To become a freelancer means to take your professional life into your own hands. It means to develop lifelong financial independence and build a career on your own terms. But most importantly, it gives you the freedom and flexibility to become a digital nomad and work from anywhere in the world. These and many other benefits are what fuels the freelancing industry in recent years, and why an ever-increasing number of aspiring remote workers are abandoning the traditional 9-5 concept.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can simply quit your job, nor that you will start earning the big bucks right away. Like any solo venture in life, building a successful career as a freelancer takes time, effort, and relentless dedication. Even then, there are many obstacles on the road to success, so let’s take a look at some of the key insights that will help you protect yourself and your work.
It all starts with meticulous research
When you’re out there all on your own, trying to make a name for yourself in an oversaturated marketplace, you need to know exactly what you’re up against. Concretely, you need to know everything there is to know about your competitors, and you need to find out as much as you can about the companies and individuals you’re going to work with. Meticulous research can mean the difference between landing an amazing long-term client, and a client who refuses to pay.
This is a task you need to tend to during those preliminary stages when you’re still getting to know the potential client, and their needs. Be sure to ask as many questions about the company and the project as you can, in order to gain a comprehensive overview of the scope of work, as well as the type of people you’ll be working with. And remember, a potential client who doesn’t want to talk about compensation in this preliminary stage, doesn’t want to pay. So just move on.
Keep track of the workflow and correspondence
No matter how trustworthy or organized your clients might be, the only person you can trust fully is yourself. In other words, never leave it up to your clients to keep track of the workflow and your correspondence. Well, do let them run their business however they want, but make sure you’re monitoring these crucial aspects of your cooperation yourself.
You will inevitably run into clients who will try to persuade you and other people that you have missed a deadline or that your work was of subpar quality, so you need to be ready to disprove their claims with your own arguments and evidence. This evidence will be the logs you keep of your entire cooperation, including when the work was assigned, when it was delivered, their feedback, and your entire communication from day one.
Never agree to work without a contract
If there is one lesson every freelancer needs to learn immediately upon stepping into the industry, it’s that they should never work for anyone without a contract. No ifs, no buts, no compromises. When you agree to work for someone without a contract, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable on every front. Your client might choose not to pay, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it – you cannot let this happen.
If your future client is unable to procure a contract, you can find legal binding contract templates yourself online and forward them the necessary paperwork to sign. If you are truly amazing at what you do, they will not miss the opportunity to sign with you. And if they’re still hesitating, move on to your next prospect, because a client that doesn’t want to sign a contract does not have honest intentions.
Optimize your entire billing structure
Another area where there can be no compromise is compensation. You need to get paid each and every time you devote your talent and hard work to complete a task for someone, and that is something you need to make abundantly clear to your clients. However, simply asking for money will not cut it, as you need to have a strict billing system in place to protect you and ensure you actually receive adequate compensation.
When you create a billing system, you take all the guesswork out of the equation and tell your clients exactly how much and when you expect to be paid. This will make managing payments from multiple clients easier and will ensure they are aware of their financial obligations.
Make sure clients pay upfront
And finally, always ask for money upfront. Your time is valuable, your talents and expertise do not come for free, nor should you assume that your client will follow through with the project from inception to completion. You don’t want to be left penniless in the middle of a project because the client decided to put it on hold or terminate it completely, so make sure you’re compensated for your work by asking for an upfront payment. Somewhere between 30-50% of the total project fee should be enough to cover your expenses.
Freelancing is one of the most lucrative and rewarding career paths you can take, but that doesn’t mean that the road to long-term success is not laden with obstacles and pitfalls. There will be a lot of people who will try to exploit you and your work on this road, so make sure you stick to these lessons in order to future-proof your career.