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The 5 Golden Rules of Freelancing

Nigel Graber
Fashion designer standing in her studio|Freelancing tips and tricks to grow your business

Freelancers work when they want and where they want, and get to choose the type of work they do. Freelancers have it all, don’t they? Well, apart from the isolation, money worries and having to do it all themselves.

Here are some golden rules that can help.

Find your niche

If you want the work to keep rolling in, being a ‘generalist’ probably isn’t going to cut it. Imagine you’re a web designer – you know a bit of HTML and CSS. So do millions of others.

How about making yourself a WordPress Developer or specialising in "lifestyle" websites? Maybe go geographically: Nottingham web developer? Make yourself stand out in one field and you’ll get a reputation that will go before you.

As a "web designer," there’s too much competition. By specialising, you reduce it to a manageable level and get seen as a specialist. This will lead to freelancer success.

Raise your rates

When you go freelance, everyone you meet (except your clients) will tell you to double your rates. Or at least raise them. But surely this will cost me a lot of work, you say? Well, yes. But not the kind of work you want to be doing.

If everybody competed on price, somebody would end up building websites or writing advertising campaigns for £1. Then someone would come along and offer 99p. Many a freelancer has told me a client has nearly held back from calling because they thought they were so cheap that they couldn’t possibly be any good.

Raising your rates won’t bring you more enquiries, it’s true. But it should bring an increase in the number of high-quality leads you get. This is what you want. Reputable businesses with sensible budgets.

The other positive of taking on higher-quality work is that your portfolio will look better and more professional, which will, in turn, generate more, similar work.

How much should you be charging? Let’s imagine you’re an advertising copywriter. As an employee, you might earn £40,000 a year.

Now let’s imagine you’re a freelancer. Your annual expenses might come to £5000. You’ll probably do about 25 billable hours a week and you’ll work maybe 48 weeks of the year. That’s about 1200 hours a year.

To match your PAYE salary, you’ll need to charge about £35 an hour. But presumably, you’d like freelancing to pay better than your day job and to reflect not only your status but also the value you deliver to clients. Here’s where the ‘double it’ advice comes into play. Get to it.

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Avoid low-rent work

The trouble with low-rent, badly paid work is that it breeds more low-rent, badly paid work. Eventually, it’s all you do. Yes, you’ve become low-rent.

But, you say, what about the scenario where you find yourself in between jobs? You take a phone call from a desperado with little budget and even less planning. With nothing lined up, you take the work on.

But your low-budget job becomes the project from hell. It over-runs and ends up paying minimum wage. Somewhere along the way, your perfect client calls with a big-budget barnstormer. You’re forced to turn it down.

You can avoid this ugly scenario by having a contingency fund in the bank. Keep your account topped up with at least three months’ pay and you’ll never be in the position where you have to take on anything and everything that comes your way.

Put it in writing

Always use a contract. Putting what’s expected of you and your client in writing gives you something to fall back on when things go belly up. A well-prepared contract will flag up key questions before the job starts so that you’re not left with awkward questions about money or project scope further down the line.

You’ll also look more professional.

If you’re struggling to imagine what a contract might look like, Google is your friend. There are always templates you can use on small business forums and even competitors’ websites.

The client is the boss

"I love freelancing," you may say. "I don’t have a boss any more."

Wrong. The client is your boss. That’s why you should never fall into the trap of thinking that the client is always wrong.

Client-blaming is on the rise. But as the service or product provider, it’s up to you to take control of, and responsibility for, the project. You must structure the job so that the customer buys into your decisions.

If they don’t, then might I respectfully refer you to rules two and three above.

Good luck.

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