In the wake of the recession, many people have taken on independent work: a recent study found that 53 million Americans, or one in three workers, are engaged in some sort of freelancing. Whether you just can't find a good paying position, you need to take on a side job to cover additional expenses or pay for some luxuries, or you're just seeking a way to become more self-reliant, start with these dos and don'ts:
1. Do use YOUR strengths. You're more likely to be successful – both in selling yourself to prospective clients and in the actual work itself – by focusing on skills you're confident in using. Just because you've heard that someone is making a fortune in a given field doesn't mean that you will, too. Take an inventory of what you have to offer, as well as what you really don't. You may want to define a clear niche or provide more diversified services, but you can't be everything to everyone. A prospective client may be more impressed with knowing you are an expert in a specific area than in finding you are spreading yourself thin as a jack of all trades and master of none.
2. Do write out some kind of business plan. Having a clear snapshot of your goals, ideas, elevator pitch, and marketing strategies will make it easier to stay focused and come up with the next steps. Developing a timeline that includes milestones can help you gauge your success and stay on track through the rough spots. As a freelancer, you will have dry spells and rainy seasons, so establishing set check-in dates can give you a better sense of how you are doing in the big picture.
3. Do treat it like a "real" job. Dress professionally when meeting with prospective and existing clients, even if it's a small project and there's no expected dress code - image counts. Create a calendar for yourself and block out chunks of time that you will spend on different tasks – especially the ones you might be inclined to procrastinate on. If you tend to prefer email to phone calls, schedule a couple of hours a week specifically to make calls so that you don't risk losing business with clients who want to hear your voice.
3. Do make business cards for yourself and carry them with you everywhere you go. Opportunities to hand them out will appear as soon as you are prepared to do so. Be sure to have a dedicated email address that you use only for freelance work, and consider setting up a dedicated phone number so you don't have to give your personal number to total strangers (there are plenty of cheap or even free options, including VOIP services and Google Voice).
4. Don't stagnate. Successful entrepreneurs are always asking themselves how they can get to the next level. Seek out ways to expand your horizons and push yourself to grow – read books written by experts in your field, study what your competitors are doing, look to collaborate with someone you respect, sign up for a professional development class…. It's OK if you investigate options that you decide not to pursue, but it's critical that you know what's out there.
5. Don't overspend up front. It's true that sometimes you'll need to make significant investments in order to get a business off the ground, but too many aspiring entrepreneurs get excited and make purchases before they're actually needed. Do you really need a whole new wardrobe or will one great outfit be enough to get started? Can you teach yourself some SEO techniques and spend extra time building out a strong social media presence instead of simply paying for advertising? Is there someone you can borrow or rent expensive equipment from before committing to a major purchase?
6. Don't forget to track your expenses - and don't forget about taxes! It can be a huge blow the first time you realize exactly how much you don't get to keep. Talk to an accountant about what you should be paying in estimated quarterly federal and state taxes, any city taxes, and what you can (and can't) write off.