Tips for Becoming a Freelancer

As the economic downturn bites deep, and companies try to streamline costs, many people are facing unemployment. In these challenging times, it is difficult for anybody to find a job but, if you are over age 50, you have more of a challenge in gaining new employment. Companies hiring the over 50’s have higher salary costs, and the potential for higher health insurance costs. Thousands of talented professionals are falling into the dead-zone of being too old to employ but too young to retire.

One way of escaping this cycle is to look at self-employment and freelancing. It is not easy and requires a lot of hard work, but it is one way of utilizing your hard-earned experience and talent. Many professionals are seeking opportunity within their own community; others are delving into the world of online work. You can turn the recession to your advantage and take advantage of the fact that companies are increasingly looking to outsource. Qualified accountants, human resource managers and graphic designers are just some of the many professions that can benefit from this particular trend. Developing a new mindset is part of the process, so here are a few tips to help you along the path.

Sell Yourself: As a freelancer, you have to sell yourself and look for clients because they certainly will not come to you. You have to learn how to market yourself and to be on the lookout for opportunity, whether online or in the real world. Develop a business identity, order some good quality business cards and have a good quality website designed. You should always appear smart and professional and remember that ‘word of mouth’ is your greatest ally. Once you have completed a task for a client, and they are delighted with your standard of work, you can use them as a reference and the work will begin to snowball.

Start Small: Many ex-employees worked in a large company dealing with millions of dollars and high-class clients. As a freelancer, you are looking for smaller clients who want a personalized service and face-to-face dealings. Maybe one of your friends, a contractor, is looking for somebody to tidy up his accounts, or a local taxi-driver wants a graphic designer to make some unique business cards. In the recession, many businesses are spending money to survive, and you can pick up some of that. The other advantage of starting with smaller business clients is a sure fire way to gain a good reputation, quickly.

Be Realistic: Becoming a freelancer is a slow process and you need a realistic plan for success. You are not going to make a full wage overnight and you need to think a year or two ahead. Even a few hours a week is a great start, and that will allow you to build up lasting business relationships, the foundation of any freelancing career. Develop a plan of where you want to be in six months and where you hope to be in a year. Slow and sustained growth is the key as you build up a list of clients who keep coming back, time after time.

Online Freelance Sites: Use one of the reputable online freelance sites, such as ODesk, Elance and Guru, although you will be competing with workers from developing countries who can work for much less than you can. Making a living from these sites is possible but requires patience, and you will need to bid at bottom dollar until you build up a reputation.  Also, remember, many U.S. companies are willing to pay a higher wage to work with an experienced professional who is familiar with their industry and culture.  So don’t under-price your services. You can still price your work higher than competing professionals overseas, and receive contracts on the freelance sites. Especially if working online, there are always people out there who want to take your work without paying. Always try to receive some money upfront or arrange payment in installments to minimize the risk.

Professionalism: The one thing that separates successful freelancers from those who fail is professionalism. Working from home ensures that you are surrounded by distractions and it is easy to procrastinate when there is no boss to tell you that you cannot watch TV or surf the internet. Preferably, you should set aside an office and tell your family that you are not to be disturbed. Layout a workday and stick to the timetable as a minimum; if you have no paid work, improve your website, market yourself or work through your monthly accounts.

Work Hard: Freelancing is rewarding, however, freelancing can sometimes be a very feast or famine type of occupation and you may find go for periods with hardly any work followed by a period of very long and intense days. You will find that you have to work, on average, more hours than you did in the office, but with far less stress.

These tips really do only scratch the surface of what to expect from freelancing, but it is a viable option for talented and experienced professionals. There is no easy money, and there really is no reason why you should not be able to transfer your skills into a living. All it requires is imagination, hard work, and that willingness to take the first step. Once you become successful at freelancing, you may never want to go back to salaried work again.

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