I started a freelance consultant career after transitioning from a marketing agency background. Freelancing has both expected and unexpected perks including the freedom to work from anywhere, the freedom to say no, discovering new passions and avenues of revenue, getting to know a variety of people and cultures, learning how to manage (and stretch) your finances, and feeling a great sense of accomplishment.
Even so, getting a business off the ground can be a daunting experience. In the hope that it will help others, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Whether you’ve already built a reputation in your industry, or you are just starting out, you're personal brand is key to your success. How you present yourself will determine how you are judged and, ultimately, your likelihood of attracting new business. Don’t underestimate the importance of building a comprehensive, engaging profile detailing your specialties. Your ‘pitch’ can be even more important than your experience. Check out the profiles of successful entrepreneurs to get ideas and brush up on your own marketing skills. First impressions count.
When you work in an organisational setting, your daily tasks are often guided strategically and in relation to the overall business objectives. As a business owner, you are responsible for setting your goals and prioritising your work duties. This is much harder than it may seem!
Try to set daily, weekly or monthly goals. These will help you plan your day-to-day activities. For instance, if your weekly goal is to pitch to ten clients, you can start each day by sending two pitches before moving on to something else.
If you work from a home office, it’s easy to get side-tracked with mundane, quotidian responsibilities. Set regular work hours and stick to them, ignoring the washing up or pile of laundry. Be sure to let friends and family know your work schedule, and be the first one to respect it.
Choose a specialty
It’s tempting to ‘have a go at everything’, especially when your skill set is broad, but it’s actually easier to demonstrate your value when you specialise. Customers have specific needs, so specialising in a given area will help you stand out and increase your chances of landing customers. For example Natalia Talkowska uses her illustration skills in a unique way. Natalia tells visual stories that help organisations communicate their message and stand out from the crowd.
If you have a specialism, let clients know in your headline, bio or proposal. Once the lines of communication are open, or a relationship has been established, mention your other skills.
Start with Warm Leads
Don’t put all of your energy on new prospects without tapping into your social graph and personal network. Let ex-employers, friends and contacts know that you’ve started a business and you may likely find business opportunities much closer to home.
That doesn’t sound like growing a business right? Wrong! Outsourcing lets you take on relevant work without getting bogged down with tasks that don’t match your skills. Don’t pass on a big client simply because some tasks are beyond your reach. We all have weaknesses - build a network of associates friends to help you with those. This also gives other budding entrepreneurs a chance, people who may be able to return the favour someday.
Don’t Overwork Yourself
There is a lot of pressure associated with running a business: attracting new and long-term clients, a steady stream of daily work, selling, negotiating, marketing, organising, measuring and so on. It’s easy to become a workaholic. But it’s important to give yourself time and space for reflection and rest. Stepping back from a difficult task, or a difficult day, can restore your mind and body and help you see things more clearly and objectively. Take time to recharge your batteries by spending time in nature, working out or doing something you enjoy like art or cooking. Taking breaks does not mean slacking off. Get up and walk around every hour or so and you will find you are more productive in the long run.
Entrepreneurial life can get lonely at times and it’s easy to feel discouraged when you experience setbacks. Start your day with some motivational quotes to set a positive attitude and charge your batteries.
Remember that everyone has low points. At first my own were related to cash flow. But I turn my fear into positive energy by picking up the phone and drumming up some more business. I also learned to set aside money from good months to get me through the bad ones. Realising and accepting that fluctuations are normal will help you stay motivated.
If working at home is too distracting or solitary, try café hopping. Choose one task to complete in the coffee shop of your choice and don’t leave until it’s finished. Then go to another café to complete a second task, and so on. Also, check into the co-working spaces available in your city. From mentors to meet-ups, the MOE Foundation has many ways to get social. Working alongside others in a similar situation (or have been there) is inspiring and helps you to stay on track.
Track Your Time
Not all hours are profitable. When I started tracking my non-billable time, I was surprised by how much of it I was spending on low priority tasks. I realised that if I started each day with these less-desirable tasks, I could get through them much faster and move on to more important, and more enjoyable, work.
If you are anything like me, you may get so caught up in running your business that you forget about growing your brand and reputation through networking. Dedicate some of your time and objectives to social networking, online and off. Your reputation depends on it. Create a list of influencers, groups and sites related to your industry and spend a bit of time each day adding value. You can do this simply by commenting on others’ work, sending a friendly email or sharing information.
Communicate with Your Clients on a Regular Basis
Clients like to know you are thinking about them and are not pulled in too many directions. Follow-up with them on current projects and propose ideas for new ones. Try to open up conversations that are a bit lighter, and more personal. Get to know them, and let them get to know you. Establishing a personal rapport is important for building trust and long-term relationships.
Dedicate some time each week to sharing your experiences and knowledge, writing one or more blog posts related to your industry. Make sure your social feeds are always full of new and existing content.
Stay on top of Your Finances
Keeping up with your finances can be stressful and confusing, and it’s one of the easiest things to set aside as you build your business. Be sure to track your incoming and outgoing payments. Seek out an accountant to help.
Don’t Undersell Yourself
I’ve made the mistake of underselling myself in the past. I was eager to please my client and impress them and overlooked the importance of completing the project successfully. If you don’t have the budget to complete the job to a good standard, are you really helping them? Try not to undervalue yourself and set your prices too low. Believe in your ability and set your rates accordingly. If you are unsure how to set your pricing, seek out similar businesses for a comparison.
Share Your Experiences
When I started my career as a freelancer, some of these lessons I learned the hard way. But keeping each one in mind has helped me avoid the pitfalls along the road to success. Can you relate to any of them? What lifesaving advice do you have for first time businesses? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Thanks for reading, I’ll stick around to answer any questions you may have.
Photo credit: pixabay
Gareth Simpson is a freelance digital consultant from Bristol. Prior to that he worked for a marketing agency.