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How to be a successful freelancer

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Rachel Corbett writing at her desk

Want to build a kick-arse freelancing business?

These days it seems everyone wants to freelance or run their own business, so how do you do it well?

The idea of swapping power suits for pj’s and knocking the daily commute down to 35 seconds is understandably appealing.   But if you’re dreaming of going out on your own it’s important to know what’s involved and that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Do you want to freelance or do you just need a holiday?

Often when people tell me why they want to go freelance it doesn’t take long to realise what they actually need is time off.

Starting your own business isn’t a life of long lunches and mid-afternoon yoga classes.  It takes a lot of discipline and commitment and you’ll be working longer and harder for yourself than you ever were for someone else.

The difference is, when you’re working on a business you’re passionate about, longer hours are often much easier to put up with.

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Are you sure you have the willpower to resist the couch?

It’s also important when you’re thinking about whether going freelance is for you that you ask yourself this question (and answer honestly): “If I was at home all day, by myself, would I get any work done?”

Self-motivation isn’t for everyone and you might find you need the discipline of a 9-5 job and a boss to hold you accountable.  You might also miss the social aspect of working in an office because it can be pretty lonely tapping away at your computer on your own.

But if you’ve considered all of the above and still think “I want to freelance, dammit!” Here are some things you should consider before taking the leap…

How to freelance and not suck at it

Understand experience is everything

No matter what industry you’re in, building a solid freelance client base takes time and effort.  This effort is compounded if you don’t have a proven track record or a lot of experience in your industry.

Sometimes this means your freelance dreams, while valid, might need to be put on hold until you’ve built up enough career capital to go out on your own.

When you’re employed by a big company, you can work on big accounts even if you have limited personal experience because you’re trading on the companies name and reputation.  But when you’re out on your own, the only thing you’re judged on is your personal experience and if you haven’t done much, you’ll be back basking in the fluorescent lights of the office pretty quickly.

It’s important to be realistic about whether you’ve got the required experience to go solo and if not, focus on building that up so you can eventually go out on your own.

Yes, it’ll take a little longer but it’ll mean when you do jump ship you’ll be much more likely to float.

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Be patient

Starting your freelance business from scratch is a long and difficult process.  And it takes a long time to get to the point where clients are calling you instead of the other way round.

Understanding this and having a long-term strategy when you start out will stop you crying yourself to sleep every night, thinking you’re never going to make it.

If you’re committed and passionate the opportunities will come eventually, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and have patience.

There will be moments when you feel like you’ve called every person in the known Universe and no one is calling you back.  But eventually, that first job will come and each one after that will be easier than the last.

Make sure you’ve got a financial buffer

I saved for two years before going out on my own and having that buffer was the most valuable thing in the early days of my business.

Taking away the stress of paying the rent means you can focus all your attention on building your business.

It takes time to hustle, make connections and drum up clients and nothing kills your mojo like worrying about your dwindling bank account.

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Invest in yourself

As a freelancer, you’re a business and all good businesses invest in improving their operations.

When you’re competing with the might of big companies it’s important to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible because the more you can do, the more attractive you’ll be.

Flexibility is the name of the game so think about the extra skills you could learn that will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

Don’t let your pride get in the way

When starting out it’s important to realise you don’t get to be CEO overnight.

I worked plenty of jobs I didn’t want to do, worked for free for testimonials and took jobs for less money than I should have because the long-term value to my business was more important than the short-term dip in my income.

If you haven’t got savings to fall back on this becomes even more important because you’ll need a job to pay the bills.

There are plenty of successful entrepreneurs who built their business while working nights in a bar or by cleaning toilets.

Remember, successful people, are those willing to do what others won’t.  So don’t let your pride get in the way of your dreams.  It’ll be worth it in the long run.

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Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’ll be easy

If you think freelancing will be a piece of cake you’ll be running back to your old boss pretty quickly.

Working for yourself means you’ll work harder and longer than you ever have before.

The only way to maintain this is if you love what you do, so make sure you’re building a business around your interests and passions.  If you don’t, those Saturday nights spent sitting in front of your computer will get old really quick.

So go forth, future freelancers – be realistic, be prepared and be ready to work your butt off! It’ll be worth it.

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GET MY FREE PODCAST GUIDE

WANT TO START A PODCAST BUT HAVE NO IDEA HOW? THIS GUIDE TAKES YOU THROUGH ALL THE TOOLS AND TECH YOU NEED TO GET GOING!

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