Throughout this Misfit’s Guide to Freelancing, you’ll find clickable text and images. These will take you to articles that explore the subject further. Wowsers!
Freelancing is the joy of being self-employed. You get to pick and choose clients you’d like to work with — not FOR — that’s what employees do. (You probably already know this — you’re a freelancer, that’s why you’re here but this is my featured snippet, y’know, for SEO.)
Taking a dive into the uncharted waters of self-employment is daunting so let this guide to freelancing be your life jacket.
Freelancing can be especially frightening if you’ve been employed for bloody ages. You swap the security of a fixed wage to not knowing if you’ll ever eat again. Don’t panic — you WILL eat again! Just keep in mind why you chose to be your own boss in the first place — to make sure you never have to return to that depressingly lit open-plan office ever again.
More daunting stuff — I am sorry (I’m not) but freeing yourself from the shackles of the 9 to 5 does mean you won’t be able to blame a boss when things go belly up. You have to take full responsibility.
Learning how to file your tax return is lame but unavoidable (unless you’re a dodgy bastard). Getting to grips with Self Assessment, VAT and National Insurance contributions will become part of your new job so I hope you look good in hats because you’re about to wear a few now that you’re a freelancer.
For many, knowing that the buck stops with them is exactly why they became a business owner. They want to be the master of their own destiny. Exciting.
“Sarah, who else am I going to be?”
What a stupid thing to say, yeah but hear me out. Most of us have different versions of ourselves. The version we present will depend on our audience. For example, I bet you’re much more reserved with people you’ve only just met. (Unless you’re one of those annoyingly friendly people who chats easily with strangers.)
So how will you act in your freelancer life? Are you going to be unapologetically you or a more business-like version?
You’re a leader — a decision maker.
Does that sound like you? So many freelancers are rubbish at taking charge but if you can’t be that way as a business owner, you’ll be seen as a pushover. A lot of the reasons why they are useless at taking control is to do with boundaries. Far too many self-employed folk don’t give them a single thought. And it’s not until things go south that they realise they should have some Ts and Cs. Don’t be that chump, make a list of your deal-breakers and non-negotiables. You work how you want. You pick the hours, you choose how you communicate, and you decide who you want to work with.
I get it, I sound grumpy and that’s because I am grumpy. But I don’t care. I won’t lower my standards and I don’t think you should either. It’s no secret that I’m particular about my process. And the same can be said for the clients I work with.
You might have gone into freelancing coz you’re good at something. Maybe you’re turning a hobby into your new job — doesn’t matter, what matters is this: does anyone want what you got? Is there a need for it? If not, any efforts to flog it will be in vain.
Identifying your market and understanding where they hang out is a must but here’s the kicker: not all those people are going to be your people. There will be lots of frogs to kiss before you find your prince so stick to your guns when it comes to those boundaries we talked about.
Think of this as your prospect boogeyman.
Before you get giddy about your ideal client persona (the person you want to do business with) get a clear image of the person you do NOT want to do business with. Write down their shit attributes and add them to your business boundaries and non-negotiables.
If you’re not confident in your abilities you’re much more likely to attract and be manipulated by douchey clients. For me, a crappy client has the following characteristics:
And there are many more I could add. These types of peeps are not worth the headache. Give those bastards an inch and they’ll take a mile, your soul, and any sense of self-worth you ever had. Be prepared to encounter prospects like this — freelancers attract them, must be some sort of shoddy client pheromone they emit.
I’ve never worked with god-awful clients. (I’ve had a couple of mediocre ones, fo sho.)
And yeah, plenty of prospects wasted my time at the start. I recall the endless games of email tennis and the pick-your-brains phone calls that didn’t lead anywhere. But luckily I didn’t have the misfortune of working with these time wasters. I flatly refused one guy because he wouldn’t trust the process — my process. As for the others, they eventually realised I was not the content person for them. (Hallelujah!)
I don’t like my time being wasted — who does? My process saves me some. It also speeds things up for the prospect. My marketing helps to actively repel the people that I’m not going to play nice with. That’s what I call emitting the right kind of client pheromone.
WARNING: There are also potential clients that, on the face of it, seem ideal. They blow smoke up your arse and say you’re the perfect fit for them. That’s nearly always utter bollocks.
Now you can start thinking nice thoughts. All those qualities you want in your perfect business person. Maybe write a pretend Tinder profile for them (no, I’m not kidding). This will help you discover what you most desire in a client.
Please do not fall into the trap of offering your services for nout. This idea that somehow you will find legitimate (paid) work when accepting jobs for fuck all is frankly, bullshit. Working for exposure is a lie and it is manipulation. If you do something well you should be paid for it — end of discussion.
Oh, lordy. This is the tricky bit innit, I mean, you don’t want to scare people off do you but then you don’t want to be barely breaking even. Ignore that last sentence — we’ll come to what you’re going to charge clients in just a jiffy but first, you need to remove all this emotion you feel when it comes to cash. Let it go. Done that? Good.
The next logical thing to do is to figure out how much running a business is costing you, so think about stuff like this:
It all adds up doesn’t it and that’s just a quick list. We have different financial business burdens to consider and that’s before you factor in your skill and expertise. (So think on before you offer the cheapest price.)
That brings me nicely to a thing called positioning. You can position your product or services based on these things:
There’s also a thing called premier positioning — that means being the market leader of a product or service.
You might long to be the go-to business for that thing you sell but that isn’t always possible. In my freelance career I could never hope to become the market leader. SEO is dominated by giants of the industry — there’s no way I can compete with Semrush and Ahrefs. I’m a one-woman band, not a huge corporation. Not only that, SEO is a broad profession with lots of specialisms (it takes a village to boost traffic). So what is even the point of me?
That sounds like something any SEO would do (I guess it depends if their audience are other SEOs or not). But my tone is unlike any SEO content writer you’re likely to come across. I know this because when I google ‘SEO content writer’ (and also ‘content writer’) the results that land on the first page all sound the same: dull AF. So when I teach freelancers and business peeps how to SEO their words, I do so with LOLs. My approach to the subject is very different. And when I write for clients, I’m not just offering optimised content. I’m giving them quality writing that stimulates their audience — entertaining writing for search is my unique selling proposition (USP).
Freelancers love to talk about niching.
If you read any guide to freelancing you’ve probably already heard about niching down. Some folks love it and others will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from their generalist title.
It all comes down to perception.
Working within a niche can mean literally ANYTHING. It isn’t just about the industry you choose to make your money from. The big question is this: who is your target market? Because friends, it will not be “I work with everyone”. It’s impossible to be all things to all people.