Freelancers are known for having a passion for their craft and the ability to get the job done without bosses looking over their shoulders. But while talent and discipline are key elements, they are by no means the only ones needed for success.
“Many freelancers think that they will get to do what they love 100 percent of the time, but the opposite is almost true,” says Susie Ghahremani, a freelance illustrator from San Diego. “Since you are essentially running a one-person business, you have to be prepared to wear many hats.”
Adds Julie Heidelberg, owner of a public relations firm in Tampa, Fla., “In my world, there is an ‘I’ in ‘team’ — especially when you are the entire team. You’re the secretary, the accountant, the president, the janitor, the marketing rep … You do it all.”
Among the issues that come with the territory for freelancers:
Finding your own work
Freelancers are job seekers. They often spend time scouting job boards and niche websites for opportunities. They network within their field and outside of it, making anyone and everyone aware of what they have to offer. They get their name out there, by passing out business cards at conferences and setting up a website.
“Without marketing as a freelancer, you’re sunk,” says Darrell Gurney, a career coach and author of “Backdoor Job Search: Never Apply for a Job Again!” “Your paycheck depends on people hiring you. People hiring you depends on being known. Being known depends on finding interesting, innovative and incessant ways to connect with folks all the time.”
For many freelancers, self-promotion is challenging. Notes Amanda Lee Anderson, a Chicago-based freelance designer and Web developer, “I’m not always comfortable talking about myself and my work because I’m an introvert by nature, but that’s something I’ve had to really push myself to get better at since going freelance full-time. I need to be able to sound confident and be articulate about why I’m the one for the job.”
Organizing a business
From securing health insurance to making sure the printer has ink, freelancers are responsible for tasks often delegated to others in the workplace.
Some areas that a freelancer might need to read up on or get outside help with include:
- Taxes: home-office deductions, qualified business expenses, proper forms to file, estimated quarterly payments to avoid penalties.
- Legal: contracts, copyright, dealing with deadbeat clients.
- Finance: bookkeeping, accounting, invoicing, setting up a retirement account, monitoring inventory.
- Technology: backing up information, installing and operating software.
- Continuing education: staying on top of industry trends, updating skills.
Securing space and time to work
While much of the appeal of freelancing is a flexible schedule, the bottom line is that work needs to get done. This may involve making sure the kids understand what it means when the door to the den is closed, establishing a corner of a room solely as your territory or heading to the local library.
“The majority of people do not understand that freelancing is a job, not just a hobby that allows you to stay home in your yoga pants,” says freelance writer Cynthia Drake of Mount Pleasant, Mich. “You’ll need to educate your friends and family by maintaining a fairly strict schedule, even if it means frequently saying ‘no’ to requests for coffee dates and favors since ‘you’re at home anyway.'”
But there is also a flip side — keeping your work life from overwhelming your non-work life. As career information author Laurence Shatkin cautions, “Because your income depends on the amount of work you get, you face a constant temptation to put in just a few more hours, to check your email a few more times during the evening and to take on one more project because you don’t know whether you’ll have any luck next month.”
Finding inner strength
Finally, it is important to remember that freelancing is not easy. New freelancers and veterans alike report moments of doubt when they wonder if they have what it takes to handle the challenges.
“What I really think it takes [to be successful] is a lot of inner strength,” says Kristen Fischer, author of “Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs.” “You need a lot of strength to follow your inner compass while also being practical and being able to make the bills. You need to have that strength so you can continue when you ‘break up’ with a client, get frustrated when you realize you’re not treated as well as employees or when you have to politely ask [again] for that check to be sent.”
And if you discover freelancing isn’t your calling, you need to have the strength to choose a new path.
By Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder