Becoming A Freelancer: 7 Things To Do When (Or Before) You Take The Plunge (And One Reason Why Famous Advice Is Wrong)

Becoming A FreelancerI’m a relatively new freelancer. The mortgage industry imploded, changing the way that I had to earn my income.

That gave me release from a job that only sort of fit anyway. I love the industry, but in December of 2007, I scaled back my origination efforts, and now I’m working on a bunch of new and exciting projects – some of them are for others (clients), and some of them are products that I’m selling and developing myself.

I’ve always wanted to be a freelancer, attracted to the romance of being a writer.

1. Get Control and Understanding of Your Budget.

This is the first thing that you gotta do! You have to know what your expenses are and what they’re going to be in the future. You need to leave room for paying taxes, and you have to set goals on how much you will earn on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

For example: right now, I have to earn $109 per day to afford basic expenses and food (God bless the Midwest). At $191 a day, I hit my financial goals in regard to college and retirement savings. I average over that, but I get anxious when I don’t complete $191 worth of deliverables.

This is based on 21 work days a month. My former ‘burn rate‘, needed me to earn $339 per day based on a 21 day month. I moved, I quit the Starbucks, and lots of the driving. Simple things like changing hosting providers, and replacing Vonage with Skype have helped me tremendously. Also, have a really simple client invoicing rules: take retainers or don’t take the client. (See #4)

2. Wage a Ruthless War on Clutter.

I’m no natural neat freak, ask my wife. But the deal is this: your mind has to have a tiny bit of processing power on every item in your life.

Extra items wear you out. It’s easy to work in a neat environment, so to make that more likely, I continue to pitch stuff. It makes a huge difference, especially in your office. Clean surfaces make working easier. Ditch mental clutter as well – you’ll need to streamline your bills and decisions in some way

3. Internalize Your Task Management System.

Whether it’s GTD, ZTD, or Marc Andersen’s variant, you need to be the master of ‘the collection habit,’ and prioritizing tasks.

Basically, a Molkeskine, Google Notebook, and maybe Jott is fine for collection. You have to focus on getting things to completion, whether it’s a blog post, or an entire project.

While we have freedom as freelancers, we must work more efficiently when we’re working than we would otherwise. We have to use a system to make sure we stay ahead of the stuff that comes our way.

4. Stick To Your Guns With Customer Service and Client Standards.

Hitting deadlines is the most important part of your new job. Turning in ‘ok‘ work on time is always better than being totally late but pixel perfect. You must hit deadlines early every time.

Deadlines also get you paid. Make sure you negotiate deadlines upfront, and make sure it’s clear what role a client plays. If getting information from a client impacts your deadline, make sure that the agreement is stated that you’ll deliver the goods X days after you receive necessary information.

Make sure you collect at least a token amount upfront, and make sure you have a clear expectation as to when payment is to be received.

5. Schedule Non Negotiable Lead Generation Time Every Day.

Even when you’re slammed. Especially when you’re ‘slammed.’ Do this because you can avoid the typical income highs and lows that supposedly go with the territory.

I’m in the church of lead generation now after a scary time in March. Lead generation – in good times and bad – should be around 20%-30% of your day, especially in the beginning.

You also need multiple lead sources, blogging only isn’t gonna get it. More leads equals more options. Lead generation keeps your income escalating. You get a constant stream of more options. When you have options, you become more professional, polished and powerful.

On my schedule is what I have to do each day and it’s less than 2 focused hours a day, but it gets people to join my programs and hire me to help them.

6. Network With People Outside Your Specialty.

I’m a writer, and a project manager, and I’ve got basic familiarity with PHP/HTML/CSS. But I couldn’t bill for working in PHP. A PHP guy may not have the angles I can develop and stories I can tell to get customers. Trading clients makes sense for both of us. Know your strengths and weaknesses! (very important!)

Having some people that you can trust to exchange clients with is key. Add value to one another, think in terms of ‘abundance‘, and remember: top professionals, regardless of specialty, have equal business stature.

7. Think Early About a Way To Reuse Your Work.

When you get up to speed as a freelancer, you are in charge of your own raises. To get raises, work efficiently. Have a process, which can be as simple as a google doc with bullet points. I often set up WordPress blogs for Real Estate Agents. I don’t do it ad hoc anymore, I know which host, which plugins and categories to set up.

I add more value and charge more money while doing it in less time. I have a marketing copy checklist that I loosely stare at.

Why Famous Advice Is Wrong?

The bad advice people give freelancers is this: Have X months expenses saved before you start. Not necessarily the best piece of advice. The corporate structure simply doesn’t make it easy. Being broke is caused by the corporate structure, and the way to break the cycle is to burn the bridge.

Taking the plunge is worth borrowing money from friends, family, or a home-equity line of credit. Your life is more important than to be a corporate lackey, and when you’re pressed, you’ll find a way. There is always a way!

Caesar crossed the Rubicon and got rid options. I didn’t have much cash before I started, and I had a family of 4 to support as a sole income earner. I didn’t want a slow death, so I made it so I had to succeed.

What do you think?

Chris Johnson is a freelance writer, and is actively seeking new contributors for his soon-to-be-launched blog NewMarketSurvivalGuide.Com. He can be reached here.

image in this post: hufse