5 Tips for Freelance Professionals to Jumpstart Your Career

Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

CEO and Founder,
440 Industries

Introduction

More and more people nowadays are trading their 9 to 5 desk jobs for a more flexible and smart form of employment. This phenomenon used to be called ‘freelancing’, but it’s safe to say that this term has recently acquired a mixed connotation, at best. It is often used to indicate unsteady pay, a high degree of uncertainty and very hard work.

I prefer using the term ‘solo entrepreneurship’ as a modern freelancer is essentially starting up a lean company, which relies on one’s skills and intuition.

You might not think of yourself as an entrepreneur, but in reality, you are exposing yourself to all the risks that people address when starting a fully-fledged company.

Going freelance is a rewarding, yet challenging endeavour,
which entails for determination and sacrifice, but those who ‘make it’ would never be able to go back to a traditional office job.

In this post we’re going to look over 5 essential pieces of advice you should take into account when starting your own self-reliant career. These are the subsections of our article:

1. Realise how much your time is worth
2. You need to learn how to ‘Speak Business’
3. Develop your portfolio through a business model portfolio
4. Share, teach, attract talent, repeat
5. It didn’t work? Try again. Persistence is the #1 success factor
6. Conclusions

1. Realise how much your time is worth

The first element you need to figure out is the value of your time. This can be tricky sometimes: our perception of time changes whether we work for ourselves, as opposed to working for someone else. 

As employees
, we are naturally drawn to immediately figure out how much our employer values our time on a monthly, weekly, or hourly basis. As freelancers instead (using this term for the sake of clarity), we tend to think much less about the value of our time.  

This is mostly due to two reasons:
 
  • We tend to think too far in the future. As we start new life project  – with a long-term mindset –  we are likely to focus on the end goal, and consider any daily activity ‘instrumental’ towards reaching the final reward: being our own bosses and making a comfortable living.
    This is certainly a positive attitude, as when we create ‘something from nothing’ we need to think about our long-term future. On the other hand, we need to make sure we manage our finances through a carefully planned cashflow strategy. It doesn’t matter how much you are going to make in one year’s time, you still need to get there first. Cash flow plays a big role in your career as it strictly relates to your livelihood, and no matter how much money you have aside, it’s likely that you are going to burn through your savings very quickly if you don’t devise a real-world income strategy.  This is why many people work two jobs at first: they need to maintain a steady income as they wait for their freelance career to take off.
  • It’s likely that your budget accounts for startup costs, and not for testing. As you start your business, you can make a few calculations regarding the expenses you will have to cover as you ‘set up shop’. Usually, though, we don’t take into account that the first stage of starting a business is not actually ‘ hard selling’ as much as ‘testing’ our products and services, creating a community and finding the best business model to serve our customers. I highly recommend going through an extensive trial and error before committing any money to create any physical structure. In most cases, our assumptions regarding our target market will need to be adjusted in several ways. An in-depth testing phase can last for 6 months to 1 whole year. The reason why this stage can take so long is usually that many of your business assets will comprise personal relationships and connections which take time to foster and develop.

    These elements are also mentioned in our 5-step approach to starting a digital business. You can find an article about this topic here.

2. You need to learn how to 'Speak Business'.

It’s likely that as a freelancer, you have decided to leave the – relative – ease of a desk job to compete in a much bigger talent pool. Now, however, you need to take into account, that you are unlikely to stand a chance in being successful, just by doing one job. As a freelancer, you need to become every single department of your company. This means that you cannot limit yourself to ‘doing what you do best’,  you need to learn the ropes at everything else too and make time for it.  As you come to this realisation, you need to be able to structure workflows and time management techniques which will allow you to look after different sides of your professional activity. 

One of the hardest challenges I had, when I started my own freelance\business activities, consisted of figuring out how much to charge. Some say that you should price an hourly fee, but this does not make too much sense to me: if you are going to charge more for faster delivery, time runs against your profitability.

Moreover,  pricing is a very volatile, intangible element of your marketing mix. The same price point can be either too high for some clients, or very low for others. This is why pricing cannot be based on what you do but on the impact of your work. We call this ROI or return on investment.

How do you do this? Well, by learning to ‘speak business’, and figuring how much money you’ll be making for your clients. If you’re able to do this you’ll gain two major benefits:

  • You will be able to position yourself as an investment with a clear, measurable return. This will allow you to price your services at a much higher point as your services will provide a measurable return.
  • You will be able to focus on quality instead of quantity. This approach will also allow you to manage your time better. You will be able to collect high-return projects by finding a high-quality niche and delivering results in a time-efficient manner.  

