FREELANCE HACKS, PART 2: THREE MORE STEPS TO STEPPING UP YOUR FREELANCE GAME.
Last month, in FREELANCE HACKS Part 1, I shared a few tips about how to make working freelance, work better. Some of them might seem obvious, but as my High School basketball coach used to say, “You don’t win games by practicing dunks.” Meaning that doing fundamental things exceptionally well is where being good at whatever you’re doing turns great.
Let’s review. Presenting yourself well with your marketing materials is important. Knowing your most fruitful sources for new work is invaluable. Having a productive workspace is essential. Those are the basics.
Beyond that, there are a few other fundamental things you can do that act as catalysts for your freelance business, both in finding new work and getting it done. Things that beat the all-too-common wait-and-see approach that many freelancers tend to take.
To help you step up your freelance game, here are three more steps you can take to keep your mind as productive as possible and your freelance calendar as chock-a-block as you like.
Freelancing can be a lonely existence. If you’re not working in an office, there are no all-staff meetings to attend, nobody around to talk about binge-worthy shows or gripe about politics with, no Friday afternoon beers and foosball. It’s another trade-off when you’re working solo. No office policies to deal with, but no parties either. One way to make up for that is partnering.
Connecting with other freelancers and contract-workers to share projects, share office space or simply share stories about your rogue-agent lifestyle is a great way to create your own professional camaraderie that you might feel like you’re missing out on. If your industry has natural partnerships, that’s a great place to start. I’m an advertising writer, so I’ve partnered with other freelance art directors and designers in the past. If you’re a freelance videographer, there’s probably a freelance editor out there who would be great to partner up with. If you’re a consultant, there's likely a whole bunch of people with complementary skills that might be worthwhile considering as partners. Whatever makes the most sense for what you do.
If you find the right person (or people) to partner up with, not only does your circle of possible projects widen, you can also offer up more than just yourself to help solve a client problem. In my experience, having a few reliable “go-to” partners pretty much always leads to more projects for both people involved. And it certainly doesn’t need to be an exclusive arrangement or mean that you actually need to go into business together. If you each offer your own services and promote the fact that you can partner up if needed, you’ll be able to take full advantage of everything that comes your way.
Most freelancers don’t partner up. If you do, you’ll stand out and be easier to hire. Plus, you’ll have someone you can talk to about whatever you saw on Buzzfeed yesterday. And that’s always nice.
GET HELP WITH THE NUMBERS.
As a creative person, the odds are that invoicing, bookkeeping, receipt management and all things tax related are not going to be your strong suit. Let’s face it, you didn’t end up working at a bank for a reason. It’s no fun. Of course, if you’re a different kind of consultant or happen to love spreadsheets, maybe being financially organized is something you’re great at. In which case, you can happily skip ahead to the next section.
For the rest of us, it’s important to figure out a system we can use to stay as organized as we need to be, without it getting in our way or needlessly piling up. I have been good at this at times. At other times, not so good. If you like things cloud-based, Quick Books Small Business or Self-Employed and Fresh Books are excellent options. Personally, I prefer to make and send my own invoices and track them on a self-made spreadsheet, since I’m often working across provincial borders and for US clients, which can get tricky with different tax rates and currencies.
For keeping track of work related expenses, the simplest system is to have a separate business bank account and credit card, then remember to use it for everything work related. It’ll save you tons of time later, versus going through your personal bank and credit card statements at the end of each month with a highlighter trying to figure out which were your business expenses. If you’re like me, anything that happened more than a week ago is hard to piece together after the fact.
Which brings us to all that uncomfortable tax stuff at the end of the year. No matter how organized you are, do yourself a favour and get an accountant to do your taxes. You’ll still need to do a lot of work to supply them with the right numbers, but there’s no point in putting yourself through the grief of trying to figure out and file the return yourself. You’ll probably miss something. And you could be spending that precious time working, promoting yourself, making connections or developing new skills. Or rewarding yourself with a nice mini-vacation while you wait for your accountant to tell you how much tax you’re going to owe.
Accountants are more than worth it. Find a good one. Get all your information to them in good order, then let them take it across the finish line.
We’ve all heard the much celebrated phrase, “Being Your Own Boss”. The reality is, when we actually become our own boss, it’s easy to be far more lenient with ourselves than any boss would be. If we show up late to our desk, we simply accept our own excuse. If we don’t finish what we planned to do for ourselves today, we let ourselves off the hook, no problem. Just imagine if you worked somewhere where there were no performance reviews, no career development expectations and you knew that no matter what you did, you couldn’t get fired. How hard would you work? Welcome to Your Freelance Company Inc.
Having unstructured time, where you are accountable only to yourself, is one of the greatest self-employment challenges there is. No matter whether you’re completing your PhD thesis, trying to finish that screenplay or simply working to improve your own freelance business, self-imposed deadlines are shifty. For me, like most people, it would be unthinkable to miss a deadline when I’m working for a client. When it comes to my own deadlines, however, it takes a lot more discipline. Otherwise, I’m way too flexible.
To be a great freelance employee, you need to be a great boss to yourself. Think about great bosses from your past and how they brought out the best in you, then apply that thinking to your freelance work life. Have regular weekly check-ins with yourself. Set clear expectations for your productivity each week, month or quarter. Make hard deadlines for your own projects and book them into your calendar. Set personal development goals for yourself. Review your performance at least twice a year, then follow up and hold yourself accountable.
Even though you can’t get fired, the only way you’re going to get that raise is by performing better all around. Be honest with yourself. Be constructive. Then crack the whip. Like a boss.
In the meantime, happy freelancing.
— Michael Mayes