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How to Build a Successful Freelance Career (Part 2)

Part 1 of this article discussed the experience you need to successfully build a freelance career. Here, I will outline other necessities.

EQUIPMENT

Working from home means you must to have all the necessary equipment. Minimally, a phone, computer and fax machine. Ideally, a [color] copier, modem, fast Internet access, scanner (if your field requires it) and separate work room in your home would complete the picture.

CONTACTS/REFERENCES

The most obvious place to start building your customer base is previous employers. Remember the saying, “Don’t burn your bridges.” It has never been more true than when trying to build a freelance career.

As companies cut back, employers like to use former employees because they already know the work, routines, and systems of the company. Therefore, very little, if any training is needed.

These same industry contacts also make great references as you continue to expand your customer base. There is no better assurance to a potential new client than an ex-employer who says: “I’d hire her back if I could. She does great work for us as a freelancer. One of the reasons we use her as a freelancer is because she did such excellent work as an employee.”

Wouldn’t you feel confident if you were a potential client?

SAVINGS

In utopia, six months expenses (rent, food, cleaners, credit card bills, student loans, travel expenses, etc.) will be in the bank before you embark on your freelance career. In our experience, it takes about two years to build a solid base of clients that will (hopefully) keep you busy.

If this is not possible, try to plan as much in advance as you can. The “fear of the first blues” [when rent is due] can be frightening if you have no income and no prospects on the horizon.

PART-TIME JOB

I suggest that instead of going from a full-time job into a freelance career, that you get a steady part-time job for a while. This will allow you to: 1) transition between the two without taking the financial hit (especially if you haven’t planned), and 2) get a feel for how to organize as a freelancer.

Freelancing usually means intense periods of work, eg, four 12-hour days, and then maybe a week with “nothing” going on. Nothing is in quotation marks because as a freelancer, just because there’s no client project on your desk does not mean you should be idle.

During these down times is when you should be organizing your books, re-stocking supplies, prospecting for new clients, tracking advertising — in short, running your business. If you think of freelancing as a business and organize yourself accordingly from the beginning, it will make this existence infinitely easier (especially at tax time).

PERSONALITY

Freelancing is an enjoyable experience for some, a painful existence for others. Do a personality check to see if you can ride the roller coaster of this up-and-down existence. 

If you don’t take one other thing from this article, remember this:  No matter how talented you are, what your background is, or how well connected you are, there will come a time when work just seems to dry up. At this point you may start to question your abilities, seriously consider a full-time job, and/or wonder if freelancing is for you.

If this is the existence you’ve decided you want, stick with it. Continue to advertise, even when it seems that no one is interested. The average consumer has to see your advertisement at least 7-28 times (depending on what article you read) before they will act on it. So, be confident that if you advertise consistently, when they need a service/product that you offer, you will be at the forefront, rather than the hit-and-run advertisers.

After all, the quickest way not to succeed is to quit.

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Good luck!

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