When people find out what I do for a living they usually have a lot of questions for me. Many of them revolve around the "hows" of starting your own freelancing business. I always answer honestly and earnestly that it's not easy. I thought I'd place a few of them here along with answers that I like to give anyone who has ever been curious. I hope you find them informative and insightful enough to embark on your own adventure into freelancing.
Question 1: How did you get started as a freelancer?
Answer: I began my journey into the magical world of becoming a freelance unicorn (I really hate that word) almost by accident. I needed to find a way to make money while working from my own home because I had a small son to take care of and I was still trying to finish a long lost college degree. So with scant funds I had to create my own solution using what I knew how to do...which was compute. I literally sat down at a table one day and said ok what am I good at. I mean like REALLY good at? The answers all kept coming back to the digital space. I knew that I had a few skills that I could build upon, like graphic design, sales, customer service, and traditional media experience.
Question 2: What do I need to know to start my own business?
Answer: A lot. Ok, so that's not all true. You need to know enough about what you are trying to do and you need to have the ability and patience to learn so much more about whatever you embark upon that you become somewhat of an expert in your chosen category. I'm always learning, and in the beginning I took it upon myself to google things, watch millions (ok it felt like millions) of youtube tutorials, teach myself how to code, and design principles. Design is so much more than just tossing images up onto a webpage.
You also need to learn business strategy for your digital marketing business. You can google thousands of places to learn about how to develop digital marketing plans, small business plans etc. Find templates for contracts and marketing strategies and make them your own by adding or taking away what works for your client base. This helps you not only understand how others are doing it, but will allow you to develop new ways that they aren't. Learn who your competition is, learn FROM them, and always try to do better. Sometimes this can be done, sometimes you might fall short, but in every interaction with people be confident in your strategy.
Question 3: How do I know what to charge?
Answer: Initially, charge little to nothing. You will need some sort of starting point and a great place to get your feet wet with design projects or digital marketing projects is to reach out and do some gratis. I suggest that you select your favorite non-profit and offer your services to volunteer with them for their digital needs or marketing help. I think you'll find them open to the idea and this will enable you to do two things..
It allows you the opportunity to create a small portfolio of the things that you can do.
- It puts you in connection with a group who might be able to help you by connecting you with other people who may need your services. Most of my work is done through referrals.
Another thing you can do is design for yourself. Create your own digital marketing pieces, social media sites, website, and business cards. Use this to practice your craft and update frequently as you gain new skills and insight. Once you've honed your craft, you can start charging pretty much anything you want.
- Social media services usually run between 4-500 per month to manage and maintain
- Graphic design services usually are project based and can run anywhere from 800 on up depending on the project. (In the beginning I started less than that for things like logos or marketing collateral to kind of help people out...they remember that)
- Website design is more involved and can start anywhere from 1000 on up depending on the project. WORD OF ADVICE...Don't sell yourself short here as websites can be VERY labor intensive, especially e-commerce websites. So tread cautiously here and be selective with the websites you build as you want your best work out there.
- Another website tip: Be sure to ask your client who will be maintaining their website and get a feel for their technical knowledge. If they are not very tech savvy, you might want to consider telling them that you can manage it on an hourly basis for them as needed, OR consider setting up a site using a template based site that they can easily manage themselves.
DON'T BE A JERK. ALWAYS PUT YOUR PEOPLE FIRST...when you can.
People will remember you for your generosity an kindness. You're in a business to foster relationships...do that first and the money will follow. This goes for your colleagues or friends or strangers that have questions about how you do what you do. Love is reciprocal, and by sharing your knowledge you can bet that they will remember you and your mission. So share ideas, thoughts, and methods with people around you. There's enough room for everyone.
Question 4: If I want to be a freelance graphic designer what should I know?
Answer: If you want to be a graphic designer, the common tools that every designer must know are Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator. Learn the basics, and use them every day. Create things for your private life in between jobs to keep your skills fresh. There are thousands of tutorials for just about anything you want to achieve in those two programs. WATCH THEM. Another tool that is a shining star is Canva for Work. Great source for quick graphic design elements that you can easily put together for clients in a pinch. You should also have a great design sense. Most people can tell if they're creative so if creativity is not your strong suit, you'll need to practice a little more than the person who has the skills naturally.
Question 5: Do I need to know how to code to be a website designer?
Know your limits. If you know that you are not the best at something, try to surround yourself with people who are good at what you lack. I love code...I like to decipher and look at it, I understand it...I just don't like to write it. It's difficult for me (I can't sit still for very long which is really a necessity when coding :)) and I inevitably always forget a semicolon or dumb bracket somewhere that hoses the entire thing. I know I'm not good at it, but that doesn't mean that I can't offer that as a service. If I come into a problem I cannot handle, I look for other sources and methods to achieve what I need to do for my client. I'm a graphic designer, a visual thinker, and artist. So I develop websites a little differently than others do and that's ok. Find a style that suits you or people who can join your group to help where you lack.
