Experts are projecting that up to 43 percent of workers will be part of the gig economy by 2020, and with good reason–freelancing both can make up needed income and lets you be your own boss. If you’re considering freelancing on the side or even making gigs your full-time thing, adopting these five essential rules as your daily mantra can help you stay happy as you meet your goals.
1. You’re not available 24/7.
When you’re trying to establish yourself and win new clients, it’s very easy to try to get on their good side through increased availability. After all, the age of working 9 to 5 is gone, people are used to on-demand, and part of the lure of freelancing is the ability to work at any time. The trouble is, the way you respond sets a precedent. If you tell them you can have the project they emailed to you late at night done by the morning, for example, you’re sending the message you don’t clock out and that they don’t have to wait for anything else that might be on your calendar. You end up dealing with those late-night requests over and over again. That might fly if you’re only working with a few people, but it’s not at all sustainable once you have a good client base. You can be flexible with when you work, but set clear, realistic boundaries from the get-go so you don’t get overwhelmed, become stressed or perform less than your best.
Something else to consider here is the fact that you will need to spend time with administration. The standard 40-hour week thus easily can balloon to 50, 60 or more. If you only have X hours, allot for this administration time when you’re figuring out which projects to accept and how much to charge.
2. Be picky about the work you take.
In any good business, executives have a fantastic concept of what they want to accomplish and what they want the company to be and become. Unfortunately, freelancers often compromise. In the quest for a full calendar that pays the bills, they stop being visionaries and consider pay rate more than the impact or enjoyment of the project. They also sometimes look the other way when they encounter questionable ethics. Not surprisingly, they get unhappier and sacrifice a little of who they are with every paycheck. Figure out your principles and set goals just like any CEO would. The Internet-based, global, social media way of doing business means there are thousands of good clients out there with high standards, values and opportunities to give back, provided you’re willing to look.
3. Get organized.
When projects start flying, you need to be able to see how much is on your plate and what the status is of everything. Find a good all-in-one application that allows you to combine calendar, alert, to-do and communication functionalities. Automate as much as possible. Don’t pretend you’ll remember it all, because you won’t.
4. Admit it when you don’t know.
Most clients respond incredibly well to “I’m happy to look into that for you”, “Let me research that” or “I’m interested in finding the answer.” What they don’t appreciate is finding out too late that you’re not truly equipped, either in understanding or skill, to do the task they’re asking you to do. Just communicate instead of trying to give the impression of constant perfection. Tap experts you know for information, and if you know someone who’s a better fit, say you’d like to help through a referral. Don’t take on work unless you know you can help! Clients will appreciate the honesty and still will keep you in their network because of it.
A huge myth about freelancing is that it’s impossible to budget, as project availability can vary. The reality is that you simply have to have some data first. First, a basic rule is, don’t quit your day job until you have a solid client base. So start by creating a solid budget just based on your regular income. Then track what you earn freelancing for at least six months to find the range of what you’re realistically able to bring in on the side. Track the hours you spent freelancing, as well. This will help you figure out whether it’s possible to increase your freelancing to the point where you can work at a day job part time or not at all.
Regardless of whether you freelance on the side or full time, once you have a concept of what you usually earn based on the hours you’re able to put in, take the low end of your freelance earnings range to create a new, revised budget. If you sometimes earn more than usual, set the money aside for months that aren’t as stellar. If you are consistently earning more, simply recalculate the freelance income range and tweak the budget based on what you see.