21 lessons I’ve learned in 21 years of freelancing

Posted on: July 26th, 2012

I’ve just reached a milestone: 21 years as a freelancer. So I thought I’d share 21 things I’ve learned along the way.

  • No matter how well you try and plan things, you will always have a feast and famine workload. So try to enjoy the quiet periods and spend that time undertaking extra marketing activities or writing blog posts that you can schedule for times when you are busy.
  • If a client wants to beat you down on price, they will also be slow to pay you. And they will usually set unrealistic deadlines.
  • If a warning bell goes off in your head, listen to it. Your gut instinct is generally right.
  • Always set clear ground rules if you are working with another freelancer. And get these down in writing. (Things like: who does what, when; who gets paid what and when etc.)
  • It’s OK to turn work down.
  • Make sure the decision makers who will sign off the project are in the initial briefing meeting.
  • Always be friendly to the accounts department. Tip: little presents of chocolate go down well.
  • Do your homework on a potential new client. State in your Terms and Conditions that you bill brand new clients 50% upfront and will start working for them once the money has cleared in your bank account.
  • Always specify when quoting for a project how many meetings are included. Say that any additional meetings will be charged extra at your hourly rate.
  • If you state on your invoices that you will impose a late-payment penalty in the form of interest, you often get pushed higher up the payment pile.
  • It’s more enjoyable working on projects you like doing. So think about which of your clients you enjoy working with most and which kind of projects you like best. Then go and find more like that.
  • Keep your clients and contacts informed of the other projects you have been working on. I do this in two ways: via social media and I send out an email three times a year with examples of projects I’ve recently been working on. It keeps you in their mind and shows the scope of work you undertake.
  • Networking only works if you enjoy the group you belong to. And if you spend time and effort getting to know those people in your group. You know the old maxim: people do business with those they know, like and trust.
  • Always find the time and money to go on holiday.
  • When your client approves a project, make sure they sign it off in writing. Same goes for when they approve your quote. Never settle for a verbal ‘yes’.
  • You will work harder than when you were an employee. But the money you earn for all the hours you put in goes into your own bank account.
  • Outsourcing tasks you don’t enjoy or aren’t any good at is money very well spent. (In my case: IT and book keeping.)
  • It’s OK to take a day off in the middle of the week. (We freelancers do a fair bit of weekend working and rarely get to take the same amount of holidays as our employee friends get – which is about 28 days in the UK. So we’re entitled to take the odd day off.)
  • Worrying never changes the outcome.
  • Don’t wait until the end of the month to do your invoices. Send them out as soon as you’ve completed the project.
  • When you’re having a bad day, take a moment to reflect on what it was like when you had a boss breathing down your neck; when you had a daily commute to work; and when you had to fit in with a corporate culture and corporate rules.

What have you learned along the freelance way?


2 Responses to “21 lessons I’ve learned in 21 years of freelancing”

  1. Hannah Marcheselli
    August 21st, 2012

    That’s a great tip about clarifying the number of meetings included in your contract. With bigger digital projects in particular, lots of ‘stakeholders’ often means lots of meetings, many of which you hadn’t necessarily anticipated! It’s quite legitimate to charge for meeting time after a certain point, but always best to get it straight up front, otherwise you’ll end up begrudging every extra trip. (I think the same goes for conference calls too, as they’re very much part of a copywriting project and still use up time).

  2. Carole Seawert
    August 21st, 2012

    Hi Hannah
    Yes, I learned the thing about meetings the hard way. On one project, I expected two or three meetings at the most and ended up having about ten! So I felt quite out of pocket.

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