You may think that freelance work involves spending your time schlubbing around in a pair of novelty slippers, lazily working for a few minutes, before catching up on the rest of Loose Women. Um…not quite. In order to be successful, freelancers have to work incredibly hard; not only on the projects they undertake, but on networking and developing new business opportunities.
Essentially, freelance work involves working for someone for a fixed period or on a particular project. Freelancers sell their skills and their time and are often paid a fixed price for a particular project or by the hour. The main industries that have a high demand for freelance work are design, journalism, publishing, management consulting, business administration and I.T.
First things first, it’s pretty unrealistic to expect to make a successful living solely out of freelance work without building up a reputation beforehand. You might want to start freelancing part-time or in your spare time until you have built up a list of contacts and established a reputation.
Dinah Hall, a freelance journalist who has written for a number of magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian and The Times, worked on magazines for 12 years before going freelance. She recommends getting a staff job first so that you can build up contacts. After all, she says, “the people who were editorial assistants with you may well go on to become commissioning editors in five years’ time, so befriend the ambitious ones!”
Freelance work is about selling your skills. You need to make sure there is a market for your freelance work. You should have expertise in an industry and identify a corner of the market in need of your skills. Dinah argues that having a specialism is vital. She built up a reputation as a “somewhat waspish design writer, specialising in contemporary homes” and so the majority of her commissions come from design magazines or design sections of newspapers.
What makes a good freelancer?
You need to be a good communicator, able to forge relationships with people quickly and good at building relationships with clients. You should build up a database of potential clients to poke every few months. Using LinkedIn and Twitter as networking tools can be invaluable for maintaining and creating contacts. Reliability is another key attribute to have, as you will need to be able to keep to deadlines.
You need to be keen on improving your skills, constantly training and adapting to industry changes. Furthermore, a successful freelancer looks for their own work rather than just letting agencies look on their behalf. Dinah sums it up neatly, “you’ll need to be proactive and outgoing to build up a new network of contacts, so that when the people you know drop dead/retire/have babies your commissions don’t dry up.”
Above all, you need to have an inhuman amount of self-motivation. Can you work by yourself or at home without getting too distracted? Be warned! The most mundane things will suddenly become fascinating. Defrosting the freezer, what fun! Becoming a freelancer is essentially like setting up your own business, so you’ll need huge reserves of dedication and motivation.
The pros & cons of freelance work…
Inevitably, becoming a freelancer means you will become a bit of a lone ranger as you move from office to office and from project to project. But this is balanced with the freedom to be your own boss. You alone will be able to decide where and when to work. Forget nine-to-five and commuting doldrums, your working life will be full of variety and you can choose when you want to go on holiday.
With that comes less job security. Dinah points out that “if a steady and secure income is vital, then do something else.” You’ll be subject to irregular income and work-flow, and miss out on those employment benefits (no holiday pay, sickness pay etc.). You’ll have to basically run your own business and manage your own taxes and finances (or stomach the extra cost of hiring an accountant). Freelancers often struggle to maintain a balance between home and work, letting one disrupt the other.
However, if you can handle the pitfalls of freelance work, then it’s definitely an exciting, rewarding and altogether different career path to consider.