Freelancing is booming. In just 3 years from now, 83% of people will be working as freelancers. They’ll do it from home, from coworking spaces or as digital nomads, travelling the world while working. That’s my goal anyway! Ok, I’ve made that percentage up (kudos to the Barney Stinson fans!) but there is a ton of truth in this first paragraph of this article.
I started my freelancing year as I do every time: with a scare. I was down in the dumps waiting for my clients to resume work. Fearing it’s all over. That I have to start once again from scratch. Scared about how I’ll never make as much money as I did in 2019, or 2018, or even 2017. But my gut told me to keep it cool and, a few days later, I have as much work as I can take.
By the way, I’m booked all the way through August and can only take very small projects if you’re interested in my services. But enough about me! We’re here to talk about you, young freelancer, and how you can make it as a creator of digital things in 2020. A year filled with opportunities for newcomers and also riddled with great scores for you mammoths out there. These 7 tips are for you both.
How to make it as a freelancer in 2020? It’s all about knowledge, speed, finding the right clients, personal branding and keeping your prices up. Yes, UP! Here we go:
1. Be very good at what you do
Many people will find other ways to be good at the things that they do. Besides actually being good at what they do. Cheating only takes you so far. Lie today and you might not get caught. But lie every day and eventually, you’ll lose everything. In freelancing, the most important tip I can give you is to be the best you can be at whatever it is that you’re doing.
Being good is not enough. You have to be very good or great in order to make it through 2020. Demand is huge, but so is the supply. And the people out there? The ones who’ve given up on their steady, benefits-filled and impressive corporate jobs in order to become freelancers? Those people are very good! Great! Which means you can only go so far if you’re just average, or good.
How to tell if you’re very good or great at what you do? Ask yourself this simple question: “Would I hire yourself, and pay myself money, if I were to hire myself for the most important project of my life?”
If the answer is “no” or “maybe”, and if you’re honest enough, then you’re not ready for this. You need to practice some more. If the answer is “yes”, and you’re being honest, and therefore really good at what you do, then you’re going to make it through 2020 with little effort other than actually putting in the work that you need to.
2. Niche your services
When I started out as a freelancer, I wanted to do everything. I thought coding wasn’t that hard, creating websites was possible during lunch breaks and even designing a logo was nothing more than just opening Canva and putting together something. Boy, was I wrong!
Regardless of how good you are at the many topics you can work on in your career, a very important step forward for you to make in 2020 is to niche your services down to a handful. Find 5 things in your domain that you’re good at, and stick with them. If you’re a writer, you can’t be a designer in your free time. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re a good writer, then you’re a good writer.
Sure, you can offer 5 types of writing services, creative work, technical writing, blog articles, email templates and ghostwriting for books. That’s what I do. But I don’t also do the design for those book covers. Or for those blogs where the articles will get published. I’m a writer who can write in many domains, but I keep it around 5 main topics and that’s that.
I get better and better at those and, instead of being known as “just another good writer”, people will know me as “that amazing blog articles writer” or “that crazy good ghostwriter from where Dracula was born!” Niche, find your niche.
3. Find your “whales”
Clients are important in freelancing. Finding the right clients is the biggest secret of the job. No matter what’s the domain in which you activate. Clients can make or break you. Find one too many bad clients and you might get discouraged, financially unstable or even downright depressed. If you’re not careful, it is extremely easy to do so.
But find the right clients and you are in for the treat of your life. You will never feel like you’re actually working. It will feel like you’re playing a game every time you put in the work for your bucks. When a client is willing to stay with you for over a year, when he trusts you enough to pay you in advance and when he speaks to you like he is your friend, that’s when you know you’ve got yourself a whale.
Whales are those clients that pay good money, are extremely understanding and appreciative of your work and you can count on. I’ll be honest: it has now been four years since I’ve started this and I only gathered three whales on my side. But man, those clients? Those are the best clients any freelancer can dream for!
How to find your own whales? Well… you don’t. You can’t. Whales find you. People will eventually discover you, just because, after you’ve put in enough underpaid hours and incredible projects. They will sense you and stick with you and pay you what you’re worth. It pays to be honest and ask for what you think you’re worth, but the truth is, whales will simply pay you because they know they want you for them for a long time.
