Controlling your own income sounds like an attractive benefit to becoming a freelancer, but securing long-term clients and making money can be awkward and hard to manage, longtime freelancers say.
Robyn Davis Sekula and Dana Neuts reveal five things they wish they knew before becoming freelancers.
Having strong multimedia skills and an impressive resume are expected, Neuts says. With the high number of freelancers looking for gigs, selling yourself as a unique candidate with unique credentials sets you apart.
“There’s plenty of competition out there, so I have to convince (editors) to choose me,” Neuts says. “I’ve had to really come out of myself and display confidence.”
Sekula and Neuts have portfolio websites to show work samples and list their freelance services. Sekula says a website is more about displaying work than drawing traffic.
“A website is a place where you park your best work and send people to it,” she says. “You probably won’t rise to the top of search engines and get jobs that way. That’s not the point.”
Once you’re an established freelancer, a fair rate is $1 or $2 per word, and exceptions should only be made based on the client’s reputation and the opportunity, Neuts says.
“If you’re getting something out of it – whether a clip, a paycheck or exposure – then it’s worth doing,” she adds. “If Vogue approaches me, I’d probably do it for free.”
Sekula disagrees, and says larger companies should actually pay more because they have more resources.
“I tell people not to work for free at all; it devalues your work,” she says.
Upon acceptance of a job, Neuts says she sends clients a two-page agreement that outlines the terms in writing. She follows-up with clients immediately after completion to confirm payment.
“In 13 years I only had two clients that didn’t pay me, so I took both to collections and got paid,” she says.
Sekula has a corporate business name and a business checking account to manage expenses and pay taxes. Neuts files an individual tax form through the IRS, which details her annual income and expenses.
Zinn recommends using an accounting app called Wave, which helps freelancers manage invoicing, accounting, payroll and payments.
Stay ahead of technology
Media companies and corporate clients expect freelancers to be technology-savvy and active social media users, Sekula says.
Neuts says freelancers should use their social profiles to show their expertise and diverse interests.
“There are some publications that want to know how big my social media audience is,” she says. “They expect me to share my writing.”
Second chances are highly unlikely if a deadline is missed or if clients aren’t happy, Sekula and Neuts say.
“A gracious exit is always a good thing,” Sekula says. “It is far easier to let a contract person go, then a staff member.”
Neuts suggests asking clients for a firm deadline date, specific explanations for a project and freelance policies before starting work.
“You need to meet or exceed expectations every time,” she says. “I need to make sure the client is taken care of and our mutually expectations are managed.”
Communicate well and often
Sekula and Neuts say they stay in touch with clients throughout the year, even if they’re not actively working on a project. They say building a long-term relationship helps companies remember you when a specific topic comes up.
“When they have 10 or 20 freelancers, you want to keep reminding them of you,” Neuts says. “You want to be accessible for them to contact.”