If you’re considering becoming your own boss, or have been freelancing for a while and want to feel more free, this article is for you. Lessons, practical tips advice and tried-and-tested advice for freelancing in 2021.
2020, despite it all, was my most successful year as a freelancer. I landed more clients, made more money and regularly had five-figure months.
I also made mistakes. After 10 years of freelancing for over 100 clients, I’m realising that the freelance landscape is changing — in many ways, for the better. You simply need to know how.
Let’s make this our best year yet — healthily and successfully.
Create a binding self-contract
Maybe you’re considering going freelance in 2021. Perhaps an uncertain economy has meant you’ve found yourself freelancing unexpectedly.
Whatever your situation, there is one piece of advice on freelancing you can’t ignore: you need to create a contract for yourself, from yourself.
Salaried employees have contracts. You, as your own boss, need to create a contract for you too.
My contract is a simple Google doc I wrote when I was feeling bold, to refer back to when I experience self-doubt. Things I’ve included:
- My day rate: this includes my day rate for new clients and long-term relationships. No discounts get through without me consulting my contract. If it’s not in my contract, it’s not getting offered.
- My working hours: ok, totally easier said than done, but every freelancer knows the feeling of not having control. Working hours help give you that control. In the same way full-time employees have set hours, you, as a freelancer, need them too. Stick to your hours and watch your work get better.
- My meetings policy: people pleasers, listen up. You need rules on how many meetings you attend. If you’re not a full-time, salaried employee, attending meetings for free is a false economy. In my personal guidelines, I’ve written that I’ll attend one 30-minute meeting per month for free, per client. The rest? All billable. Put this policy in place and watch how much more intentional you—and your clients — become.
In 2021, successful pitching is all about specifics
The best pitching lesson I’ve learned? Think in specific scenarios, not services.
Clients care about their problems. Your job is to be the solution. Pitch scenarios, not services.
It’s the difference between reaching out about general copywriting services and offering to ghostwrite a thought leadership piece for an exec who hasn’t posted anything on LinkedIn in a while.
Instead of sharing your graphic design services with a startup who recently raised funding, message the CEO and tell them you think they should do a branded graphic to celebrate on social media — and give them a promotional rate to make it happen.
Read More on Pitching: How to Write a Freelance Writing Pitch
Or, instead of sharing your social media services, talk about a relevant, upcoming date in the cultural calendar and offer a two-week project to help the brand share new content on it.
Clients care about their problems. Your job is to be the solution.
You’re your own product — market yourself accordingly
When marketing a product, you have promotions, special offers, time-sensitive deals… you name it.
As a freelancer, you’re your own product. You need to market yourself like one.
Every time you share an article, you’re building your brand, every time you share a piece of work you’re proud of, you remind more people that you exist — and that you’re seriously talented, too.
Need new bookings? Share a specific offer across your social media platforms (including your friends and family-focused platforms, like Facebook) for a super-specific service.
Raising your rates? Put out a time-sensitive email promotion to your existing clients to get in their bookings before your rates increase.
Oh, and your marketing efforts shouldn’t stop when you’re booked out, either. I’m fully booked for the foreseeable future, but I keep sharing and showing up because good marketing goes beyond the transaction. When you buy into a product, you still want to buy into a brand.
My advice is to keep reminding your clients that they’re working with a freelancing pro.
Change the way you approach your time
When I started freelancing full-time, I had a serious hangover from my days of working in salaried roles. I’d feel odd if I wasn’t working every second of the day because that’s all I’d ever known. The problem? I wasn’t being paid a full-time salary plus perks.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You will always fill the time and space you give yourself. If you give yourself 40 hours to finish a project, you’ll take those 40 hours.
If you give yourself 20 hours, however, you’ll most likely take 20 hours.
It’s a concept called Parkinson’s Law — the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion—and you can use it to your advantage.
If you give yourself a week to complete a two-hour task, then (psychologically-speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting. Your time expands to not only accommodate the task, but the stress about getting it done.
The trick is to be seriously strict with yourself and your time limits, even when it feels like a stretch. It’s this kind of discipline that is essential to avoiding freelancer burnout.
The fact is: if you’re freelance, you deserve to feel more free.
The stability you lose from full-time work needs to equal more personal freedom.
When your time is directly related to your money, it’s time to do more with less.
You set the tone of every interaction you have
A piece of advice I learned the hard way with freelancing; If you don’t set your own boundaries, people will set boundaries for you.
An example: I’m one of life’s enthusiasts. At the beginning of a project, I love nothing more than sharing ideas! And emails! At all hours of the day!
The problem? If you start a project and you’re regularly replying to emails at 11pm, you set a precedent. Your clients are going to start expecting replies at 11pm. Or the weekends.
As a freelancer, it’s your job to train your clients that you’re available only when you want to be.
The same logic also applies with revisions if you’re a writer, designer or developer. If you set boundaries with how many revisions you’ll do for a quoted price in the beginning, everything becomes easier.
It’s as simple as adding this sentence to your quote: “This price includes up to two rounds of revisions. Additional revisions will require a new quote.”
You have more power than you think. Never forget that your clients need you just as much as you need them.
Real experts pay experts
This one’s a simple bit of freelancing advice. If you want to take your freelance business to the next level, you need to outsource some of your cognitive load.
Accountants, virtual assistants, lawyers… you name it, 2020 was the year I learned to pay for it.
Sure, paying for things you can technically do yourself can feel like you’re parting with your hard-earned cash. But if your mind is carrying less, it can do more career-defining work.
You have to spend a little to make more.
A fascinating thing happens when you clear space in your mind: you start to find more work that you love. Consider it an investment in yourself. You won’t regret it.
Prioritise how you want to feel as a freelancer
In 2021, I’m prioritising how I want to feel. As a person, as a business owner and as a freelancer.
For me, the feelings I’m focusing on are space, purpose and time. Why? Because having more time to be a full person makes me produce better work. Better work means more money.
Experience has taught me there’ll inevitably be more moments when I feel lost. I also know that if I work a healthy number of hours and respect myself and my boundaries, there’ll be plenty of moments I feel free, too.
Without a conventional career ladder, it can feel like you’re not making progress as a freelancer. But the progress exists – you just need to learn to look for it.
Nowadays, I don’t think about hourly pricing. I think about the value I can bring. Not just with the project, but the longevity of the work I’m creating. That, right there, is progress.
Focus on the feeling. Know the race is long and only ever with yourself. Create the space to focus on how you want to feel. Make celebrating your everyday wins a part of your daily routine.
To me, real success is a verb — it’s in the everyday doing. Here’s to your success, one project at a time. You’re doing so much better than you think, and hopefully this freelancing advice helps you along the way.