If you don’t pursue a quality-oriented mentality, you will never be able to escape the ‘employee mindset’ and even if you have no boss, you will put yourself against the deadline,  just as you would do as a traditional old school employee.

freelance

3. Develop your portfolio through business model portfolio

As a freelance professional, your time is your greatest wealth.  Managing your time effectively is your number one priority.  As you develop your professional career, you need to design your workflows and take advantage of a 24\7 uptime keeping you ‘open for business’ even when you’re not actually working.

Telling you that you need to start a website is a no brainer, but that would be just the start of our story. What you should be doing is actually making sure that your efforts in delivering each project can be re-used and recycled, so that out of a single project you can actually extract multiple sources of revenue.

Here’s a breakdown of how this works: 

  1. Collect a Commission
  2. Document the research you conduct in order to provide your service and create a post\video about it
  3. Share the content to boost your web presence and your SEO ranking
  4. Use the generated traffic to collect email addresses from visitors
  5. Use the emails to inform\educate your customers
  6. Use promotions, to collect new commissions and reinforce your brand
  7. Start again

This workflow shows how a day of work can turn into a short-term payment, a piece of content, a lead magnet, a customer acquisition strategy. Your time has just made itself 5 times more valuable. 

An additional “intangible” benefit of this structured approach is that it allows you to reflect on your work, optimise it, proofread it, validate it through your community and create an archive. T
hese types of processes ultimately make the difference between a being a freelancer and or fully-fledged business professional.

Each of these community-fostering activities in time will translate in different monetisation streams, so keep up the pace and get your work online.

The ability to develop a community around our product and services is crucial. We talk about this in more depth in a 5 step process to start a digital business with little or no money.

freelance

4. Share, teach, attract talent, repeat

There is no denying it,  talent is a fundamental success factor. Your own talent is the founding element of your business strategy. This, however,  should not make you too self-centered: other people’s talent is just as valuable as your own. This is why all of us, as consultants, teachers, corporate managers, are essentially in the same business: talent pooling. You need to think about ways to attract and retain talent, and this entails for a double positioning strategy:

  • A positioning strategy towards your prospective clients. You need to attract clients and prospective business partners. This is done usually done by marketers through the creation of a narrative that delivers your professional values, as well as your ‘reasons for showing up to work’.

  • A positioning strategy towards the talent you want to attract and join your team. This can be done in a variety of ways, but it often involves teaching and sharing knowledge. The smartest, more talented people are not motivated by money, but from the opportunity to learn. This leads to a counter-intuitive statement: you should price your services dearly, but you should share your knowledge free of charge.
freelance

5. It didn’t work? Try again. Persistence is the #1 success factor

At the end of the day, those who succeed are not the most talented, nor the better funded, just those who persist.

This doesn’t mean that a freelancer should persist in doing something which is not producing any results, but on the contrary, successful freelancers learn valuable lessons, grow, and keep trying.
 

The truth is that even in today’s fast-paced business environment, quality requires time. An example of this is provided by luxury brands, which draw most of their brand value from their heritage and timelessness. Of course, you don’t have 100 years to grow a heritage brand, but you should focus on creating a promise of consistency, and consistency requires time.

Bill Gates famously said “people overestimate what they can do in a year, but underestimate what they can do in 10″.

freelance

6. Conclusions

As we’ve seen in this post, freelancing is about blending opposites:

  • Think short term when it comes to delivering value, but think long term when it comes to building a brand.
  • Stay lean, so that you can test your market, but be on the lookout for talented individuals to grow your team.
  • Manage your time effectively, but spend extra time to optimise the value of your work through a structured workflow.
  • Develop your niche, but create alternative revenue streams to better manage financial risk.

Good Luck!

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5 Tips for Freelance Professionals to Jumpstart Your Career Freelancing poses a series of unique challenges, but it can be the best fit for someone who cannot stay chained to a desk. Here's our top 5 tips.
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Further Readings

Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

I am an Anglo-Italian business lecturer and consultant based in Florence, Italy. In 2017 I started 440 Industries, an education and training company focused on fashion, music, and technology. Our mission is to help students, entrepreneurs and managers in overcoming the challenges of starting, developing and scaling their business in the creative industries. When there's a will, there's a way!

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