The 15 DOs and DON’Ts of Freelancing

Whether you are starting your career as a freelancer, or are a seasoned freelance expert, it pays to know how to ride the challenges you will encounter in today’s freelancing landscape due to a never-ending financial crisis, low-cost international competition and the misconceptions that still exist in the mind of employers and clients looking to outsource work. Take note and keep your notes handy, because this is not a speed race… it’s a marathon.

1. DO: Calculate your expenses and adjust your rates.

This is your job now, not a hobby, and, as a job, you need to make a living from it. Calculate all your expenses for the month (rent/mortgage payments, utility bills, phone/internet, travel/transport expenses –if your type of freelancing requires it-, food, etc.) and adjust your rates in a way that, though still competitive, are also enough for you to make a living without risking going broke within the periods of time when you are not going to get any work. Oh yes, you will go through those, no matter how good and hardworking you are.

2. DO: Sign into as many freelance jobs portals as possible

and set up automatic email alerts for new projects with different keywords, as not all clients know the jargon of particular areas or the specific name for certain skills. Apply often, it’s a numbers game.

3. DON’T: Do not lower your rates if they are already reasonable.

Refer to point 1: Again, this is your passion but no longer a hobby; it’s your means to a living. And, in this world, you get what you pay for. Sooner or later clients realise how far more costly is to go for the cheapest option than for the most professional one. Respect yourself and your craft.

4. DO: Network, network, network.

Use your social media accounts to share about your work from time to time and make sure you update your About/Info section with your website and professional pages links. Join online groups and communities of your interest and interact with their members. Go to seminars, conferences and festivals where you know there will be people interested in your services and have business cards with you at all times. In other words, put yourself out there, nobody is going to knock your door if they don’t know that you exist and do what you do so well.

5. DON’T but DO: Don’t do free work, unless…

Beware of clients and companies that request custom samples for specific projects before signing a contract and paying a deposit for the work. That’s how a lot of individuals and organisations get work done for free. Do consider, however, approaching and doing some –affordable- free work for professionals you admire and trust about subjects that interest you, and/or charities you believe in, either at the beginning, when you need to create a portfolio of works, or, if you are already established, when you wish to have more work to show from a determined type of clients or subjects that interest you. Remember those periods of time when, no matter what you do, you may still not get work? That’s when you can do free stuff, as well as undertake any courses that may enhance your skill set or expand it.

6. DON’T: Do not accept any work.

This is a difficult one, especially if you are going through the aforementioned rough patch and are starting to get anxious about running out of money to cover your living expenses. But, if the work you are being offered is for illegal or dubious purposes, or may compromise your dignity as a professional or your personal values, the only way is to steer away. Far, far away from it.

7. DO: Have templates ready.

Create several project-application email templates and freelancing contract templates as it will save you a lot of time as well as last minute mistakes.

8. DO: Always communicate via email,

even if you have already had a chat with the client over the phone or Skype. Having everything in writing is very important: it prevents misunderstandings, it offers legal security, and it definitely helps to keep organised and on top of all tasks.

9. DO: Be organised and meet all deadlines.

Keep a work diary, create email folders to organise communications, and be very specific when creating/naming computer folders so you can access documents and materials in a rapid and painless manner. Save your work frequently and back it up daily. Always add at least a couple of days to your estimated time of project completion so you can review it with fresh eyes, as well as rest days. This will allow you to not only keep your promises –and therefore, your reputation and clients- but also your health.

10. DO: Ask for an advanced deposit and further payments upon completed milestones.

Depending on the project, you may want to ask for 25% deposit in advance, if its completion entails no more than two weeks, or 50% if its completion will take longer than that. For particularly lengthy projects, it’ll be necessary for you to create milestones for completed tasks/levels of completion upon correspondent payment instalments.

11. DO: Establish a revision limit in your contracts,

both in terms of number of changes and type of changes as well as time-frames to process them.

12. DO but DON’T: Always be flexible, but also firm.

Clients often change their minds, whether because they were indecisive about a preliminary vision or because they have received information during the process that has altered said vision, that’s why point 11 came to exist. If the modifications involved mean you may have to put an extra few hours into the project it’s worth to abstain from charging them. But, if they mean putting an extra day or few days, let alone weeks, make sure your client signs an additional contract for the additional work, or an amended one if necessary, and ask for an extended deposit or new deposit before doing anything.

13. DON’T: Never ever hand over a completed project without having been paid in full first.

Especially when it’s for a client you have not worked for before. If it’s artistic work, apply a watermark.

14. DO: Ask for feedback/testimonials

from your clients to include in your website/professional profile.

15. DO: Eat healthy, sleep sufficiently, exercise, and spend time outside with family and friends.

Believe it or not, when you are trying to make a living via freelancing, or via your start-up, these are the very things that will allow you to keep your health –without which we are nothing- and your sanity, yet they are the ones that you will neglect the most. Try your best not to.

May the force be with you, brave one.