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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FREELANCING
Table of Contents
- What is Freelancing?
- Pros and Cons of Freelancing
- Setting Up Your Workplace
- Branding Yourself
- Creating Your Portfolio
- Setting Estimates and Rates
Are you tired of waking up everyday, sitting in traffic, and listening to an unappreciative boss screaming at you, or putting you down and saying that you aren’t doing enough. Do you also have a set of skills that are unique and could be used to make money on your own?
If you can answer yes to both of those questions, then congratulations. You may be ready to begin thinking about embarking on the exciting and fulfilling freelancer journey.
To help guide you along, here is the Ultimate Guide to Freelancing.
WHAT IS FREELANCING?
A freelancer, or independent contractor, is a self-employed individual who doesn’t have to commit to a single, long-term employer. Instead, they work independently for several different companies or clients. Freelancers typically charge by the hour or day and are not required to register as a business if they operate under their own name.
It’s often believed the term meaning a freelancer was used first in Sir Walter Scott’s classic Ivanhoe (1820), in which Scott stated, “I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.” In other words, these persons were mercenary’s who offered their services to the highest bidder.
However, there was an earlier example of the term in 1809 by Thomas N. Brown’s, The Life and Times of Hugh Miller by stating, “But when the battle was hottest, Hugh Miller was a loyal combatant, not a free lance.”
Today, the term is often associated with writers, photographers, editors, programmers, website designers, and professional consultants, as well as many other professional services.
According to Forbes, the best freelancing gigs are:
Marketing – Project managers, Marketing coordinators, or Marketing managers can make between $46 to $52 an hour.
Business Project Management – Project Manager, Process Analyst are estimated to make $34 to $46 an hour.
Web Development – Creating, testing, or providing support for software or apps can result in earnings of $36 to $43 an hour.
Writing – Bloggers, copy editors, and content managers can make $25 to $30 an hour, which makes freelance writing a lucrative option for wordsmiths
Accounting – It’s estimated that freelance accountants can earn between $16 to $30 an hour.
Insurance Inspection – Gathering information, such as photographs, and writing insurance reports can earn approximately $28 per hour.
Teaching/Tutoring – Teaching online classes or being a tutor can bring in $20 to $28 an hour.
Social Media – Being a community manager or social media coordinators can result in $20 to $25 an hour.
Graphic Design – Website and application designers are able to make around $21+ per hour.
Administrative Assistant – Professional assistants can earn between $17 to $20 an hour.
PROS AND CONS OF FREELANCING
Whether you’ve recently been laid-off, your tired of the daily grind, or you just want to go into business for yourself, starting a freelance business offers a number of incredible benefits that most employers just can’t compete with.
Advantages of Freelance Work
The pros of being an independent contractor include:
You’re the Boss – This means that you can choose when and where you work. If you’re a night owl, you can work the entire night and sleep in until noon without ever having to leave the house. Additionally, you can also select what projects you want to work on. If you’re a photographer, you may dread working weddings. This means that you don’t have to accept a wedding freelance job if you don’t want to, but you’ll be able to select only the events or situations that you prefer to take pictures of.
You Can Make More Money – If you have the drive, freelancers have the potential to make more money than the average person. Some reports have found that freelancers actually earn 45% more than the average full-time employee.
Lower Taxes – Federal and state taxes are not withheld from your paychecks and freelancers pay the IRS directly four times per year, including the self-employed tax in place of social security. They also have access to tax deductions like office, travel, meal, and internet expenses.
Work-Life Balance – Between flexible schedules, and the fact that only 29% of freelance workers put in more than 40 hours per week, freelancers have an incredible work life balance.
Happier, Healthier – Studies have found that freelancers are happier and healthier, both mentally and physically, than traditional workers.
The Disadvantages of Freelance Work
While there are a number of incredible benefits surrounding freelance work, there are some disadvantages that should be considered.
No Job Security – If your clients don’t have any work for you, then you can’t make any money. Even when you’re an employee, you always have work to complete unless the employer goes out of business or you’re laid off.
Inconsistent Work – There are months when there’s a ton of work to complete and the paychecks are more than you expected. However, the work may dry up and the next month you’re only making half of what you made the previous month. As an employee, at least you know how much you’re paycheck is going to be each month so that you can budget accordingly.
