How To Make Freelancing Work For You

By Hayley Conick , UK Country Manager for the world’s largest online workplace Elance-oDesk

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According to the PCG, the number of people freelancing in the EU has risen by an impressive 45% in the past two years alone. It is increasingly becoming a chosen career path for many skilled workers in the UK. In fact, according to research we conducted last year, 87% of students with First or 2.1 degrees now see freelancing as a highly attractive and lucrative career option. At the same time more and more businesses are turning to skilled freelancers to enable them to scale up when extra resources and specialist skills are required.

For those with the talent, grit and determination to succeed, freelancing can open up a world of opportunity – not to mention a more independent and flexible life. Here are Hayley’s top tips on how to make freelancing work for you:

1. Ask yourself the number one question…is freelancing for me?

With freelancing you are your own boss: there is no one to tell you to get out of bed and turn up on time. To be truly successful as a freelancer you must be a self-starter, be highly motivated and have a huge passion for what you do. You should also be a life-long learner – we live in fast-moving times with skill demands in constant flux. To stay relevant, successful freelancers constantly evaluate what the market needs and update their skills accordingly.

2. Develop a personal brand

The top freelance jobs are competitive. Businesses want to know what value you can add; whether you can meet deadlines, how easy you are to work with. Your personal brand is your most valuable asset and needs careful cultivation – after all these days, you are who Google says you are. Make sure that your CV, your online profile and your social media channels highlight not just your skills and experience but showcase your portfolio. On Elance-oDesk, we encourage all freelancers to upload examples of previous work onto their online profiles – remember the old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. Online workplaces also allow you to build a record of actual work results and showcase feedback from past projects. All of this will give you a solid, proven reputation and help you to secure new projects.

3. Check out your competition

With more and more people choosing to freelance, as I said above, competition can be fierce – over 8 million freelancers are signed up to Elance-oDesk around the world. This isn’t a bad thing – your competitors can actually be a great source of information. Look at how they’re pitching themselves, what work they’re doing, how much they’re charging. By developing an understanding of your competitors you can figure out how best to position yourself in the freelance market.

4. Clearly identify your skills

Businesses are looking for freelancers with specific skills, so lay these out clearly from the beginning. The more you can narrow down your skill set to what you are truly best at, the more successful you are likely to be. When hiring a freelancer, businesses often have a very specific project in mind so they are generally looking for a niche specialist – not a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.

5. Create unique project pitches

With over 2 million savvy businesses on Elance-oDesk, they can spot a “copy-and-paste” proposal a mile off. Make sure that your pitches are targeted specifically to the job post for which you’re applying: show interest in the project and address its key points and challenges. Engage with the business by asking questions: it’s a great way to invite a two-way dialogue and really demonstrate that you’ve put some consideration into what the project requires.

6. Make the most of global connectivity

Web-based programmes like Google Docs, Skype and Dropbox mean that you can connect and work with businesses all over the world from the comfort of your own home. Take advantage of this and you can open a world of new opportunities. Be aware that different businesses will favour different communication methods, so be prepared to use them all whether that’s phone calls, emails, Skype chats or Google hangouts: being adaptable and responsive to your client’s preferences is key.

7. Join the PCG

The PCG is the trade association working for the interests of freelancers. It’s a great place to go for advice and assistance as well as swotting up on the rules and regulations set by the government. The PCG is also behind National Freelancer Day which will enter it’s sixth year in November.

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8. Be a Business of One

Being a freelancer means you are not just the boss, you’re also the finance team, the HR team and the administrative team – and the Head of Marketing! Luckily there are fantastic online tools available to help you along the way. For example, check out online accounting packages like FreeAgent and Crunch to take the pain out of managing your money right from the start. For marketing campaigns, Constant Contact have some great tools to make your life easier.

9. Plan your time and your future effectively

Allow yourself time each week to map out the number of hours you need to spend on each project on a weekly or daily basis. Work backwards from deadlines to ensure you’re leaving enough time to meet them. You also need to keep an eye on what’s next – don’t wait until a project is completed to try to find the next one but instead dedicate time each week to pitch for new work. Think of yourself as a business: have a plan, set yourself goals and come back to them to see what you have achieved. It’s great for motivation and will give you real purpose and drive.

10. Be honest and manage expectations

This is simple: never pitch for work you can’t complete and don’t make promises to businesses that you can’t keep. In the beginning you’re trying to impress and as a result, over-promising to win work is very common. Being realistic will serve you better in the long-term – businesses value honesty and reliability. Experienced freelancers know when to push back when a client is demanding something that isn’t achievable. Remember, businesses may set milestones that once achieved will release payment. Make sure you meet these milestones or you simply won’t get paid.

11. Ask for feedback

I can’t stress enough the value of feedback from businesses you have worked with. On Elance-oDesk we’ve made it easy for businesses to leave detailed feedback on each project. It’s a great indicator of how you’re performing and also makes a brilliant addition to any materials you send to prospective clients in the future. Businesses are more likely to trust the recommendations of other businesses than anything else – you can give yourself a big competitive advantage this way.

12. Get out of the house!

When you work from home it’s easy to get stuck behind your desk at all hours of the day. Give yourself time to switch off, not only in the evenings but during the day too. Go out for a quick walk, have a cup of tea, whatever it takes to give yourself a break. It will clear your head and allow you to focus on the task in hand. If you miss having other people around why not use a local co-working space? In London, Club Workspace have great locations across the city – or elsewhere in the country try NearDesk to find the best spot for you locally. Not only will you always have like-minded people to chat with during your coffee break but you’ll meet some great business contacts too.

And finally….remember to

13. Enjoy it!

Many freelancers say that the best thing about freelancing is doing what you love, on your own terms. Taking the plunge can be a little nerve-wracking but if you’re good at what you do and you manage your projects well it could also be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.

About the Author:
Hayley Conick is UK Country Manager for the world’s largest online workplace Elance-oDesk and has worked with start-ups, budding entrepreneurs and freelancers for the past 10 years.

Prior to this, she was a founding member of Smarta.com backed by Michael Birch and Theo Paphitis. She wrote the original business plan and spent five years building Smarta into the UK’s leading platform for small businesses. Before Smarta, Hayley Conick worked alongside tech entrepreneur Dan Wagner at internet incubator Bright Station Ventures evaluating investment ideas.

Hayley attended Christ’s College, Cambridge and holds a MA (Cantab) in History.