Freelancing tips for beginners: 15 do’s and don’ts

Freelancing tipsThis week’s blog post was inspired by an email I received from a work contact.

After recently leaving an in-house position, she’s now dipping her toes into the world of freelancing. So she asked if I had any advice for people starting out or thinking about going freelance.

Drawing on my personal experience, I came up with several freelancing tips for her. I then thought it might be useful to share them with others in a similar situation, so have expanded the list here.

I’ve tried to keep these freelancing tips fairly general. They should therefore apply to most people – regardless of your line of work.

Do…

  • Identify your core offering. You can keep it fairly broad to begin with, then narrow it down once you have a better feel for the marketplace. (I started out offering a translation service as well, but dropped that after a while to focus on copywriting, editing and proofreading.
  • Get the word out to everyone you know, both on a business and personal level. (My best client came from a casual conversation in the school playground!)
  • Make full use of LinkedIn and other social media platforms to raise your profile and promote your services. (I wish these had been around when I started freelancing 18 years ago.)
  • Build up a local network of industry suppliers, other freelancers and even competitors. This is useful both for moral support and for passing leads or work around.
  • Create a responsive, i.e. mobile-friendly, website and include SEO basics. (I regularly receive enquiries through mine from people searching for things like “freelance copywriter Warwickshire”.)
  • Always listen to your gut instinct, as it’s rarely wrong. (I certainly wish I’d listened to mine on more than one occasion over the years.)
  • Be cautious about doing any work for free to demonstrate your ability. Some people/companies are unscrupulous and will crowdsource lots of free ‘samples’ to get the whole job done. If you have relevant experience and/or a good reputation, that should speak for itself.
  • Set a minimum charge for small jobs. (I sometimes get approached by individuals wanting “just a few words” – these invariably end up being the least profitable jobs when I work out my actual hourly earnings.)
  • Check out The Freelance Lifestyle, which offers great resources, tonnes of freelancing tips, an informative blog and an active online community.
  • Last, but by no means least, enjoy the freedom and flexibility that freelancing provides!

Don’t…

  • Be afraid to say No if you’re too busy, if the project isn’t within your comfort zone or if you don’t get the right vibes about the person/company. Even though it’s financially tempting to say Yes to everything, especially when starting out.
  • Drop your rates because of promises of “lots more work to come” (which, in my experience, rarely materialises).
  • Be too trusting. Unless a prospective client comes to you via word of mouth from someone you trust, check them out to make sure they’re legit and therefore likely to actually pay you. (I’ve had my fingers burned once or twice, so am far more cautious these days.)
  • Panic in the lean periods, because work will soon come in and then you’ll be really busy. (I initially found the peaks and troughs of freelancing difficult to adjust to, but now make the most of the quiet patches to recharge my batteries.)
  • Feel guilty if you take some time out during the working day to go to the gym or meet a friend for coffee/lunch. Freelancers often work unsociable hours in the evenings or weekends to meet tight deadlines, so it all balances out in the end.

This list of freelancing do’s and don’ts is by no means exhaustive. Have you any other freelancing tips that might be useful for beginners? Please do share them in the comments.

(image courtesy of Stuart Miles via Freedigitalphotos.net)

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16 comments on “Freelancing tips for beginners: 15 do’s and don’ts
  1. Thanks for the information

  2. There are ample of things which you could make better and easy to get the work from the clients such as by using the social platforms to make the profile popular in the freelance marketplace as all of the people are engaging in the social platforms which is giving a better opportunity to get the work without any hassle.

    • I completely agree, James – having an active social media presence is a MUST for any freelancer these days (which is why it’s my third tip!). Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  3. John Allen says:

    Very useful article indeed

  4. ellismichael8888 says:

    I feel that all the points offered here are very valid and resourceful. King Solomon stated ” In the multitude of counselors ( sound advice) there is safety.

  5. Great list, especially about the ”don’t” part. Beginner freelancers often go above and beyond in order to land jobs and find clients, but as we all know, that’s not a very useful practice.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I originally wrote it as a list of bullets giving advice on what to do, then realised that some of the points were actually more suited to what NOT to do. I certainly wish I’d been warned about these aspects when I started out…

  6. Kate Haigh says:

    A great list, Geraldine.
    I think one of the key learning points is to see competitors as colleagues rather than enemies. Leads being passed on or projects shared among respected colleagues was how I got some of my first big bits of work so it’s always good to make friends with others in your field. I know a few people who don’t want to do that for fear of losing clients but if the relationship with the colleague is open and honest, that won’t happen: the colleague may help you out when you’re ill or fully booked, but they won’t ‘steal’ the client in the long run.

    • Thanks for your comment Kate. That’s a very valid point. We’ve certainly collaborated well in the past (our specialisms being complementary) and hopefully will again in the future!

  7. This is a great post. It’s so important to keep on sharing this kind of information because, in the end, it helps all of us making a living from freelancing. The more newbies are aware of the pitfalls the less vulnerable they are when setting up a business, resulting in less opportunity for unscrupulous ‘business owners’. I’m still relatively new to running a freelance business myself and I will always be grateful for more experienced writers who shared this knowledge to spare me bad experiences.

  8. Geraldine says:

    Thanks! Glad you found them useful.

  9. Caroline Barry says:

    Great tips that I can also follow being self-employed 🙂

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