Question 6: What are some of the pros of working for yourself?
Answer: If I need to take a child to the doctor, I can. If I need to pick up a child from school because they are sick, I can. If I want to have lunch and work in the park all day while my son plays, I can. Working for myself has enabled me the flexibility to do the things I've needed to do, like work on my education and still make money.
Flexibility: You get to set your own hours
- I keep all the money I make
- I can work on projects that I enjoy
- I get to help people
- I meet new and interesting people everywhere I go
- I get to practice my skills and learn new things
- Getting to take your work anywhere there is wifi
Question 7: What are some cons about working for yourself?
Answer: Oh man...while there are a lot of pros to working for yourself, there are also a few cons to go along with it. One of the things I encounter is my lack of people to bounce ideas off of. If you're used to working around smart and creative people, this can be a problem.
You're alone...unless you have cats and dogs...and a small boy to keep you company
- You are responsible for yourself and you're working for someone else, which means you need to step up your A game and get things done even when you don't want to.
- You work all the time. If you're not careful your new business can overtake your personal life a bit. Try your best to manage both and shut things off at the same time every day. I work until 5 or six everyday and I make myself get up early. OR I work from 10pm - 2am when the house is quiet. :) Aaahhh quiet.
- You must provide all of your own supplies. Gone are the days of just walking down the corporate hallway to visit the supply closet. If you're out of ink, you need to go get it, or have amazon deliver it.
- Depending on what state you're in you could have to pay state taxes and charge sales tax for your services. Check with your local tax office to make that determination and ALWAYS keep on top of them.
- Collections. You have a client that is refusing to pay for a writing assignment you did, and now their invoice is sitting there unpaid. It's up to you to call them and try to collect. It's a pain, but this is why I mentioned to be selective with the work you take on.
- Money doesn't fall from trees....yes I know...it was a shock to me too. You earn what you put into your work. You are literally working for every penny that clients pay you, and sometimes a little more. If you're used to collecting that paycheck on time you might want to think about this a little more.
Question 8: When is a good time to begin working for myself?
Answer: If you have a full time job keep it. Work on your 'side gig' during the evening hours. In the beginning this will consume you, but if you really want it you'll make the time to do what needs to be done. Working in your off hours is really a great indicator to determine if you're willing to do what's necessary as a freelancer. If you cannot give up months of nights out or television to work on your dream business, then you probably are better where you are collecting a paycheck every two weeks.
Work your day job, save as much as you can..visit your doctor (unless you have secondary insurance) Learn the skills you need to do whatever it is you want to do and then when you feel ready find clients to do work for. Find them through your hobbies, your church, your kids schools, businesses you frequent. Once you start making money then you can start phasing out your day job.
Question 9: Is it easy?
Answer: No it's not. Owning and starting your own business is not for everyone. It truly takes dedication and a desire to learn things, LOTS of things. It takes competitiveness, desire to succeed, and the ability to fail with grace. By that I mean that when someone you're working with decides they don't want to anymore for whatever reason, don't take this as personal defeat and get defensive, but be brave and professional enough to ask the tough questions to help foster your own professional growth. Ask them why the opted to leave you. Tell them that their answer will help you gain insight about future projects. They may or may not tell you, but you must know and be able to distinguish when you've screwed up, and when you haven't. You'll know if you've messed up something royally, but there are clients who for whatever reason cannot continue, perhaps it's money, time, or they're changing careers. You'll never know if you don't ask those hard questions.
Don't do this if you don't have time to put into it or lack the desire to MAKE time to put into it. Often this means you stop NETFLIXin' and Chillin' for quite sometime, or you lose sleep on nights after your day job. It takes dedication and hard work.
Don't do this if you don't know how to manage your time.
Don't do this if you're used to other people doing work for you.
DO do this if you are wanting to grow and you know that you have a drive inside of you to want to ALWAYS do better than you did the day before.
Question 10: Are you glad that you did it?
Answer: HELL YES...and I would gladly do it again. Who knows, I just might. ;)
Stop and look at your life where it is right now. Are you struggling, are you doing alright? Now try to look ahead to where your life COULD be if you put in the work to begin this adventure. What have you got to lose? If you have nothing, you don't have anything to lose and everything to gain. If you're doing alright, then you STILL don't have anything to lose and much to gain. Either way at the end of it all you'll be better than you were when you started.
The journey is the destination.
Do you have any questions that I haven't answered here? Feel free to leave me a comment and I'll answer them as soon as I can. Have an awesome day!