Do amazing stuff, be great with every project no matter how small or big, how financially great or bad, and the whales will eventually send you the email that will forever change your life.
4. Don’t ignore freelancing sites
After so many years in the business, it’s natural that I’ve gathered a handful of buddies that work as freelancers too. One idea is common between all of them. And that is, freelancing sites suck nowadays. And they’re not wrong, but not right either. The truth is, freelancing sites have their merit and can sometimes help even the most independent freelancer on planet Earth.
With freelancing, you’re never sure of anything. Even whales can go broke or simply end their projects and leave you off. It’s normal, that’s how life, even the professional one, works. When that happens, when you’re left with no gigs, sites like Upwork, Fiverr or PeoplePerHour are no bad guys anymore. They’re potential life-savers. It’s those sites, or back to the 9-to-5 job.
Ignoring freelancing sites is wrong. I still have my Upwork profile up and running and get at least a few clients per year from there. If you’re just starting out, it is 100% worth it to invest your time and effort into growing a profile there. Maybe on Fiverr too. Just stick to applying for those jobs you’re qualified to do. If you’re not, and just going for it out of despair, you’ll not make it far.
5. Make time and money management a top priority
Freelancers are not only the workers of their own enterprises but also their bosses and accountants. When you’re freelancing, you’re doing everything on your own. You want a vacation? A raise? Some new benefits? Wanna whiten your teeth? Wanna go to Egypt to see the pyramids? Well, if you manage your time and money right, you can do all of them!
When it comes to managing time as a freelancer, the most common mistake people make is not scheduling their next day in a serious manner. They just wing it. And it’s never working for them. The freedom of freelancing is not about doing whatever you want, whenever you want. The freedom of freelancing is all about being able to schedule your work exactly the way you want. Not skipping it, but having COMPLETE CONTROL over it.
Money management? Never overspend on stupid stuff. Never overdo it with anything that’s not essential until you have enough money that it doesn’t matter. Always, ALWAYS put a part of your income away for slow weeks, months, and years. ALWAYS! And surely, splurge a little on those areas of life that make you happy. Travel to someplace new. Buy that jacket. Go to that expensive restaurant. Enjoy your money. But do it wisely. That’s all it is with finances.
6. Go Brand Yourself!
Freelancing is all about personal branding done right. It’s 2020, for God’s sake! If you’re not on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and even that TikTok thing, what are you doing? You don’t have your own website? Who’s going to take you seriously? Would you take yourself seriously, should you hire yourself? The same question pops up again and again. And it’s such an important one!
Brand yourself like you’re the best person to do the job. Have a simple, modern, intuitive website where all the information is clearly displayed and all text is flawlessly written. If you don’t know how to do it, hire someone. Hire me, I can help! But make sure the site looks awesome. That your Instagram, Facebook and whatever other social media channel you’re using are stylish and creative. And that you are something people want, not just need.
7. Less is more… money
Never underpay yourself as a freelancer. If your client is fine with giving that other guy the project because he’s taking it at half the price, that is not your client. After you’ve made up your mind about your hourly price, stand by it no matter what. Less is more. Even if you have a dry week or even a bad month, eventually you’ll land on that project that will make up for it all.
I underpaid myself for a year. It was so tough, I couldn’t even put gas in my car. I was broke, miserable and ready to quit. Why? Because I was doing $50 worth of work for $5. Every single day. It drained me, but the projects were so many and so poorly paid, it never occurred to me to simply say no to them and wait for that project that will eventually make sense to me financially.
One day, I woke up.
I realised I am worth so much more. 5 times more. 10 times more! And I asked for that price. Explaining why I was asking for $50 per hour. Letting people know and see I’m very good at what I do. Great, even. And you know what? People loved it! And they paid me what I was asking for, appreciating my work and sticking with me for years.
And that’s how I’ll be going about freelancing in 2020 and the years ahead. I wish you a productive year and may you find your niche, your whales and enjoy the money that you make whichever way you want. While putting a little to the side for rough times. It’s a smart thing to do. Trust me.