Freelancing For Dummies: Just Ask Me

Posted: October 25th, 2008

I’ve been a freelancer for a little over five years now and I’ve finally come to a point where I am really taking time to evaluate my business to see how I can improve…  which is more or less thinking about how to earn more money. My primary conclusion: I could be doing A LOT better.

I know a lot of people would kill to be in the position I’m in working without a boss and making a good living out of it (though I won’t give it out here). I could easily sit back, continue my routine as usual and cash those checks at the end of the month. At least that’s what we are molded to do in the J-O-B.

Well, this is freelance and you get the green light to do whatever the hell you want. To grow in your freelance career, though, it’s a pretty good idea to break your routine, no matter how comfortable you are in it, and do a self-evaluation. After five years, I guess it would be a good time to give myself a performance review.

To my own relief, I found I was doing a lot of important things right. Not surprisingly though, I was doing a lot of things wrong, too. What was interesting to me was that nearly all of the things I do right had to do with my work ethic, working habits and good instincts. All of the things that I was doing wrong, however, was strictly business related. I’m sure I’m not the only freelancer in the same boat so I’ll go ahead and outline the major ones here. Who knows, maybe someone else can learn from this.

The Rights

First of all, I pride myself in the work I do. And it gets done when I say it will get done. Period. My reputation developed as a hard worker who could solve problems and I’ve done that since day one. I wouldn’t say people were lining up at my door to hire me for projects (I’m a web programmer), but most of my work were from referrals and I’m contracted full time for a small company which provides very steady work.

Next, I take care of my clients. If something goes wrong, I fix it. If I make a mistake, I fess up to it and fix it as soon as possible. Also communication is key, never leaving a client in the dark about anything. These are also things I pride myself on. Given that I have never met most of my clients face to face, any way I can build trust works in my favor. That’s not a hard one to learn.

Last, I manage my projects in a way where I have no down time. No downtime = steady stream of income. This took me a while to become a habit but I developed a sense to always plan ahead even when your current situation looks great. I try to have at at least two projects to work on simultaneously and in slow times I’m always working on one. It’s as simple as looking for more work while your working. It should always be a part of your routine.

The Wrongs

Finances – I am pretty good about spending. Don’t spend more than you earn and save when you can. Check. An example of the bad is that I had to pay the IRS a $200 fine for not paying my quarterly taxes. Taxes have always been a nightmare since I didn’t save receipts or track business spending. If you have your own business these should be a priority! Needless to say, I’m still looking in the trash for those receipts.

Marketing – My business has been primarily on referrals, but I’ve never actually marketed myself to attract new clients. I realized that this hurt me by not getting those clients willing to pay a premium for my service since I do have quite a portfolio. You can guess that equals a smaller check at the end of the month.

Branding – This relates to the above but I also haven’t branded my business. I’m just Johnny that does web programming. With a nice portfolio and putting a name to your services, however, you have half your marketing already done for you. The rest is just letting those in need of your service know you exist.

. . .

During my years as a freelancer I’ve always come across advice through the occasional web page and friends who are also freelancers. I never really noticed that much of that advice has gone between the ears.  Maybe it’s time to take notice… or essentially leave a bunch of cash on the table for someone else.

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

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