How to freelance successfully

To celebrate Nationals Freelancers Day, yesterday Wired Sussex ran a Breakfast Session on ‘Being a Successful Freelancer’ where the wonderful Rifa Thorpe-Tracey gave a talk on the subject.

Kicking off the event, Rifa shared her journey, experience and advice as a freelancer. And to frame the discussion, she asked:

Why are you freelancing? Is it because of freedom, more time for yourself, more money, or because you don’t want to work in an office anymore?

Rifa worked with some of the most creative web agencies in London in the late 90s, early 2000s. After managing a team of 20 writers, developers and designers for the first Channel 5 website, she was made redundant once the project had been delivered. Knowing she had skills that were valuable, she took the plunge to freelance. She has since been freelancing on-and-off for the past 20 years and was recognised as one of Sussex Life magazine’s Top 50 Inspiring Women of 2018.

What’s Rifa’s advice for freelancers?

– Connect with everyone you’ve ever worked with on LinkedIn, even people you lost contact with, including colleagues and clients.
– Ask for recommendations once you finish a job or project. Sometimes when you’ve left a project, it’s easy to forget all the good things that happened along the way. Plus, when you ask for recommendations, it reminds them that you still exist – that you have the skills and knowledge – which could lead to more work.
– Keep your website up to date and shout about what you’re doing on social media!
– Make time to listen to clients to properly understand what they need.
– Regularly audit your clients – consider how much money you’re making against how much time it’s taking up, and how much you’re actually enjoying the work. Don’t feel like you can’t let a client go if it doesn’t fulfil your criteria.
– Reflect on your core values or the mission for your business and check to see if each project aligns with them.
– Set yourself a target for what you hope to achieve every month and keep a list of the things you’ve accomplished, as it can be hard to stay motivated when you’re working by yourself.
– Choose a mentor that’s achieved similar to what you aspire. Much like getting a fitness coach, you need someone that shares and understands your vision.
– Get out and network at different types of events. You will always make some interesting connections 
– Work on your elevator pitch: what you do, what you are doing at the moment and what you offer.
– Respond promptly to enquiries. Otherwise, they may have already looked to hire someone else.
– Enjoy the downtime. Freelance life can be incredibly busy. After all, you’re a one-man band, so when you’re going through a quiet period, enjoy it.

Conversation was flowing after Rifa’s talk, with plenty of discussion, knowledge sharing and questions. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Q. How can you feel like you’re growing as a freelancer without becoming an agency and building a team?

– Be true to what you want to do. Make sure you have your own goals and agendas; do you actually want the stress and responsibly of running a big company? Remind yourself of your end goals; is it to retire early? buy a house? travel the world? What do you want?
– You could run under a company name without the actual responsibility of managing others.
– You have more flexibility and freedom to experiment as a freelancer. Why not try collaborating with other people.

Q. When you’re talking about yourself, do you say ‘I’ on your website or ‘we’? How do you position yourself?

– It depends on the nature of your work. Do you get most of your work through personal recommendations or through your website? If you get most of your work through a website, then presenting a brand and talking about ‘we’ makes sense, but if you’re the face of your brand, people are hiring you for you, so use ‘I’.

Q. Any advice for networking if you’re shy and introverted?

– Take a friend.
– Contact the organisers beforehand. Most event organisers will facilitate conversation and introductions. Get the guest list and see if there’s anyone you’re interested in meeting.
– Practice that elevator pitch and rehearse what you’re going to say.
– Think about others in your situation and how you can help them. Ask them loads of questions.
– You can show your vulnerability. There will be others that find it nerve-racking too.
– Use social media to engage with others beforehand to break the ice. 
– And ultimately, just think: what’s the worse that’s going to happen?

Q. How often do you assess how much you charge?

– You have to regularly reassess your experience, how much you’ve expanded your skill set, and how much you value yourself.
– From the client side, the whole point of hiring a freelancer is they don’t need to employ that person permanently; they don’t need to pay the benefits, insurance, etc; so they have to pay the premium for your time.
– If you’re undercharging yourself, that might have a detrimental effect. A client might think you’re not that good if you’re charging significantly less than others.
– And remember, if no one ever questions how much you charge, you’re probably not charging enough.

Q. What if you find it hard to figure out how many hours it’s likely to take on a project in advance?

– Get a time sheet or tracker and work out how much time you take on various things – include the thinking time, sketching-out time, planning, meetings, phone calls, etc. Learn from this to better inform your pricing.

Q. To what extent do you negotiate pricing with clients?

– Why not give potential clients a little free consultation and show them how good you are at what you do, what they’re paying for and let them get to know you first. There’s nothing like face-to-face to help you sell something and, generally, after a chat they’re going to be happy to pay the full price.

Written by Emily Jones, first published on Wired Sussex blog


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