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. www.jwalimited.co.uk