There Are No Benefits – One of the perks of working for someone else is that the employer will handle all of your health or retirement benefits or bonuses like paid vacations or profit sharing. Purchasing your own health insurance is often more expensive than what is offered from an employer.
You Have to Handle Accounting – Taxes, bookkeeping, paying bills, and managing cash flow is up to you. While there is readily available software to assist you with your accounting, it’s an additional task that traditional employees do not have to be concerned with.
You Risk Not Getting Paid – It’s not uncommon for independent contractors to have difficulty getting paid for their services. Some clients either don’t pay on-time or they don’t pay at all. Unlike traditional employees where you always know that a paycheck will arrive.
You must be able to motivate yourself – without prodding from an outside source.
SETTING UP YOUR WORKPLACE
After weighing the pros and cons of freelancing, you may have decided that you’re going to go forward and become an independent contractor. Now it’s time to get your workplace figured out so that you can begin working.
If you live by myself, you’re already at an advantage. You could simply sit at the kitchen table or convert that spare room into an office and not have to be concerned with getting distracted by others. If you live with others, you’ll have to find a space where you can be left alone during “work hours.” Preferably this space, would be a room where there’s a door that closes.
If your home isn’t conducive to freelancing, then consider setting up shop in a local coffee shop or renting out a Setting Up Your Workplace commercial office space. In fact, you may be able to search for co-office spaces through sites like ShareDesk or PivotDesk if you only need something temporarily or at a decent price. Even the library is a great place to find some peace and quiet to work in.
No matter where you decide to make your office, make sure that it’s in a spot that is free of distractions and fits your needs. A writer just needs their laptop and an outlet to charge the battery. But, a photographer may need a darkroom to develop their images, on top of an area to edit the photos.
Whether you decide to go just by your name, “Jane Smith Writer,” or incorporating a business name, “Elite Website Design,” you should create a brand for yourself. Besides your business name, you should also have a logo that can be placed across multiple mediums. If you use your name, your logo could simply be your initials in an unique font that would be placed on your website, social media accounts, and invoices. If you are considering business cards, you can find 100 business cards at Vistaprint for just $7.99. You should also have a dedicated business phone number and address, even if it’s a P.O. box, to add to your professional brand.
Most importantly, you need to have a website where you can showcase your portfolio, share references, and promote Branding Yourself your services. When it comes to your website, make sure that the domain is easy to remember (your name would be the easiest place to start) easy to spell, and describes what you do. For example, if your name is John Doe and you’re a social media manager, maybe you could invest in the domain “socialmediajohn.com.”
Your website should also contain the following components:
- A statement that introduces yourself to prospective clients, such as education and qualifications.
- Explain the services that you offer.
- Show examples of your work.
- Contact details like address, phone number, and email address.
Branding yourself makes it easier for you to stand out from other freelancers in your field, showcase your professionalism, and gives you the opportunity to properly promote your services and find more freelance jobs.
CREATING YOUR PORTFOLIO
As previously mentioned, creating a professional portfolio is a major component of your website since it highlights your skills and talents. Remember, a portfolio is an effective way to attract clients since it puts their mind at ease when they can see for themselves that you are more than capable of handling the task at hand.
When building your portfolio, keep the following in mind:
- Only show the projects that you’re most proud of and believe that represents your best work.
- Show diversity in your work. If you’re a writer, for example, provide examples of articles that discuss various topics to show your diversity.
- Include your contact information again so that it makes it easier for clients to get in touch with you.
Regardless if you have a decade worth of work, or are just starting, a portfolio is a major assist for freelancers. And, here some recommended hosts and websites that can easily help you create and share your online portfolio.
Carbonmade – With plans starting at just $6/month, Carbonmade allows freelancers in a variety of fields to easily customize their portfolios with a personal domain.
Portfoliobox – There is a free version or paid Pro-edition for Portfolio which allows artists, designers, architects, and stylists to share their work via their own domain.
Behance – As a part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud service it’s extremely easy to upload your work onto Behance. What makes Behance stand out is that there’s a job board and search option for employers looking for creatives.
