The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Friday Guest Blog: So you want to be a Freelancer?

How to make going it alone work for you
by Christina McDermott

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s a tough old world out there if you’re a freelancer. Indeed, even before the recession, you had to be made of relatively stern stuff to make the decision to go it on your own. After all, there’s all the fun of having to sort out your tax return at the end of each year, the seemingly endless task of having to chase late payers, and figuring out how to keep a firm grip on your sanity when you’re working from home all day and the only intelligent conversationalist you have to hand is your cat. And that’s before we get to the thorny issue of trying to get enough work in to keep yourself afloat.

On the plus side though, there are a multitude of positives to being your own boss. You can make your own hours – which is a massive help if you’ve got children. You don’t have to wake up at 7am to embark on the joyless slog of the daily commute. And, perhaps best of all, with a laptop and a good wi-fi connection, the world is your oyster. Manchester is particularly well blessed with a number of excellent cafés tailor-made for the busy freelancer to while away the hours in.

It may sound strange, but there’s probably never been a better time to go freelance. With many large companies and organisations laying off full-time employees, it can often be cheaper for them to contract their work out to freelance professionals. Freelancing is a way of spreading your risks – if one client is having a tough time of it, then you have the capabilities at their disposal to go out and find another.

However, in a world where people are losing their jobs left, right and centre, you always need to stay one step ahead if you want to survive.

Work your contacts
If you do decide to make the leap to becoming freelance, make sure that all of your former colleagues and contacts know about the decision you’ve made. They’re more likely to want to work with someone they know rather than taking a chance on an unknown.

Make yourself known around town
Networking is key. Find a good freelance community related to your industry and get involved - if you’re a writer, Journobiz is particularly excellent. These can often prove to be a valuable source of contacts and potential work opportunities. Join your local Chamber of Commerce, get some business cards printed up, and attend every coffee morning and cocktail party going. Don’t be afraid to be cheeky – send out speculative emails and mail shots to potential clients to let them know you’re available for work. If you’re not already on there, join Twitter and LinkedIn so you have an online profile that people can turn to if they want to approach you to find out more about what you can bring to the table. If you’re the chatty type, starting your own blog can also be a perfect way to attract business.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
Diversify. Don’t just rely on one sector or one client to provide you with the bulk of your work. However, make sure that you play to your strengths instead of plunging headlong into something you know absolutely nothing about!

Don’t undersell yourself
When starting out, it’s tempting to tell potential clients that you’ll do the work for the lowest possible fee just to get the job. But what about when the next supplier comes along who’ll undercut you? When you compete on price, you often lose the job on price. Reassure your supplier that whilst you may cost them a little bit more, they’ll be getting a much better service in the long run.

Know your rights!
When you’re starting out, it’s easy (and natural) to make mistakes. Make sure you get everything in writing – this can be a lifesaver if you’re forced to take legal action over late payments. Master all aspects of contracts, order forms and terms and conditions. If you can, ask customers to pay some of the fee upfront. Their reaction may give you a big clue about their ability to pay.

Most of all, think about why you chose to become freelance, and make sure that you use these reasons to improve the quality of your overall working life, even if they are just based around a childhood dream of being able to legitimately go to work wearing your pyjamas. Remember that there will be good days and there will be days when you will wonder why you ever decided to go it alone in the first place. But, with the right blend of determination and marketable skills, you can make freelancing work for you.

Christina McDermott is a Freelance Journalist, Blogger and Copywriter. You can find more of her work at www.domesticsluttery.com and http://christinamcdermott.wordpress.com

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