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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 November 19, 2018

How to Find a Suitable Professional Mentor

How to Find a Suitable Professional Mentor

I went through a personal experience that acted as a catalyst for an epiphany. When I got fired from a job, I learned something important about myself and where I was headed with my freelance career. I realized that the most important aspect of that one rather small job was the influence of the company owner. I realized that I wasn’t hurt that the company and I weren’t a perfect match; I was devastated by the stark fact that I needed a mentor and I had almost found one but lost her.

Suddenly, I felt like J.D., the main character in “Scrubs,” chasing Dr. Cox and trying to rip insight and wisdom from someone I respect. The realization that a recognized thought-leader and experienced entrepreneur severed ties with me felt crushing. But, I picked myself back up and thought about five ways to acquire a mentor without having the awkwardness of outright asking.

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1. Remember, a professional mentorship must be mutual.

A professional mentor must agree to engage in a mutual relationship because, as the comedy T.V. series showed us, one simply cannot force someone to tutor us. We have to prove that we are worth the time investment through persistence and dedication to the craft.

2. You have to have common interests with your mentor.

Even if a professional mentor appears at your job or school, realize that unless you and this person have common interests, you won’t find the relationship successful. I’ve been in situations where someone I respected had vastly different ideas about what was important in life or what one should spend his or her free time doing. If these things don’t line up, you may find the relationship won’t be as fruitful, even when the mentor knows a great deal about one industry.

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3. Thought-leaders will respect your passion.

One of the ways you can prove yourself worthy to a professional mentor is through your passion and your dedication. No one wants to spend time grooming and teaching another who will not take advice or put the effort in to improve. When following thought-leaders on Twitter and trying to engage with higher-ups in a work setting, realize that your actions most often speak louder than your words.

4. Before worrying if he respects you, ask if you respect him.

On the other side of the coin, you should seriously reflect on those common interests and make sure you respect your professional mentor. Just because someone holds a title, degree or office does not mean that person is trustworthy or honest. Don’t be swayed by appearances and take the time to find a suitable professional mentor.

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5. Failure is often the best way to learn

I honestly have made more mistakes than I can count. I know I’ve learned a great deal from poorly organized businesses and my own poor choices. The most important quality I’ve developed is an ability to swallow my pride and learn from my mistakes. If life knocks me down nine times, I get back up 10 times. One of the songs Megadeth wrote, “Of Mice and Men,” resonates in my mind when I pull myself up by my bootstraps and try again for a goal I’ve set: “So live your life and live it well. There’s not much left of me to tell. I just got back up each time I fell.” Hopefully, this brief post can act as a professional mentor to you in your quest to find not only a brave leader but also a trusted adviser.

Featured photo credit: morguefile via mrg.bz

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