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How to be a freelancer

So you’ve sat down and laid out the pros and cons of becoming a freelancer, and have decided that it’s the right path for you. You know that you need to be organised and self-motivated and be able to balance work and fun and so on, and you’re confident that you can do all of that. But what about the actual nuts and bolts of freelancing? What do you actually do now that you are a freelancer? Here’s our guide on how to be — not simply become — a freelancer.

Set ‘working hours’

One of the best and worst things about being a freelancer is that you don’t have official working hours, but you should still impose them upon yourself. As nice it sounds to have a lie-in, a long lunch, and then work from 2pm-9pm, your contacts (the majority of whom probably aren’t freelance) will stick to the usual 9-5, which means you’ll have a total of three hours per day to actually communicate with current and future ‘employers’.

A lack of working hours could also lead to you going overboard and not letting yourself have any downtime (especially if you’re working with a number of international contacts across multiple time zones), which will ultimately have an impact on your quality of work.

Manually keep track of your contacts

If you’re doing freelancing right, your initially small contacts list will inevitably grow, and it’s a good idea to be organized from the start and set up a list of names, emails, and companies. Plus people are always changing jobs (but will usually send out an email to freelancers letting them know about who will be taking over), so updating your list with the new contact person’s details is a must.

Create a personal site

A website helps you further develop a ‘personal brand’ and allows you (and potential employers) to see all of your work in one place. Make sure you keep it updated fairly regularly so that it doesn’t look like you’ve been doing absolutely nothing for the last three months.

Join Facebook group

Since we’re living in the social media age, use your Facebook account to your advantage and suss out Facebook groups for freelancers in your field(s). Note, though, that there are loads of these groups for various occupations, some of which are complete rubbish, so make sure you’re joining ones that will actually help you out.

Some good signs are the number of members it has, its group description (and if it actually has one), and whether you need to request permission to join (which signifies that the people in charge are serious about keeping the group relevant).

Track key words and phrases on Twitter

Use a program like TweetDeck to keep a continuous lookout for phrases like ‘freelance –insert your job- wanted’. It’ll keep you on your toes because (obviously) people tweet a lot, but you can find some really good jobs before anyone else if you’re on your A-game.

Keep an eye out for networking events

Sometimes there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned in-person networking event to meet new people — both employers and fellow freelancers alike. Nowadays, you’ll usually find the good ones mentioned on Facebook and Twitter.

Keep track of your invoices

Make a record of the company name, date of invoice, and, of course, the amount owed. If you’re really on top of things, also make a note of which ones take particularly long to pay so you know to be wary of factoring them in when calculating how much money you have for next month’s rent.

Chase up on an overdue invoice

By far the scariest part of freelancing is having to follow up on an overdue invoice, but hey, you are rightfully owed this money. The first thing to do is to send a polite email to the person you’ve been in contact with, and ask if there’s a backlog in accounts or if something’s missing (wait one to 11/2 months from date of invoice) — hopefully you’ll get a satisfactory answer and be paid soon. However, we’ve heard horror stories of invoices that have been overdue for months, and in cases like this, the key is to be persistent.

Pick up the phone and call your contact or the accounts department at the company, and politely but assertively ask what’s going on. The last resort is to warn them that you’ll open a case, which no one wants, but sometimes it is a necessity.

Like with any job, freelancing is difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it, the perks are really awesome. Good luck, and enjoy working in your pyjamas — we’re envious.