A lot of people have been asking us what it takes to make it as a successful freelancer in this city. So we asked one of the top freelance writers in Denver to tell us what he’s done to carve out such an enviable position. Here’s what he told us.
They say some advice isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, and this thing’s virtual, so be careful.
I started freelancing right out of college, quite by accident. A friend had a friend whose rich dad had set him up in business, he manufactured rifle safes, and his safes were so much burlier than the competition’s, yours truly wrote a brochure, in which yours truly also decided to include a big old comparison chart, right there where everybody could see all the damn…comparisons…were backwards. I hadn’t proofread it. So my client refused to pay me.
Rule #1 – hire a proofreader
Rule #2 – learn about Small Claims Court (after all, he looked at it before it went to the printer too)
With my first, albeit temporarily delayed check for $300 in the bank, I decided, “This freelance writing stuff is for me.” I needed to promote myself, so I put together a simple letter and sent it to a bunch of agencies. I positioned myself as an overflow guy, didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes, just offered help on an as-needed basis. I followed up a few days later with a call to each agency. And got work.
Rule #3 – decide how you want to position yourself
Rule #4 – don’t expect your brilliant promo piece to make the phone ring all by itself – these people are busy
Rule #3, in my possibly worthless virtual opinion, is continually ignored by creatives looking for freelance work (or full time jobs for that matter). You must approach yourself as a product for sale. Write yourself a brief if you have to. Figure out where you fit in. “I’m the best designer you’ve ever seen, plus I’ve got a sweet haircut” may be a position, but it’s not necessarily a successful one. Your demonstration of the fact that you understand this business starts with how you promote yourself.
My overflow positioning strategy wasn’t glamorous, but it was accurate at that time in my career, and it got me into a lot of doors. Which got me busy enough to learn more rules about freelancing.
Rule #5 – there’s no traffic person to berate you into meeting the deadline
Rule #6 – agencies hate hearing, “I need more time” even more than their clients
Rule #7 – billing sucks
Rule #8 – know how to respond to the internally-created question, “Hey, where’s my check?”
Numbers 5 and 6 are a team. So are 7 and 8. As for deadlines, if you’re disciplined, or can learn to be, you’ll make a great freelancer. If not, it’s certain doom. Don’t even try. Go work for an agency, or better yet, on the client side. Otherwise, don’t ask for more time. Figure out how long it’s going to take, agree to a deadline and stick with it. You’ll get a reputation for being a pro. Okay sometimes you can ask to stretch 5:00 pm to 8:00 am. But if they say “no,” you’d better just get on your little horsey.
Then there’s the money. Very appealing stuff. When you freelance, you cut out the middle man. You get the retail price. No one’s marking up your hopefully on-time talent. But you’ve got to be on the financial ball, bill early, bill often is the mantra. And yes, sometimes, you’ll have to ask your clients, respectfully please, to pay you. But unless you get involved with certain dubious characters, I can offer a relatively high amount of assurance that you will get paid. I’ve only been stiffed twice, each time it was by some dolt starting a business and promising, “If you give me a deal now, there’ll be a lot more work once I’m able to move this operation out of the back seat of my car.”
Rule #9 – don’t work for people who say, “If you give me a deal now, there’ll be a lot more work once I’m able to move this operation out of the back seat of my car.”
Okay, that’s it for today. I’ve got to go do some billing.
Next time, if there is a next time, once you get work, how do you charge?