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Working freelance? Five things to consider first

freelance work Apr 18, 2023

The rest of the world is catching on to the value of freelance work with estimates of up to 4 million Australians working freelance at any one time.

For business it is a great way to get the specialist skills they need at an affordable cost.

For individuals it is an opportunity to make the most from the expertise you have developed in your working life.

Working in the creative sector you may find yourself freelance by accident or necessity, as that is the way the sector is structured. Or you may be thinking about it as a better way to meet your career goals.

I have had two sustained periods of freelance work in my working life: first was when I was starting out in arts management in Sydney and for six years managed a range of part-time and contract gigs, and now where I consult on policy and strategy development for arts and creative companies alongside my coaching work.

There are many benefits to working freelance: flexibility, autonomy and the opportunity to develop great networks and experiences.  Of course there are challenges as well: staying motivated, getting work and being able to manage demands of diverse projects and clients.

There is nothing worse than finding yourself working late nights and weekends and finding yourself worse of financially than you were if you were employed.  But with a bit of strategy, you can find a balance between income and freedom.

It might take a leap of faith if you have not worked this way before, but these are the five key things you need to consider when considering moving to a freelance working life.

Know your strengths and talents.

Whilst it is tempting to market yourself as a jack or jill of all trades to get the widest catchment of clients, you are far better off focusing your skill set in one direction. People get confused easily and may doubt your skill set if you are covering too much ground.

Reflect on where your true talent lies and where you are most confident in marketing your skills. Make sure you are focusing on work you enjoy doing as well and not the stuff you would rather never do again.

Claim your expertise.

In freelance world you will be constantly marketing yourself and working to acquire new business. This can be confronting and can bring up concerns about rejection and self-worth. Of course we all have things we can learn and do better, but you have got to this point in your working life by learning enough to move forward.

Find the skill set and expertise that has real value for your clients. Spend some time working out what that is and why you have the right to claim it. Look for evidence in your working life of what you have delivered and created. Challenge your self-critic and judgement by getting a second or third opinion on what you have to offer. Write it down and be proud of what you have done.

Price yourself appropriately and develop a rate card.

Many people find the freelance life draining and unprofitable because they just don’t value their time appropriately. Remember that in setting your prices, you need to factor in not just the base market rate, but also your on costs. These are higher than for a casual employee (25% for super, workers comp, leave etc), as you will need to include basic business costs like accounting, insurance, IT etc.

Working freelance also means you may not be being paid for every hour that you work. So adjust your fees to what you believe is your true capacity to deliver.  This is probably a lot less than 40 hours a week, 52 hours a year. If you count in normal leave provisions and public holidays, our working years are more like 44 weeks and your productive (ie billable) hours of work may be as few as 10-20 a week.

Manage your relationships.

The work to get a client is one of those costs of being freelance for which you do not get paid. This work includes building networks, developing proposals, negotiating prices. So you want to maximise the return from every working relationship: the contracted work, future work and referrals.

Your new client is taking a risk on you so it is up to you to give them the assurance you are able to provide what they need. Make sure you negotiate up front what they expect you to deliver and by when. Be realistic, do not over promise and set achievable deadlines. Stay in communication throughout the project and advise of any issues as they come up.

Develop your reputation.

When you are competing for jobs on a regular basis, your professionalism and personality will be judged along with your skills and expertise. When working freelance, your reputation matters even more than when you are in full time employment. You are known not just for what you deliver, but for how you do your work and how you get along with others.

Being likable is something you can develop and will add to your value in the freelance world. It is simple things like listening, asking questions, being on time, putting away your phone in meetings and even forgiving others for the little slights. It is not about being phony or brown-nosing, but giving others the respect you would like to have in return.

Freelance work may not be for everyone, but you may want to consider and start to develop your capacity to work this way. The skills in strategic marketing, business acquisition and contract negotiation that you may need to develop will be increasingly important in our future working world.

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