Top ten ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of freelancing

Posted on: August 4th, 2010

Welcome to guest blogger, Julia Wherrell, who explains how she went about getting business when she first started out as a freelancer. She also shares her top ten ‘dos’ and ‘dont’s’ of freelancing.

I became a freelance by accident. It’s not uncommon, I know. Many of us end up here thanks to redundancy, and that’s what happened to me too.

Fortunately, I’d always fancied being my own boss so starting up on my own at 24 was scary, but exciting too. I found the daily discipline of being at my desk by 9am not too difficult and I started looking for new business to go with my smart new business suit and shiny new Apple Mac (complete with an amazing 512k memory – but that was 25 years ago, and another story altogether).

How do you get new business?

And that was when the trouble started. How do you get new business? I’d had a couple of years’ experience working in an advertising agency and then a PR company and had been given projects and told to get on with them. I knew my job, could write good copy, edit well and even direct photography… but I had no idea how to get work in the first place. It seems such a ludicrous oversight but, chatting to other freelancers, it’s actually quite a common one.

I trawled the local press

So I started to trawl the local press for stories on new businesses, new product launches, expansions and the like. This was before the internet and email and identifying likely businesses was long-winded and often involved cold calling. I soon found this was not one of my strengths. I don’t have a ‘smiley’ voice. No matter how much I tried – even sitting with a huge sign saying ‘SMILE” above the phone didn’t help.

To avoid the phone, I naively thought that a simple introductory letter to a promising business would secure me a meeting with the boss and that work would surely follow. It didn’t.

I got myself some PR

In desperation, I gave myself a dose of my own medicine, and got myself some PR. I persuaded a friend to take a half decent publicity photo of me and issued a press release about myself and my wonderful skills.

Coverage was good and, from it, I picked up two clients – and a gentleman who liked the look of me, rather more than my business abilities. But my non-smiley voice even managed to put him off and his heavy-breathing interruptions ceased.

As time has gone on, I have become no better at getting new business. I hate making presentations and have rarely won work off the back of one. I would say 90% of my work has come from word of mouth and recommendation. While this says nothing for my selling abilities, it does indicate that I know what I’m doing!

My top ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of freelancing

Over my 25 years of freelancing I’ve made a lot of mistakes and am still honing some of them even now! Here’s a list of a few of my top ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that you might find useful.

1. Do look for work on your own doorstep. It’s temping to go chasing after big clients, but often the small established business in your own town or village can prove a much better bet.

2. Don’t try and trade work for ‘freebies’ with friends or to help out clients with cash flow problems. It always ends in tears. State your fee and stick to it, giving a discount if you want to, but get paid.

3. Do keep in touch with contacts when they move on to a new job. I’ve picked up work in this way many times.

4. Don’t under sell your work. It’s a constant topic of debate in the freelance world, but people who undercharge to get a job don’t do themselves, or the industry as a whole, any favours.

5. Do invoice whenever you finish a project. I’ve know so many freelancers get into trouble because they don’t get round to invoicing until the next VAT return is due!

6. Don’t work for someone you don’t like. You won’t respect them or their views.

7. Do carry a business card with you at all times. One of my current best clients resulted from a chat in a tearoom when cards were exchanged.

8. Don’t take on work on a ‘payment by results’ basis.

9. Do try and work for businesses you can identify with.

10. Don’t turn down invitations like this to write a blog… you never know where it might lead!

About the author:

Julia Wherrell is a freelance writer, editor and designer based these days in very rural Devon. She writes about anything and everything for magazine articles, e-newsletters and websites. She also keeps chickens and has recently become a convert to rock climbing.

6 Responses to “Top ten ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of freelancing”

  1. Freelance FactFile
    August 4th, 2010

    Some great dos and dont’s! Point 7 resonates with me at the moment – I’ve recently started working for a client who does Pilates at my local gym. So, yes, I even have business cards and a pen in my gym bag now. :)

  2. Pawel @ Self Employed Cafe
    August 4th, 2010

    Hah Carole, I constantly forget my business cards. And guess what, whenever I do, I meet someone interested in getting one from me!

    Point 6 is the closest to my heart now as I just finished working with someone I didn’t like and the whole process was really stressful. The money certainly didn’t justify that.

  3. Sara Thurston
    August 4th, 2010

    Point 7 resonated with me, as well. I took my 10-year-old to a Girl Scout trip to a chocolate factory, and discovered they were interested in marketing. Alas, I had no business card and had to write my information on the back of his. How embarrassing!

    Now I’m never without my cards.

  4. Freelance FactFile
    August 4th, 2010

    Sara, last month I was at a friend’s birthday party and got chatting to a friend of hers who is a marketing consultant. She said she’d be very interested in meeting for lunch as she often needs people to write marketing materials for the clients she advises. Luckily, I had business cards in my bag and we’re hopefully meeting later this month when she returns from holiday.

  5. Angie Papple Johnston
    August 4th, 2010

    Excellent list! #1 is my personal favorite – I only recently started doing that, and the connections you make with local business owners are priceless. #6 is so true; I learned the hard way that it’s much more difficult to even get motivated to do work for someone you don’t like, and you may be better off never contacting them again once you’ve completed your initial project.

  6. Carrie
    June 27th, 2012

    Thanks, Julia-

    I too- lack the “smiley voice” unless I really concentrate hard. Funny thing, is I’ve done (Looking to retire & freelance) Receptionist work for years, learned to curb the gravely, facetious undertones that fail to translate as humor on the phone.

    No:2 is a lesson I’m learning. Not because I’ve worked for free, it’s that I almost convinced myself that just because I lack a flashy, 5 star portfolio, doesn’t mean I deserve to work for free! Raw talent is billable.

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