I'm Matthew Setter. I'm a security researcher, privacy advocate, and software engineer and teaching people all that I know.
4 Key Aspects of Being a Freelancer
For as long as I can remember, I've just 'wanted to be my own man'. The feeling's never left me,
For as long as I can remember, I’ve just “wanted to be my own man”. The feeling’s never left me, despite having worked for someone else my entire career.
But, as fortune, synchronicity, or luck would have it, an opportunity to take a different career path presented itself about 8 months ago.
I left where I was working and decided to take on the freelancing life. Perhaps naively, I assumed that it wouldn’t be that much different from working for someone else.
Yes, everything rested with me, such as marketing, administration, planning, networking, along with the actual work I’d be doing, which is technical writing and software development.
But from the outside looking in, I really asked myself, “how different could it be”. Now that’s going to sound like I was a lot more naive than I really was.
Naturally having to do all these other tasks, as well as the work that earned euros, dollars and pounds, would take time and effort plus some additional learning, along the way.
But I did feel that I’d find a certain, natural, rhythm along the way. It has and it hasn’t exactly worked out that way — so far. So in today’s post, I’m going to neither be glowingly positive, nor overly negative about freelancing.
I’m going to document 4 of the things I’ve learned so far. Specifically, I’m going to cover 4 areas which I’ve found to be more important than anything else, especially the technical skills you employ to clients.
Actually, I’d say it’s safe to assume that your technical skills are more than sufficient — they have to be. What’s great about freelancing is that they’re the aspect you have to focus on least.
So without further ado, here are the 4 key points.
1. It’s all about Promotion & Networking
This part can’t be understated. I underestimated it at first, to my cost. I didn’t appreciate just how essential networking and promotion is. Do you do it enough? Do you do it effectively?
The effectiveness I can’t teach you; but I can encourage you to get started, no matter where you are in your freelance career. The people you network with provide so much possibility, even if at first it doesn’t appear that way.
Whether it’s an ear that will listen to you when you are down or in need of help, someone who can share experience from the trenches, someone who needs an extra pair of hands, or someone who knows someone who needs someone to work for them for a period of time — networking is your friend.
What’s more, when you get out there, you get in touch with what’s going on. You find out about events happening both in the local area and further afield. A good example is the recent Nuremberg Web Week.
If I hadn’t gotten out and about, attending Co-Working Nürnberg, then I’d never have known about it. Now I’ve presented this aspect a bit from what you can get, but you also have to give.
However without putting too much emphasis on one side or another, just get out there and get involved. I wrote recently about good ways to start, so I won’t rehash that here. Check it out and tweet me about how you get on.
2. You REALLY Need to Believe in Yourself
Yep, it might sound arrogant, but you do need to believe in yourself. If you don’t who will? If you don’t talk about what you do, what you know, and what you have to offer, who will and how will anyone find out?
So make sure that you do a good self-assessment about who you are, why you’re a freelancer, and what you have to offer. Write it all down and give yourself the necessary self-belief and credit to present yourself completely to the wider world.
I’m not saying that you walk up to everyone and talk only about you, what you do, or just how brilliant you are. No one wants to be around that kind of person!
But there’s no need to be shy or backwards either. Here’s a good way to start, make sure on your freelancing website you have a list of testimonials from your past and present clients.
As well as this, have a list of clients who you’ve worked for. This can be as simple as listing the client logos. Then, when you do get talking with people and they ask for more information, you can refer them there.
It will also come in handy for the people who don’t directly ask, but after having met you, do a bit of research about you. It happens, so be prepared.
3. Allow Double the Admin Time
As a freelancer, at least at the start, there’s no one else you can depend on or defer to, to take care of your business administration. Hey, you may be fortunate to have a spouse, family member, or friend who’s a bookkeeper or an accountant, PR person, or marketing ace, etc.
If so, make sure you tap in to those skills (respectfully). If you don’t, you need to make sure you find yourself a package or create a system where you can manage your finances with as little time as possible.
You don’t need to be an accountant, but you do have to have a basic understanding of bookkeeping. For example, you need to know what a credit and a debit is, under what category your expenses should be listed, and so on.
You need to make sure that you keep track of your expenses so that they don’t get out of hand, that you’re chasing up your invoices, and checking off the invoices which have been paid.
At the start, it’s a bit to get your head around. But with a good package and a bit of practice, it’ll become something you can do on a Sunday evening, or a Monday morning.
If you don’t have one already, a site I use and highly recommend is FreeAgent. It not only takes care of your finances, but supplies templates for your invoices, payment reminders, and so on. Definitely check it out!
4. Make Sure You Plan
Planning is something I’ve learned slowly over time. It wasn’t something which came naturally to me and is still something I put time in to regularly.
Whether it’s as simple as a piece of paper, a desk diary, an application like Wunderlist (a damn brilliant application), or something much more comprehensive — make sure you plan!
I suggest not going over the top and attempting to make it too complex or too sophisticated. I did that for a while and ended up spending more time managing my planning than actually doing anything else. Make it as simple as possible, something you can be up to date on with almost nothing more than a glance.
Wunderlist is my system, where I have a freelancing list and under that I have tasks for various clients. For each client, I can list jobs as todo items, keep notes and use the discussion feature as a makeshift CRM.
Whatever approach you use, have one, keep it up to date, and keep on top of your work; ideally have everything ready early.
So there’s 4 key things I’ve learned about being a successful freelancer. What are the most important things you’ve learned? I’d love to get your take on it.
image courtesy wetwebwork
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