I’ve been in the freelance game for a few years now. Some months are busier than others, but I’m pretty much always working on something on the side. This additional work has not only helped me financially, but also helped me grow my skill set and learn loads of new things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Since I don’t have to freelance to eat and pay bills — I have a full-time 9-to-5 paycheck — I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. When freelance is your full-time gig, you probably have to learn a lot faster and are much wiser when it comes to these sorts of things. But even so, I have learned a thing or two in the mistakes I’ve made. So I thought I’d share.
You don’t get paid until you get paid.
Looks like I landed a new client! Woohoo! It’s a really good one, too. We emailed back and forth and had a lengthy phone call about their needs and exactly how I can help them. These discussions have been so promising (and time consuming) that it’s basically a done deal. All that time I already put in even though I haven’t started working yet will all be worth it when I get my first check.
So to celebrate, I’m ordering in sushi! And I’ll splurge on a $15 bottle of wine instead of my usual $8-10. And while I’m waiting for my sushi and sipping my swanky glass of wine, I might poke around a bit online for some cute summer wedges to buy. Thank goodness the sushi is delivered before I can buy those shoes.
No shoes for you!
Because for whatever reason, the client fell through. Maybe they didn’t have the budget they thought they had. Maybe they’re simply too busy to work with a copywriter right now, even though they need one. Maybe their vision for the project changed. Who knows.
But when a promising client doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, it’s important to realize it’s not personal. It’s just the way it is. And the more frequently this happens, the less likely I am to spend my first check that was never meant to be.
Even if the client does work out, it could take awhile to get paid. And I’m not talking about the flakey clients who make excuses. Sometimes it just takes time to get the ball rolling and get on their payroll.
Since I don’t get paid until I get paid, I’ve learned not to spend money I don’t have.
Writing the words is only part of the work.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone just loved my work so much they decided to hire me on the spot, then provided me a detailed brief outlining their copy needs? All I would need to do is hand them the copy, then they hand me a check.
That’ll never happen.
Clients are spending their hard-earned money, and they want to make sure I’m the right fit for their project. Since I’m employed full-time and freelance on the side, I also want to make sure their project is the right fit for the limited time I have available. And, just because a client knows they need copy help doesn’t necessarily mean they know exactly what they need. Part of my job is to help them figure that out. Once we have that sorted out, it’s likely that I’ll have to do research to write what I need to well.
So there’s a lot that goes into this process that isn’t writing. Some of that process I don’t get paid for. I don’t charge clients for those up-front conversations, because we haven’t decided to work together yet. I’m okay with that, because if I can show a potential client I’m valuable enough, ultimately they’ll hire me. But if you’re looking to dive into the wonderful world of freelance, keep this in mind. Every hour you spend on your freelance business is not going to make you money.
Don’t act like a you-know-what. Ever.
Client-freelancer relationships can be frustrating at times. I’m not going to go so far as to say the customer is always right, because sometimes that’s not true. Sometimes you’ll wanna send a strongly worded email when a client is being nitpicky, or isn’t providing adequate feedback and expects you to read their mind, or, the worse of all client grievances, isn’t paying you even though you finished the work six months ago.
I picked this image because I have the same color hair as this clip art kid.
Getting all sassy pants will get you nowhere. First off, none of these things is necessarily your fault, but you can do your best to anticipate them. This is what contracts are for. Managing expectations is important, so make sure you and the client can agree on as many possible details about the scope of work and estimated payment before you write one word.
This isn’t only for your own protection. It protects clients, too, so they don’t get overcharged or blindsided, and they will know going into the project exactly what work you will provide them.
Even if these hiccups do come up, there’s no reason to lose your cool. It’s bad karma. Remember, this is all part of the freelance game. Every experience can be a learning experience. And every client could potentially lead to another.
If you do want to write that strongly worded email, type it up in a Google doc. Use your expert writing skills to cram as many expletives as you can. Then close the doc and leave it be. Then write your client a nicer, less nasty email.
The best way to get freelance jobs? Tell people you want them.
A lot of people ask me how I get these jobs. They want to freelance, too. Can I help them out and give them some pointers on how to get clients?
Hm… well my jobs kinda come from all over the place. Some come from people I used to work with who are now with other companies or working on other projects. Lately, I have been getting more work through Socialexis, a team of go-getters led by Innovator-in-Chief Alexis Grant who helps small businesses create online content and grow communities. Other smaller clients have come through my sister, my gym, and a creative staffing agency. So it’s really all over the place.
I sometimes apply to freelance jobs, but only if it’s a good fit and something I really want. To be honest, I rarely get those because they are so competitive. So most of my clients come through word of mouth. And that all comes back to the number one way to get freelance jobs: Make sure people know you want them!
That’s what I’m talking about.
When you work full-time, people assume you wouldn’t be interested in freelance. Wrong! I got student loans to pay and cat mouths to feed (okay just one cat mouth to feed). And so I make sure people know my door is always open for freelance clients. It’s evident on my LinkedIn, my Twitter, and my website. If people don’t know you’re looking, they won’t think of you if something comes up. If they do know you freelance, you’ll be the FIRST person they think of.