Squarespace – With the ability to synch to social media channels and analytics reports, Squarespace is a powerful option when it comes to sharing your best creative work. THE
Journo Portfolio – This is an excellent online portfolio for journalists and writers.
WordPress – While not exactly a portfolio website, WordPress is so flexible and customizable that you can turn it into any sort of website that you can think of.
SETTING ESTIMATES AND RATES
One of the most difficult parts about being a freelancer is determining the rates that you’ll charge for your services. If you charge too little, you run into the risk of being passed over because may see you as an amateur – not to mention that you may not be able to make an appropriate living. If you charge too much, you’ll miss out on a job opportunity because the client can find someone else who can do the job just as well as you but at a fraction of the price.
Estimates vs. Quotes
When being approached by a prospective client, it’s common practice for them to ask for an estimate or rate. The difference between the two is fairly simple to explain. Setting Estimates and Rates
An estimate is usually a rough price of what the project will cost the employer. While an estimate isn’t a fixed post, it’s typically within 20% of the final cost. A quote differs from estimates because usually a quote will end up being the final fixed amount of the project.
With software from sites like Due.com, you can send an itemized breakdown of services as a quote or estimate to potential clients so that they have a better understanding of the costs involved with the job and your services.
How to Determine the Price of Your Services
There are usually three different strategies to use when determining how much you’re going to charge for your services. These include:
Cost Plus Pricing
This is a popular, and relatively easy way in figuring out how much to charge. You simply determine the expenses involved in producing a product and then adding a little something extra to that amount so that you can turn a profit. This is especially useful for freelancers like photographers, videographers, and artists because they already know how much it costs for materials and development. So, they would take those costs and add their desired profit margin to come up with the rate.
For independent contractors like writers and freelance web designers, this may be a little more difficult to determine. The best way to settle on a rate is by knowing how much your monthly expenses are – rent, food, internet, insurance – and then add how much is needed for profit to pay your expenses.
Market Rate Pricing
This is another effective, and convenient way of figuring out your rates. By exploring how much other freelancers in your industry are charging for their services it gives you a rough estimate of what, and how, to charge clients. Perhaps you thought $20 per hour was fair for your web development skills, but realized that other professionals were charging for the entire project, which would come out to $25 per hour if broken down. You can visit freelance sites like Upwork or Elance to scoop out what competitors are charging. You can also visit Coroflot’s Design Salary Guide as a starting point to compare rates.
Keep in mind though that location has a major impact on market rates. For example, a writer in the Philippines or India is going to charge less money that a writer in New York or San Francisco because the cost of living is more expensive in North America. While this can cause some problems, most clients do prefer working with clients in their part of the world, so be aware of the rates that relevant contractors in your area are charging.
Value Driven Pricing
If you’re a graphic designer would you expect to charge, and receive, the same rate from a Fortune 500 company and a local coffee shop? Absolutely not. And, that’s essentially what value driven pricing is. In other words, the client pays for what they believe the service is worth. However, you must also make sure that you live up to expectations.
When using this strategy, you can start off with a flat rate. Let’s say that you’re a graphic designer and you charge $1,000 for a job. You can charge extra for the add-ons that the client requests because the local coffee shop may not need the extra add-ons that the Fortune 500 company does.
Discovering Your Price Structure
While the strategies listed above are a great place to start determining how much your services will cost a client, you still have to settle on a price structure to launch a successful freelance career.
This is most popular rate structure used by freelancers where you keep track of the hours it takes to complete a project for a client and bill them for those hours. To figure out how much to charge per hour, answer the following questions:
How much do others charge? If the industry norm is $30 per hour and you’re charging $100 per hour, then you may want to reconsider your rate.
What’s the maximum amount you can charge? This may take a bit of trial and error, but if your services are really worth $100 per hour and you have clients willing to pay that rate, then that’s how much you should charge.
What do you need to survive? Figure out how many billable hours you can actually work per week and then calculate your costs – rent, groceries, internet, insurance, electricity, and any other essential bills. If you determine that you can work roughly 80 hours per month – that’s 20 hours per week – and you monthly bills come out to $2,000, then you at least have to charge $25 per hour.
One of the biggest problems with hourly rates is that you are not going to be able to actually work 40 hours per week as a project freelancer since you have errands, accounting, and marketing your services on top of your work. So, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’re going to make more money per month than you actually will.
