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5 Tips I’ve Learned About Being A Successful Freelancer

5 Tips I’ve Learned About Being A Successful Freelancer

For much of the past year, I’ve spent my time juggling multiple professional balls as a teacher, tutor, and freelancer. When I left graduate school in 2014, I had only mildly entertained the idea of freelance work, usually on days when my dissertation resembled an unmanageable toddler and I would have to step away from my desk and seriously consider my alternative options. During my job search, I stumbled across a page created by the Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Alt Academic” and realized that my struggles were hardly unique. Many of my fellow academics, meeting with frustration and failure in the search for employment, were desperately seeking ways to earn an income beyond hunting in the sofa cushions for spare change.

In a job market increasingly saturated with graduate degree holders, job seekers have been trying to find innovative ways to market their skills, and freelancing,with its DIY flexibility, lends itself well to such creative endeavors. According to Robert Guthrie:

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“Independent contractors have always been a big part of the U.S economy, but the rise of modern corporations led to a decline in the number of farmers, shop owners, and craftsmen, with salaried, full-time employment becoming the norm. The 21st century, however, has brought with it the ability for employers to connect with employees as never before, new remote technologies, and social change, all of which are driving more Americans to freelance and contract work. Current estimates suggest that 53 million Americans are involved in some sort of freelance work.”

While my training in the Humanities admittedly didn’t give me a particularly sound head for business, I decided that, armed with my skill set, I could learn the rest as I went along. Here are five tips I’ve learned that anyone considering taking the plunge into freelance work should consider.

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1. Know your skill set

Before you do anything else, sit down and make a list of your skills and abilities; more often than not, you can lift this information directly from your resume or Curriculum Vitae. When I began branching out into freelancing, I first made a list of my skills and spent time thinking about how I could market my writing, teaching, and research background in a wider field. The simple truth is that you can’t start selling your stuff if you haven’t got a clue what you have to offer.

2. Conduct interviews

As an academic, my impulse response to this new venture was to gather information, because when in doubt, I conduct research. In this case, I spoke with colleagues who had gone the same route, as well as several friends who’ve been working successfully as freelancers for a number of years. Find someone in your chosen field who can sit down with you and discuss the nuances of self-employment, from setting up a website, to marketing, to book-keeping. You’ll never realize just how many questions you have until someone gives you the opportunity to start asking them.

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3. Know what you’re worth

If you’re going to sell your skills, you need to know what they’re worth. When I decided to venture into freelance writing and editing, I spent time researching current market rates and trends with the help of sites like the Editorial Freelancers Association and the National Writers Union. Finding out the market rate for your talent is important, not only to ensure that you’re giving clients a fair price, but also to ensure that you don’t short-change yourself. Your work and your time are billable, and let’s face it, you have to earn a living. Under-selling yourself does you no favors both in terms of your self-confidence and the size of your bank account.

4. Pro Bono= no-no

I should preface this with the statement that I in no way turn up my nose at volunteer work. Giving your time and your talent to good causes that you believe in is personally rewarding and professionally important as well, because service to the community is an admirable character trait in a world where everyone is increasingly self-absorbed.

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However, as I mentioned above, your time and talent are valuable, and your off-the-clock time cannot all be spent doing on-the-clock work. Find a cause that can use and appreciate your talents. If you’re an artist, and your church needs someone to design the posters for the fall carnival, certainly volunteer your time, but never overextend yourself to such an extent that other areas of your life, including the work you’re paid to do, begin to suffer.

5. Set boundaries

Yes, you have skills; yes, people pay you for those skills, but no one owns you. The freelancer/client relationship doesn’t resemble Karl Marx’s proverbial capitalistic vampire that sucks the labor out of you. Many freelancers have unpredictable schedules. There might come a Saturday night when your friends are out on the town while you’re sitting at home in yoga pants and a Hello Kitty T-shirt, rushing to finish a last-minute project that just came up. (I’m currently editing this article after a full day of grading and teaching, wishing I could pour myself a glass of wine and catch the new episode of the latest incarnation of The Muppets on ABC, but I digress.)

That said, you deserve to set boundaries and carve out certain times that you devote to certain projects, and abide by the self-imposed rule never to work outside those constraints. This is easier said than done because of the often unpredictable nature of freelance work, but it’s a practice that, when implemented as a rule of thumb, lends itself to creating a healthy work-life balance.

Featured photo credit: Laptop, Woman, coffee via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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