Freelance… and Life

You remember how I started that freelance business way back when and then nothing really seemed to happen?

Well… something happened. And it’s been glorious for the last four months. Busy, but glorious. My dreams seem to be paying off and now it’s the sweat, tears and hard work phase.

Here’s what that phase looks like:

I work 9 – 5, come home, take a “short” break (short sometimes translates to none…… or long) and then work some more. I’m averaging about 3 hours of work every night, give or take. With about 4 or 5 hours on the weekend, total. I try to give myself Saturday off. Or Sunday. Or Friday night. Or two of those. But no more than two. If I go for three, I’ll miss a deadline.

If my math is correct – and it’s not usually – that’s about 20 hours of freelance a week. Which is AWESOME, because hello – I have enough freelance work for it to be considered a part-time job.

Go me!

How did I do it? Well, if you’re here because you’re a stranger and you’re looking for advice… here are my tips:

1. Sign up for at least one decent online networking/freelance site.

I know. It’s a bit scary and everyone is skeptical about them. Those sites have hidden fees and no one is offering decent work and etc. etc. etc. All of those things COULD be true. But they could ALSO be false. You won’t know until you try.

The site I use is oDesk.com and honestly (no really, I’m being completely honest) – I had to lower my rates from what I wanted to what I think would get me a contract. Once I had completed two contracts at that lower rate and had two stellar reviews, I started getting invitations to interview. I get about 2 a week (though this week I’ve already received 2 and it’s only Wednesday).

My point – I’ve been using oDesk for about 6 months and I’ve already raised my rates up to almost where I want them. I also have two steady clients through the website and both of them are amazing.

If you’re a freelance anything and you need help kick-starting your business – join oDesk. Be awesome. Make money.

2. Network like a champ.

Know someone in your field or in a similar field that might have contacts? Tell them you’re available. Make it so that you’re the first person they think of when someone mentions, even just off-hand, that they’re looking for someone with your skill set. Let me clarify:

a. you tell your friend/colleague/coworker/the girl who makes your coffee at Tim Hortons  – let’s call her “Ali” – “I’ve got this business and I do X and Y… if you need X or Y, or if you know anyone who needs X or Y, give me a shout!” (hand her a business card)

b. she goes about her day thinking, “gee, that girl. She’s so cool, starting her own X and Y business…”

c. a customer talks to her later in the day about this project he’s working on, but they’ve hit a snag… he really “wishes that the X of his project was completed in a more timely fashion (or something to that effect)”

d. Ali remembers you and says “hey, I know someone who’s awesome and tips really well…”

Networking is great. It’s even better if you have business cards and gave one to Ali when you spoke to her. Business cards are great too.

3. Schedule the crap out of your life.

Start this early, my friends. I didn’t. I still haven’t actually. I’m working on it on a week by week thing… I’m kind of waiting until soccer starts before I solidify my schedule (so I say… that’s really just my uber-awesome procrastination skills at work). Anyway – set a dedicated freelance time aside for yourself. Sit down and work during that time. Follow this religiously. It’s still a job even if you do it on your own time and at your own pace and in your pajamas (mine are plaid.) A job means that you show up (relatively) on time and complete a set amount of work for a specific due date.

If you don’t have work yet, use the time you’ve set aside to find new clients, network, write blogs about things you do/want to do. Get your name out there. (side note: I didn’t do this part. Well. I did it once… or twice… every three months… and THIS is why it took two years for my Freelance business to take off. Learn from the error of my ways!)

4. Join groups of like-minded Freelancers and follow people in your industry on Twitter/Facebook/Linked In.

Yes, they may be your competition or your idols or people you think you can never be like… but they are also just like you. They’re looking for clients, they’re facing the same road blocks that you are, be it the market flooding with contractors willing to work for $1 an hour, or clients who have outrageous requirements and deadlines, but “very tight budgets.”

They will have possible solutions to the issues you face, can suggest sites for you to look at and, if you are outgoing and initiate actual conversation with them, could become great friends or mentors.

Groups/clubs/associations are also really helpful. I recently joined  PWAC (Professional Writers’ Association of Canada). I haven’t been able to use their resources to the fullest, but I didn’t browse through them and hope to (one day) get elbow deep in that. It’s worth it. So totally worth it.

Anyway, those are my four tips.

Have any other pieces of advice or tips for budding freelancers? Share them with the class!