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9 Questions to Ask Before Going Freelance

9 Questions to Ask Before Going Freelance

layoff

    I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve seen recommending that folks take on freelance work to make ends meet during the current economic crisis. From keeping the wolf away from the door to working on top of a full-time job, I’ve seen freelancing cited as a panacea. It’s especially promoted to anyone working in a relatively creative field — not just writers and designers, but videographers and coders are being told that freelance is the way to go. I even spotted at article last month suggesting that sales reps should see if they could pick up a few bucks on a freelance basis.

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    In general, I think freelancing is a great option — but I also know that it isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering taking the freelance route, there are a few questions you need to be able to answer in the affirmative.

    1. Can you meet those deadlines?

    Freelancing is very deadline-oriented. A client can’t tell you when or where to work, but he can certainly tell you when your project needs to be done. That sounds like it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but think of it this way: if you’re taking on freelance projects just to keep money coming in while you hunt for something permanent, you can get into a little trouble if you actually find a new job. Will you actually have enough time to complete your projects after you’ve put in your time at your brand new day job?

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    2. Are you willing to give up your free time?

    If your freelancing hours are limited to after work, you may find yourself devoting all of your free time to your new projects. While that may not sound all bad, it can be a one way ticket to burnout unless you are very careful about your time management. After all, at least a little social interaction is necessary to keep most people happy.

    3. Can you find enough work?

    Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty of freelance work out there these days, especially since many companies are turning to freelancers to cover their staffing needs after layoffs. But finding that work is a whole different matter. How much time can you afford to spend on checking job boards? Assuming you’re planning to freelance for more than just a few projects, you’ll want to put some marketing in place — a website with your portfolio and that sort of thing — but even basic marketing and job hunting can take up a lot of time.

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    4. Do you have a portfolio in place?

    Most freelancers rely on their portfolios, rather than resumes to get them hired. A prospective client wants to be able to take a quick look at your work — whether it’s a press release, a web application or a video — and decide on the spot whether he wants to work with you. That means you need to have a solid portfolio in place. True, you can find freelancing opportunities without a portfolio, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to make only a fraction of what you might otherwise.

    5. Are you going to make enough to meet your needs?

    Freelancing isn’t exactly a fast route to riches. In order to make enough to cover your needs, whether replacing a full-time job or covering unexpected expenses, you probably have an exact amount you need to be making in mind. When you consider the hours you have available to work, that number may not translate into a practical hourly rate — at least for a starting freelancer.

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    6. Can you wait for your money?

    The grand majority of clients do not pay their freelancers upon completion of a project. Instead, you’ll be looking at payment within a month of an arbitrary date (assuming you aren’t working with a big company that requires 60 or 90 days to pay invoices). That arbitrary date can be from the point of invoicing to the point of publication, depending on who you’re working with. Freelancing isn’t really the ideal option if you need the money by this weekend.

    7. Are you able to go to bat for yourself?

    If you’re used to working with a manager or supervisor, freelancing can come as a bit of a shock. Not only do you need to go out looking for your own work, but you also have to set timelines on your own and take care of invoicing and other paperwork. You can learn how to do all of these things, of course, but the learning curve isn’t exactly shallow.

    8. Is freelancing going to interfere with your commitments?

    Most clients expect to be able to communicate with freelancers during normal business hours. That can mean taking a call at your day job: that sort of situation is practically begging for an eventual problem. With some effort, you can work around these issues, but it can mean trouble that isn’t really worth it for the amount of money you’re bringing in.

    9. Can you be flexible?

    You might get a rush project that has to be done by the end of the day tomorrow — which means pulling an all-nighter tonight. You might go a week without getting a new project in. Freelancing requires a lot of flexibility, especially when you’re first starting out and are still working on building a name for yourself.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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