5 Hacks I Wish I Knew When I Started Freelancing
As a freelancer, I've learned some valuable lessons throughout my career that have transformed the way I work and live. I want to share 5 hacks I wish I had known when I started that have had a profound impact on my freelancing business and life. These insights have helped me not only improve my professional life but also strike a healthier work-life balance, streamline my business operations, and attract the right clients. Whether you're just starting your freelancing career or looking to make positive changes to your existing freelance business, these lessons can make a significant difference to your success and overall well-being.
1. A Portfolio Sells Harder Than You Ever Could
I made the mistake of going years without creating a portfolio of my past work. My website only contained a list of services, and should someone ask for my portfolio, I would haphazardly send them to websites of past clients or send a gaggle of PDFs containing my past work. When I put some effort into creating a beautiful presentation of my past work on my website, with context and relevance to my target client, I noticed a spike in people reaching out to work with me. Go figure.
Your freelance portfolio isn't just a collection of your work; it's your most persuasive sales tool. It's the first thing potential clients see, so make sure it showcases your skills, expertise, and versatility. Quality over quantity is the name of the game. Your portfolio should be a curated showcase of your best work (and switch it out as your work improves). Include case studies or descriptions for each project, explaining the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. This not only showcases your abilities but also demonstrates your problem-solving skills.
2. Schedule Your Days Before Your Calendar Opens to Clients
In the early days, I had zero work-life balance. I had very little that would light me up outside of work. I had no hobbies, few friends I would see, and my daughter tugged at my sleeve to get my attention most days. I finally made the decision to plan my weeks according to my priorities, instead of fighting with my calendar to allow the time for them.
My Calendly opens new appointments for clients two weeks in advance — no more. Every month, I look at my calendar and block off time that will allow for the things I love to do, like spending time with friends and family, travel, or making time for hobbies. Time on my calendar is blocked off before it becomes public. I also block off every Friday for "me time" by setting my Calendly to be unavailable for those days. Client meetings and work are then slotted around my priorities.
3. Create an Intake Form That Will Highlight Red Flags
When I first started freelancing, there was a lot of back-and-forth of emails to book initial calls with potential clients. And it wasn't until I got on a call that I would realize the client wasn't the right fit for me. Later, I created an intake form with some basic questions to understand their needs, but this only helped me to understand the services they needed. Soon, I realized that I needed to create an intake form that would help me to understand how it would be to work with them as a person. I ask questions like, "Do you have any personal or professional bottlenecks that would delay our project?" or "Have you worked with a strategist in the past? If so, what was your experience?". These answers help me to understand if they would be difficult to work with or if there were reasons they haven't been successful in the past. Sometimes, it can really highlight red flags and allow me to pass on a project that could, well, be a bit of a headache.
4. Establish Peak Productivity and Creativity Times
The truth is, I'm not always productive or creative, and I bet you're not either. There are times when I feel completely blocked. I'm human, afterall! After some years, I started to notice that I'm more creative between 8-10pm. I can put on a bit of music, dim my lights, and just get into the flow of things. Yes, these times are outside of "normal" business hours, but I can be more productive and get a lot more done by working during these peak times. I'm not being hounded by calls or tasks, my daughter is in bed, and all is quiet in the house.
As freelancers, we have the flexibility to set our schedules, so why not take advantage of these peak times to create our best work?
5. Simplifying Systems is the Name of the Game
I see it everyday; a new freelancer who wants to create all of the systems for their business to automate every aspect of their existence. And I did the same; "When a client submits this form, send them through a rollercoaster of sequences until I no longer have to speak to them ever again."
The reality is, a lot of clients require a personal touch and they're often very technically-challenged. Having too many systems can confuse them and make them feel disconnected from you. You can also rack up a big bill for all of those apps that you're using. Seriously, the more simple you can make your business, the better. Consider using an all-in-one business management app like Bonsai to create client invoices and service agreements, track your time, create intake forms, book client calls, and get paid.
Freelancing has its ups and downs, challenges, and triumphs. It's about continuously learning and adapting to create a freelance life that aligns with your goals and values. Remember, freelancing is not just about work; it's about building a life that allows you to thrive both professionally and personally. Learn from my lessons, apply them to your freelancing endeavors, and watch as they transform your career and business for the better.
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