A Guide to Freelancing
If you've ever wondered about freelancing, this post is for you. After receiving a final "We regret to inform you," email from an internship last summer, I basically said "Whatever, I'm going to do this on my own." And I did! I moved into my family's place in Fenwick Island and tried my shot at freelancing along Delaware's beach towns.
Aside from spending all day at the beach (and working all night, of course), last summer was the best because I learned a lot about myself. Freelancing pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me confidence in my ability as a creative. I learned what I liked and where my strengths were. But I also learned where I could improve, and possible career paths I could take.
This is a basic guide of how I got started and what has worked for me. I've shared these tips before with friends who've asked about my experience because I value transparency. To date, I've worked with nearly a dozen small businesses across a variety of categories [restaurants, retail, dog training, art, etc] and performed a variety of services [menus, logos, websites, social media, etc.]. So, whether you want to freelance with photography, writing or another skill, I believe this post will help.
Identify Your Skills
What services can you offer? Don't be shy! I opened Photoshop for the first time last September and by June I was ready to try making money off of it. I say this because your experience shouldn't hold you back. I was by no means a pro or a whiz at the pen tool. But I knew the basics and what qualified as good design. Whatever I didn't know, I learned by watching YouTube tutorials.
Something to keep in mind is that business owners or potential clients fit a wide range of demographics. Many of the ones I worked with were older, and hadn't yet brought their business on social media. So when you're thinking about what you can offer, its okay to keep it simple. In the social media example, your experience on Facebook since age 13 goes a long way with an owner who doesn't know how to make an account or have the time.
Get the Word Out
You're ready to go! But how will you find clients? Start by creating a website, social media page, business cards, flyer, or something else that you can direct attention to. In my case, I already had an online portfolio that offered a few examples of class projects and an introduction to myself. I also made business cards and a flyer that I distributed to every business I went door-to-door offering my services to.
If you decide to go door-to-door, you need to have some confidence and thick skin. You will get rejected. Over and over. It will suck. But the minute you get a lead, it'll all be worth it.
When I went door-to-door I would walk in and ask to talk to the owner (hopefully they were available), then I would immediately hand over my flyer/card and say "Hi, my name is Cassidy Welch and I'll be doing design work locally, if you're interested in these services please let me know." That's it. Usually they'll politely take your information and you'll be on your way. Rarely do you get rejected on the spot. The key here is what comes next: the follow-up call.
Wait a week and then call all of the businesses you've visited. Remind them who you are and what you can offer. Sometimes people forget that you stopped by and this extra reminder helps. To keep track of all the businesses and calls I made, I created an excel sheet.
Majority of my business came from this approach, but after a while I started to get referrals from friends and family. While it may be easier to work with someone locally, you definitely don't have to limit yourself. There are plenty of tools and online websites, such as Creative Circle, that make remote freelancing capable.
Make a Plan
Now that you've got someone who needs help, make a plan of approach. For me, this looked like brainstorming questions to ask [budget? timeline? specifics?] and coming up with my prices. I did a lot of research on how to price myself and my work, so here's what I found:
-Price by Project: This was the approach I chose because I found it easiest. Depending on the project size I may ask for half up front, and half at completion.
-Price by Hour: I believe there are tools out there that can help track your hours, but ultimately you are responsible for recording how long you've worked. I didn't choose this approach because I don't typically sit down and work on a project for hours at a time. I prefer coming back to my work periodically and sometimes I had multiple projects at once.
-Price by Month: I managed four businesses' social media accounts and found that getting paid a lump sum each month was easiest. I think this approach is useful if you have a reoccurring project with the same business.
My biggest advice is don't sell yourself short. You have the skills and knowledge, even if you're just starting out. Pricing was probably the hardest part of freelancing to start, because I didn't know anyone who was doing the same thing. It's always good to ask about a budget because that will help you come up with a fair price point. Also, don't be afraid to take a day or two to come back with a price. You shouldn't feel pressured to come up with a number off the top of your head right on the spot. Its also okay to negotiate. Remember, the worst they could say is no.
When I first decided to start freelancing I scheduled a meeting with a professor who I knew freelanced on the side. Her biggest piece of advice was to draft up a document, or contract, and lay out all your information. This way, both parties have something to refer back to. I always emailed clients a copy of the type of project, the agreed upon price, timeline (if any), and any notes. This document would also outline the process I intended to follow so that everyone involved knew the schedule.
Depending on the project size, this was what my process looked like:
-Initial meeting: take notes, explain process, gather information about the business and what they're looking for
-Roughs: show 4-5 rough drafts of the project, take more notes on what works/doesn't work, narrow the direction
-Comps: show 1-2 more detailed drafts, tweak any details, add last minute changes to color/font/size
-Final Product: Review before printing
A note on printing: If the project requires printing, make sure you establish who will take on that responsibility. It is important to write this in the document mentioned above, and that you give business owners the choice. If you take on printing, its okay to charge a small convenience fee along with printing/shipping fees. I found that many owners wanted me to handle printing because it was easiest and I knew more about the process along with paper quality.
One final step of the process that I liked to include was "teaching". Before I went back to school at the end of the summer, or finished a project, I made an effort to teach the owners what I knew. Since I was managing many of their social media accounts, I wanted them to be able to confidently continue managing on their own without me. If I created a website for them, I wanted them to be able to update it independently. I would write up a little cheat sheet of tips and sit down for maybe 20 minutes teaching them how to do it on their own. I can't stress enough how much this effort was appreciated.
Freelancing for me, has been incredibly rewarding. It has been a way that I can support myself and continue expanding my skills. If you are curious about trying it yourself - go for it! I really think that anyone with something to offer can be successful at it. I'm always open to talking about my experience or answering any questions. Best of luck!