Freelancing is a great way to escape the rat race and work on your own terms with almost-absolute freedom. Most people (specially those involved in IT/design related fields) consider it at some point in their career — and in most cases it’s in no way the piece of cake everyone hypes it up to be. Everything from landing jobs to completing them and getting paid gets complicated. So here’re a few tips to get started.
Competing with established freelancers and agencies seems almost impossible for the newcomers. You could say getting discovered is the hardest and most crucial step in freelancing.
The key is self promotion, and the first on this list needs to be a strong portfolio. Start showcasing your work and try to to establish a unique portfolio — it can be a personal website or any other service for that matter.
I’ve been discovered more through my Behance portfolio than any other site or service combined! That’s the main reason I just put up a bio on my site and link to Behance for my portfolio.
Getting established is hard and takes time. Keep creating and adding new work to your portfolio. But never do free work for the sake of expanding your portfolio, instead consider doing some concept designs or working with a non-profit or community project you’re truly interested in working with; you can only do your best if you love what you’re doing.
Hourly vs. Fixed Rates
Most freelancer start off with fixed rates. While it’s a simple and clear process for both parties; at some point you’re bound to end up working much longer than expected on a project and you’ll end up feeling cheated for it.
I once ended up doing over 30 hours of work on a website re-design project on which I quoted for only 8 hours of work!
I prefer to work at an hourly rate, and provide an estimate of the cost based on number of hours — I’m also open to reducing the hourly rate by up to 10% to stick to the first estimate. This way I’m secured from working overtime on projects, and by all fairness the clients get an idea of the cost beforehand.
All day All night
This might just be the worst thing about freelancing. Since it’s basically working from home, you might end up being glued to your chair all day all week. So setup strict office hours (typically 40 hours per week or 6 hours per day) and stick to them — for your own good.
You need a contract. But it’s not to secure payments. A client that’s going to dupe you out of your payment will do it with or without a contract — and going to court over a few hundred dollars isn’t going to change anything either.
The best way to weed out bad clients is to request for up to 50% before the project starts. A client willing to pay at least 25% upfront is much less likely to ignore payment once the project is completed.
Using a general contract for small project does have a tendency to scare clients off; but do stick to it — you never know when you might end up needing it.
Working over the internet
More often than you expect freelance jobs are done through the internet, and sometimes even with international clients. This means that the feedback cycle can sometimes stretch over a whole day (specially if you work on different time-zones).
It’s great idea to use a service like invision to make your process more efficient. There’s nothing better than a good face-to-face meeting, but if that isn’t possible the best free alternative is email or Skype.
Do a thorough project analysis before you being any work to make sure you know what needs to be done, and it’s likely to reduce the number of revisions later on.
Freelancing isn’t easy, but if done right it can be very rewarding both in terms of income and lifestyle.