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Want to be a freelancer? Here’s how

ENTERPRISE
By Pauline Muindi | October 27th 2021

Young girl works on her tablet [Courtesy]

Over the past couple of years, more and more workers have rapidly shifted from traditional employment to freelancing.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, participation in the gig economy has significantly expanded as governments across the globe instituted movement restrictions and upended the traditional nine-to-five job. As companies laid off or slashed employee salaries, more workers were forced to pursue gig work for supplemental or primary income.

However, a lot of people going into freelancing don’t see that as a business – which sets them up for failure. While freelancing isn’t considered running a business in the traditional sense, you need to adopt business principles and habits to succeed and grow.

There’s more to freelancing than simply working on a client’s project as the hired hand. Just like a business owner, you will have to carry out tasks such as marketing, invoicing, bookkeeping, networking, website upkeep, contract negotiations, and ongoing self-learning among others.

Ultimately, if you’re good at what you do, you will find yourself with more work than you can handle all by yourself. This will call for hiring other freelancers or full-time employees to assist you in completing clients’ projects.

To set yourself on the path for success, you have to start your freelancing business on the right footing. Here are some tips:

Define your freelancing goals

If you want to succeed in anything, start by defining your goals. Think of goals as the road map to success. Would you set on a journey without a clear destination and road map? That would only have you driving around in circles! Similarly, a business venture without clear objectives isn’t going anywhere fast.

Take time to carefully consider your goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve? How exactly will you achieve it? Is freelancing just a part-time thing or do you plan to eventually leave your day job? This will give you clarity on how much time and effort you need to put into freelancing.

For example, if you want to become a full-time freelancer you’ll have to build the income from freelancing up to a sustainable level before quitting your day job. You might set a target of earning 50 or 75% of what your salaried job pays you from freelancing before you can comfortably take the leap.

Set your freelancing income target based on your living expenses, risk tolerance, and realistic expectations on the availability of work. With this in mind, you will have a rough idea of how many clients you’ll need and how much you’ll have to charge them to make a sustainable income.

Find your perfect niche

Let’s say you want to be a freelance writer, and have been building your skills with a personal blog and a few articles for clients here and there. Unfortunately, the market is saturated with writers – some of whom charge much lower rates than yours. How can you compete against them and still make a sustainable income from freelancing?

Get over the idea of trying to compete with everyone offering a similar service. Instead, concentrate on finding a niche that you enjoy and are likely to excel in. For instance, instead of taking every writing gig that comes your way, you can opt to concentrate on writing e-books for enterprise tech companies.

The idea is to choose an area that genuinely interests you and concentrate on becoming the best in that niche. Once you do this, you will be competing on value not price. You will be able to charge a premium for your services. In addition, since you’ve proved your worth in your niche, you can easily expand your freelance business in any direction you like in the future. You can turn it into a full-time job, seek high-profile employment in the niche, or hire your own employees.

Identify your target clients

Once you have settled on a niche in your industry, you will have a good idea of the kind of clients you’re looking for. Take the initiative to reach out to potential clients and create awareness of your service offerings. Another great way to find your first clients is by scouring freelance job listing sites and applying or bidding for projects.

To find the right clients. Ask yourself these questions: Which businesses will find my services useful? Which businesses are able and willing to pay the rates I’m charging? Who are the decision-makers in these industries?

Make sure you produce high-quality work for your clients. Happy clients are likely to offer you a long-term supply of work, while others may also refer you to potential clients in their networks. Keep on building your profile in the niche, which will enable you to charge a premium for your services.

Initially, you may have to turn away potential clients that don’t fit your criteria. This can be a very difficult decision to make. However, narrowing it down to a niche will pay off handsomely in the long run. With referrals from a few high-end clients, the momentum will start to pick. From there, the sky is the limit.

Set rates for your services

The prices you set for your services will determine whether you’ll be able to meet your income goals. Remember, you should be charging your clients based on the value you offer, not on what competitors are charging. 

This might be a struggle at first. When you’re struggling to make ends meet, it makes sense to accept whatever price the client is willing to pay. This is why it’s advisable to have at least three months’ worth of living expenses saved before you go into full-time freelance work.

What if clients complain? Digital marketing consultant Neil Patel shares that one of the many lessons he has learnt as a freelancer is that the more you charge, the fewer clients complain. If you target high-end clients with money to splurge, they’re less likely to be finicky on the nitty-gritty of pricing if you deliver value. That said, be careful not to charge too far above your value but don’t ever undervalue what you’re doing for your clients.

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