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When I struck out on my own in 2009, I was, for all intents and purposes, a freelancer. I also had no friggin’ idea what I was doing, but that’s OK – sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Fast forward six and a half years, and I definitely don’t consider myself a freelancer anymore. However, I wouldn’t have gotten to the point of running an established and sought after small business without first succeeding as a little company of one.
Here’s what I learned – and what you can do to succeed as a freelancer:
Use your network
One of the biggest assets you have as a freelancer is your network – so use it. Before you go out on your own, tell people, and then remind them. Set up breakfast, lunch, and coffee meetings to stay top-of-mind.
While it may be tempting to ask everyone for referrals, spin it around the other way. Offer to help people in your network before they ask how they can help you. You’ll surprise people – and they’ll do whatever they can to return the favor.
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Set up partnerships
This has come in very handy for me, both when I was a freelancer and now as a small business owner, because most small-ish marketing agencies do not have in-house copywriters. They turn to me and my team when they need help on projects.
Think about the companies you can partner with – and start reaching out (or, better yet, look at your LinkedIn connections and ask for an introduction). Alternatively, attend industry events in your area.
Price your services based on value
Always price your services based on the value you bring to the table, not an hourly rate. Now, with that said, I do have an hourly rate, but it’s only a jumping off point for project pricing. I also factor in the incredible amount of experience and knowledge that comes along for the ride, something you ought to do as well.
Additionally, consider taking a very proactive approach to all client engagements. Look for other ways to help or improve their business, even if they don’t ask. For example, if I’m working on new website content, I’ll tell you how to streamline navigation so your website visitors have a better experience – and therefore turn into leads.
Provide a superlative customer experience
Even though you are a freelancer and it’s just you (for now!), put together a set of processes now that govern how you first engage with a new client right through the day you deliver the final project. A smooth, streamlined experience will show your clients that you know what you’re doing (you’d be shocked how many companies operate like a three ring circus).
Ask for referrals
When a project is drawing to a close, ask your client point blank, “Who do you know that can use my services?” If they don’t have an immediate answer, let them know you’ll follow up in a day or two.
NEVER work for free
Duh, right? But it’s amazing how many talented people will work on spec (you only get paid if the project is picked up) or lower their fees to a ridiculous level. Once you lower your fees, you just cheapened your value and said, “I’m not worth that much.” That’s a tough hole to climb out of.
If someone has a tight budget, that’s fine. Let them know what you can do within that budget, and stick to it. Again, do not devalue yourself or your talents.
Get serious about accounting
I’ve heard jaw-dropping stories about freelancers who casually ignore accounting. They don’t invoice, they don’t follow up with clients who are slow to pay, they don’t track expenses, they don’t look at quarterly profits – and they wonder why they’re not making money.
Hate accounting? Me too! Hire a bookkeeper and accountant. This is an investment in your business, and it’s worth every penny.
Walk away from anything that seems weird or wrong
Trust me when I say that walking away from business can be a very, very good thing. There is no reason to lower your fees, compromise your standards, place yourself in an uncomfortable situation, or bend your morals or ethics for a client.
Getting rid of the weird or wrong leaves space for the wonderful to take its place. And I don’t care how woo-woo that might sound, because it’s 100% true.
Now, go out there and conquer the world!
Monika Jansen is a copywriter and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, website content, and other marketing materials for her clients, who tend to be freelancers, tech companies and small business owners. She is also a blogger for Groupon and Web.com. You can follow her on Twitter (@monikacjansen) or find her on LinkedIn.