the client, how fast they need it, et cetera).

**5. KNOW your budget **
First, pour yourself a drink. Then get your checkbook, your credit card and bank statements, and any other financial records from the last twelve months. You’ll quickly see how much you need to earn per month to cover your expenses at home – including months where you’ll need extra cash. Obviously, you should be looking for places to cut costs if necessary. If you’re employed right now, write down your income (and your partner’s, if you have one) and break it out month by month.

Now, revise the income numbers to reflect freelance income. Subtract out your employment income and you’ll quickly see the shortfall each month: that’s what your freelance work needs to bring in to meet expenses. But freelance work doesn’t always bring in the same amount each month. That’s why you need to be saving to pay expenses, as well as for emergencies, estimated taxes, and retirement. Develop your detailed budget now, so you can focus on your work as a killer freelancer.

6. KNOW your brain trust
Find the trusted inner circle who can help you as you launch and grow, offering advice and ideas, referring prospects, problem-solving, and cheering you on. It could be fellow freelancers, company buddies, relatives. They should be people you feel you can be totally honest with. Your Brain Trust has your back and you’ve got theirs.

7. KNOW your game plan for going public
Tell everyone, don’t be pushy, and make it professional. With indie workers comprising one-third of the workforce, the time’s long past for viewing freelancing as a euphemism for slacker dudes or the unemployed. So talk about it. Not like you have to defend yourself, but like any businessperson having a serious business discussion: what’s great about it, what’s challenging about it, how you’re going about it. Who knows, you might be giving them the information and the courage they need to take the leap.

And here you are, ready to go. Trust yourself. Have confidence in what you know as a pro. Whatever else you need to learn, you’ll learn. Welcome to the ranks!<

For more tips, insight, and inspiration, join Sara and The Freelancer's Bible in San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland as she connects with freelancers and talks in person about next steps for your freelance life. Share how you got your start as an independent worker below or at #WeAreWhatWeNeed.

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