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career 8 min read

How to be a successful freelancer

By USQ 11 Apr 2019
Studying outside at park bench with laptop, phone, pencils and headphones

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One way of working that is becoming increasingly more common in the modern workforce is freelancing. But what does it take to be successful?

If you’ve done your research and understand the pros and cons associated with freelance work, you’re probably wondering A: how to get started on pursuing a freelance career, and B: how to be successful. To help answer these questions, we thought it would be helpful to share tips and advice from people who are currently working as freelancers as well as from the career professionals in USQ’s Careers and Employability team.

How to get started as a freelancer

So, you’ve decided that freelancing could work for you. The next question, then, is: ‘Where do I start?

There are a number of things you’ll need to organise before you start contacting potential clients, such as getting an Australian Business Number (ABN) and Tax File Number (TFN), deciding on the hours you want to work, your rate of pay, and setting goals and timelines to give you direction. You’ll also need to organise legal documents such as contracts, email accounts and your own website so you can get the word out about your business.

As more and more people get into the business of creating and taking freelance jobs online, you will come across many people who work for free. As a result, some employers may expect you to work for free. Don’t undervalue the work you can do or the skills you and other freelancers have by selling yourself short, even if you are new to the world of freelancing. Be aware of minimum rates of pay for your industry and remember that if you have quality skills, you’ll be able to get quality jobs, even if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you may have expected or as fast as it could happen if you sold yourself short.

The importance of networking

With so many things to organise, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. The advice and feedback you can gain from fellow entrepreneurs will be invaluable when you’re just starting out, so get in touch with local start-up groups, co-working spaces, and local business associations to find mentors and networks you can tap into. USQ careers and employability expert Lou Bromley explains that ‘connecting with other businesses in your local area or industry is essential; not just to get or bid for work, but also to regularly discuss business issues and opportunities. Networking for social contact is also valuable as freelance work can be very socially isolating’.

So, how do you establish an effective network that will help you find success as a freelancer? These are Lou’s top three tips:

  1. Search for business groups and networks in your local area; for example, a business networking breakfast that meets each month. Your local Chamber of Commerce is an excellent starting point to make connections, as well as joining and participating in professional associations.
  2. Social media is a key tool that will help you keep your network updated and is also a great way to find new networks. LinkedIn is useful for industry groups and forums, as are Facebook and Instagram. Follow influencers in your industry of choice via Twitter. Facebook community groups in particular are useful – many small businesses advertise freelance work via community pages and groups as they want to support other local businesses.
  3. Visit the AusTender website for announcements of tender rounds.
Networking for social contact is also valuable as freelance work can be very socially isolating.
Author profile image of Lou

Why you need an online portfolio

Do you need an online portfolio as a freelance worker? And what exactly is an online portfolio?

Online portfolios are similar to résumés, cover letters and in-person networking in that they are another way for you to promote yourself to potential employers and clients. Think of an online portfolio as evidence that you can do the work you want to be hired to do: it should showcase examples of work you have previously completed, as well as a little bit about who you are, why potential clients should work with you and your contact details. Depending on your field or industry, what your online platform will look like and the types of information you include may vary.

Here are Lou’s top three tips for developing an online portfolio that will help you get freelance work:

  1. At the very least, use social media to promote examples of your work, and testimonials from clients. Regularly update your social media channels to keep engaging your audience.
  2. You can also build a simple and effective website to showcase your work, especially if it is visual or audio-based. (WordPress, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly are just a few of the platforms out there that are free or low cost.)
  3. For some industries (like writing and editing, or workshop-based freelance work), you may want to consider building a newsletter list and send your subscribers regular updates about events, special offers, or information about the work you are doing.
Statistic - 70% of Australians younger than 34 are open to using a digital talent platform to source income within the next year

How to find freelance work: Tips from freelancers in different industries

Alix is in the final year of her Master of Arts (Editing and Publishing) degree and works as a freelance editor, in addition to juggling a full-time job and family. As a freelance editor, Alix has her own business website and uses Facebook groups, LinkedIn and UpWork to find jobs, but she also keeps in touch with other industry professionals who do similar work, so that if they are ever too busy to complete particular jobs, she can pick these up (win, win).

Phoebe is a freelance project manager. While Phoebe tried websites like CloudPeeps and The Loop, she found that she didn’t really get any work from them. Instead, she made an effort to go out and find her own work. She says, ‘I hustle. Hard. I first started building my writing portfolio when I worked full-time in an un-related job. I used that small portfolio to get a job at a marketing agency, where I worked part-time. The agency was boutique, so as long as I didn’t work with competitive clients, I was fine to build up my own small client list on the side. When I moved to Toowoomba at the beginning of 2017, I took it as an opportunity to go fully freelance and leave my job.

‘I’m only now at a place, after a couple of years, where work comes to me. Otherwise, I reach out to brands I love and let them know what I do and how I could help them. I also make sure I do a good job and leave all my clients happy, because word of mouth is critical’.

Word of mouth is critical.
Author profile image of Phoebe

Tips for pitching to prospective freelance clients

As they are currently working as successful freelancers themselves, Alix and Phoebe share their top tips for pitching to prospective new clients.

Alix’s tips

  • Be genuine, open, and approachable.
  • Decide what your point of difference is.
  • Work out what your time is worth.
  • Don’t assume that everyone will know what the terminology you are using means, but don’t be condescending when you explain things.
  • Be reliable and polite, always.
  • If you don’t have an answer to your client’s questions, be upfront about it, and do everything you can to find the answers in a reasonable timeframe.
  • Get a signed quote or contract for every job.
  • Showcase what makes you stand out – your point of difference is your greatest asset.
Your point of difference is your greatest asset.
Author profile image of Alix

Phoebe’s tips

  • Make sure you have a portfolio of similar work (if you did it for free, it doesn’t matter; no-one knows that).
  • Send a short, polite email that has a bit of personality, and always make sure it’s completely customised to the business you’re pitching to.

Lou’s advice is to remember that ‘it takes time to build a business as well as a network of clients – it’s often quoted it can take up to six months to develop your business and key relationships before you get jobs’.

It’s also important to remember that as an aspiring freelance worker, you are going to experience rejection. Not every pitch will land you a job, but that’s ok. After all, JK Rowling was rejected nine times before Harry Potter was accepted for publication. Rejection when pitching to potential clients doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad, but you can use the experience to further refine your pitch. Try different things, be authentic, professional and personable, and eventually you’ll get a lead that will signal the start of your freelance career.

Looking for more advice to help you get started on your freelance career? Get in touch with the USQ Careers and Employability team for more information and advice.

For help creating the perfect pitch, you can also check out these 8 tips from Thankyou’s Sarah Prescott and learn how to develop a strong elevator pitch for career success. You can also learn more about this topic by visiting USQ’s entrepreneurship website.
Banner - Freelance without fear

Resources:

Chung, F. (2015). Australia’s freelance economy grows to 4.1 million workers, study finds. News.com.au. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/australias-freelance-economy-grows-to-41-million-workers-study-finds/news-story/629dedfaea13340797c68822f4f2a469