Another problem with hourly rates is that you have to keep track of time. Do you charge when you have an idea while driving? And, what’s the best way to track those billable hours? Thankfully, sites like Due.com have powerful time tracking software that makes this a bit easier.
Instead of an hourly rate, maybe you want to charge your client by the day or week. This can be effective for a couple of reasons. For starters, your services may only be needed for a just a couple of days or for a week. This means that you can plan accordingly and budget based on this rate – it’s also pretty easy to track. $25 times 10 hours is easier to track than just a flat rate of $500 for the week. Clients also like this rate because it pretty much guarantees that you’ll be focused solely on their work.
Another common rate structure is charging per project. For example, you’re freelance marketer who charges $1,500 per month for client projects. Clients like this structure because they are well aware upfront of the cost of the project. And, it also makes your life easier since you don’t have to do too much budgeting and tracking.
When going this route, make sure that you know how much time and effort a project is going to take you to complete before sending out an estimate. The last thing you want is to spend more time on a project and not get paid a reasonable rate for the job because the job took five times longer than you had calculated it would take.
When starting out as a freelancer, it may be alright to undercharge a bit. Remember, clients want a deal and you could use the work to build your portfolio and have your clients spread the word about how awesome you are. Once you get settled, however, you need to have a proper rate. Just keep in mind that you may want to still charge those original clients of yours a little less since they are the ones who helped launch your freelance career. Consider it a friends and family discount.
WORKING WITH CLIENTS
Without clients your freelance business isn’t really going anywhere. And while you’ll come across great clients who you may even consider a friend, you’ll also have to deal with those clients who you wish you never met. Regardless, of which end of the spectrum you’re dealing with, working with clients is essential. And, here are the best ways to work with them so that your experience will be as painless as possible.
Be on the Same Page
That may sound obvious, but when working with a client both parties need to be on the same page. This begins during the pitch phase by being aware of what exactly the client is looking for. If you’re unclear about what the client is looking for, don’t be afraid to ask question. It’s not fun working on a project, turning it in, and having the client reject it because you misunderstood what they were expecting.
Specifically, you and your client both need to agree on important components of a project like deadlines and a budget prior to starting a project. Let’s say that you design a website and the client is upset because there aren’t any images when it’s all said and done. That may not be something that you normally do, but now the client is furious because they assumed that there would be images. This should have been discussed prior to the launch of the project.
Get It in Writing
One of the best ways to ensure that both parties are on the same page is by having a contract. Not only does this help prevent any misunderstandings, it also protects you in case a client pulls out of a project or refuses to pay you.
The contract should at least include the following:
- Names of both parties – the freelancer and the client
- Title project
- Starting date of project
- The project’s deadline
- Payment terms – when and how you’ll receive payment
- Specific terms or project
- Signature from both parties
The contract should also include clauses like kill fees. This means making sure that you still get compensated for your work even if the plug is pulled on the project. You may also want to discuss copyright options. For example, you keep ownership until the final payment is received.
If you don’t have an attorney, you can find a contact templates, examples, and additional information from the following sources:
- California State University Sample – Freelance Writing Contract
- Docracy – Designer Contracts
- Stuff & Nonsense – Contract Killer
- Elance Sample Contract Agreements
- Smashing Magazine – How to Spot A Sketchy Client (Plus a Contract Template)
Think about all the times that you’ve had a problem in either your personal or professional life. I bet you’ll notice a common theme – the source of the problem comes back to a lack of a communication. While it may seem a bit like overkill, there’s nothing wrong in asking your client for feedback or direction, keeping them updated on the status of the project through reports, and even just dropping them a quick email to see how everything is going.
Communication not only prevents any headaches, it’s also an effective way to strengthen the relationship between you and your client.
Be Flexible, But Not Too Much
To survive being a freelancer you have to be flexible. After all, deadlines and the scope of the work can change throughout the course of a project. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be a pushover. Be up front with a client and explain to them what can be done and when it can be accomplished. If that’s going to be an additional cost, then you need to inform the client that there will be an additional fee. So, if you’re that web designer you can add those images, but it’s going to cost the client a bit more money.