When you hear the word “freelancer”, what do you think? You probably think of someone who’s a professional nomad, going from project to project without a stable or steady income and always looking for that next gig.
So when I took the leap out of my cushy corporate job and into the world of freelancing, I (and most of those around me) thought I done lost my mind. “How are you going to pay your bills? What about your insurance and 401k? What if you can’t find clients?”
These were the questions I was asking myself too, but I wasn’t going to let them stop me.
It was actually kind of a fluke. I never intended to start my own business. But there I was on the receiving end of a call from a client prospect that I was pursuing under the name of my now former employer who said they wanted to hire me to do their PR. My then boss gave me his blessing, and it was off to the races.
Since then, I have been able to work with startups and major global brands alike, celebrities and entrepreneurs, and make some really good money doing so - almost $1 million ($986,054.60 to be exact).
According to a recent study by Upwork and Freelancers Union, there are now 57 million Americans in the freelance economy. Freelancers doing skilled services earn more per hour than 70% of workers in the overall U.S. economy.
So, how did I do it? How can you?
Get very specific about your niche. For me, it was tech PR with a focus on consumer electronics. When you are very specific about your market and who you serve, you become the go-to expert in that market.
It’s like the difference between being a cardiologist and a family doctor. Potential clients will seek you out because they know you know their business, market, and competition like the back of your hand.
Command higher fees. I served a very specific market and had strong relationships with the media who covered that market. I knew I offered tremendous value so I commanded higher fees.
If you are an expert in your field, then it’s time to raise your prices. However, you can’t command higher fees without the confidence and mindset to do so. You have to believe in yourself and the value you offer. When clients truly understand your value, trust me, they’ll gladly pay for it. If they won’t, then they’re not your ideal client.
Keep overhead at a minimum. I didn’t need a full time staff, nor did I want one. That would take the freedom away from being a freelancer because now I’d be dealing with payroll and HR issues. No thanks. I had a part-time assistant on payroll and hired other 1099 freelancers for bigger projects. I tried to do the office thing, but it ended up being a waste of money, especially when I had a built-in office/loft in my home.
If you’re a freelancer, you likely don’t need an office either. You can always meet clients at their office or at a coffee shop. If you get cabin fever and need to get out of the house, take your laptop to Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, or the like. Put that money that you would otherwise use for renting office space towards marketing, scaling and diversifying.
Serve the hell out of your clients. Because it was just little ole me in my business, and I often went up against big agencies in the RFP process, I had to prove that I was capable of handling a big account on my own without all of the bells and whiles of having AE’s, Jr. AE’s, admins, etc.
As a freelancer, you are a one man (or woman) band, so you gotta show that you can play all of the instruments with adroitness, versatility, and diligence. One of the reasons bigger companies ended up hiring me over the big guys was because of the level of personal attention and quality of service they received. Things weren’t passed around among various team members. There is typically a lot of turnover within agencies, especially at the junior level. My clients knew they were getting me and not who ever was next in the revolving door of a big, expensive PR agency.
Be selective. When you’re first starting out, you will take anything and everything to get your feet wet and build your book of business. But, once you start to establish yourself, it’s time to be more selective of who you’ll work with. For me, if I didn’t think a product or service would be remotely interesting to the media, and I knew I couldn’t get placement, I wouldn’t work with the client. It would be unethical to do it “just for the money.” The client would walk away disappointed, and I would lose a good referral opportunity. I’d much rather tell them that I didn’t think I was the right person for the job than totally muck it up for them.
Don’t take on a client just for the sake of doing so. Make sure you can offer them real value and deliver real, measurable results.
Don’t act like a freelancer. Meaning: don’t always focus on one-off projects. I’ve had clients who stuck with me for 5 - 7 years. I was their agency of record, even though I wasn’t technically an “agency” per se.
When you mentally put yourself in position of greatness, you have no choice but to achieve that. Act like the small fry, and you’ll be the small fry. Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t act like a small fry.
Being a freelancer is as rewarding as it is challenging, but you can truly be successful at it with the right plan and practice in place. I’ll leave you with a few more things:
- Always have a mindset of abundance and success. There are plenty of opportunities out there and plenty of people or companies who need your expertise.
- Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth. Pick a rate and then double it.
- Don’t let a down day get you down. If you take steps each day toward achieving your goals, you are making progress.
- Don’t give up if you don’t get the gig. It wasn’t meant to be. Move on. There’s always something bigger and better right around the corner.