Staff Tired of working for the man? Going the freelance route just may be for you. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that almost one out of three Americans are part-time, freelance, or contract workers. CNN reports that those who work independently are happier, earn more money, and have a better work/life balance. Get Started: The Training Depending on where you’re at in your career (Just starting? Need more flexibility? Looking for a change?), you’ll need the right skills to succeed as a freelancer. Think about enrolling in a one- or two-year program that will translate directly to your freelance business. Whether it’s in business, technology, health care, digital arts, or culinary arts, approach your studies from a freelancer’s point of view. If you’re confident in your training, but just want a refresher, shorter certificate programs can bring you up-to-date on current technologies and other changes in a field while letting you brush up on your skills. Online degree programs offer a level of flexibility that allows you to get started on your freelance career even while you’re in school. Get Going: Create Your Brand Before you can get customers, you have to show them you can do the job.
Start by creating a brand for yourself. * Create a website that shows off your work experience, qualifications, and contact information. There are numerous free programs available to guide you through the site design process, or you can hire a web design student from a local school to create one for you (and help them add to their portfolio too!) * Order business cards, letterhead, and brochures. They might seem old-fashioned, but they can really help you get your name out there and give people a physical reminder that you’re ready for their business. * Build a portfolio of your work. For example, if you aspire to be a freelance graphic designer, use your portfolio to display your most compelling designs from graphic design school or former clients. If you are hoping to be a business consultant, post information about your business degree and case studies of your successes. Tip: Don’t have anything that’s portfolio-worthy? This might be a good time to offer to do some work for free. Not only will you gain experience, you may also gain references from your satisfied clients. Many academic programs, including those in digital arts, business, and technology, will provide opportunities for developing portfolio projects in the course of your studies.
Get Connected: Network Finding jobs can be one of the most difficult parts of freelancing, and you’re just getting started, so for now, be prepared to do your own PR. Here are some ideas to get you connected: * Take a marketing class. If you’re not already a business professional, it can really help you learn how to target customers, use advertising to your benefit, and expand your business. If you can target your in-class work to your career, you’ll already be a step ahead. Find local and online Marketing classes now. * Join a professional organization. This can help you get in touch with others in your field and get leads on jobs. The National Association for Interpretation, for example, offers professional interpreters a board with job listings. * Look into your local chamber of commerce. They host networking events, which can put you in touch with potential clients and present you with opportunities to get involved in the community – a great way to make connections and publicize your business. For example, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in Hollywood, California publishes an annual Business Resource Book with listings of their members that’s distributed to the entire community.
* Don’t underestimate the power of family and friends. Make sure everyone knows that you’re looking for new clients. Ask them to pass on your contact information or website to whomever they might know.
Get Paid: Rates, Invoices, Taxes * Rate yourself. As a freelancer, you’ll have to set your own rates. Talk with others in your field or do some research online (check message boards or professional organizations) to decide how much to charge. * Invoicing. Make sure your payment terms are clearly spelled out up front. Itemize as much as possible so all the charges are clear. Most invoices state the amount of time a customer has to pay, and interest or penalties are applied after that date. In extreme cases, you may need to use a bill collection agency or go to small claims court.
* Tax Tips. Although you won’t have an employer deducting payroll taxes automatically, much of the money you spend on your business – such as your home office and traveling to and from jobs – may be deductible. There are tax professionals who specialize in helping freelancers, and tax preparation software and websites are a less-costly do-it-yourself solution. Finally, have fun and enjoy calling the shots. Being your own boss can be a dream come true if you have the right preparation and resources.