Step into my office… Today, it’s the beautiful seaside village of St Francis Bay. From here, I can answer my emails, work on reports and even get some design work done. Yes, freelancing does sound amazing, when put across from this point of view, but it’s not just fun and games.
Sometimes, working for yourself and having to juggle so many elements of a business makes you want to run far, far away, find a deserted piece of land with no sign of human life and stay there! Just live off the land, grow your own food (even though I totally killed a cactus once) and NEVER LOOK AT A DIGITAL SCREEN EVER AGAIN!!! But… then you remember that you would probably die within a month, so it’s better to put on your big girl panties and keep on keeping on. The cave will always be there, as a last resort.
I’ve put together a list of 6 things that nobody tells you about freelancing, based on my personal experience:
1. Success doesn’t happen overnight
When you make the decision to freelance, you should remember that it takes time to make a name for yourself and grow a stable client base. This all comes with time, hard work and continuous personal development.
My very first company started as a small side-line project to make some extra money in 2011/2012. I had been in marketing for a very short time and still had so much to learn, so my workload consisted of primarily small design jobs. This brought in little more than R1 500 a month.
It was not until April 2014 that the little side-line had grown to a point that I could live comfortably without working a second job to stay afloat. By 2015, I was making a steady 5-figure salary every month and the company had grown to include 5 staff members and some BIG clients.
It took me 4 years to hit my goals with my first company. Looking back, I have a montage of learning experiences, fuck-ups, winning ideas, tears and ah-ha moments that made it happen. Those are the things that you learn from. Don’t rush them.
2. Freelancing is not for sussies
You can kiss those 9-5 working hours goodbye! Building on the first point, success comes as a direct result of hard work.
To keep your name being passed around from company to company, you’re going to have to charm the pants off your clients until you have a steady client base. This means working until 4am to meet ridiculous deadlines, giving special discounts here and there and charming your way to a fabulous referral via word of mouth.
There will be days where you want to cry, because you haven’t slept in 48 hours, there will be months when you’re living on dry crackers and butter (and it’s not even half way through the month!) and there will be times you’re tempted to give up on your dream of becoming your own boss and go back to your old, dead-end job in that tiny cubicle next to that guy that smells like old socks… OR… you can suck it up, push through and see your little project grow into something you can be proud of.
All those tears and weeks full of stress will be worth it in the end, when you hire your first 2 staff members and kick up your heels at your very own directors’ desk.
3. Some clients SUCK!
Get contracts signed and a deposit before you start. Cash On Delivery (COD) of the final product is a must. You have no idea how many clients just “forget” to pay the little guys. It’s sad, but true.
Remember to try and get a referral and testimonial from every client you work with. Word of mouth is 60% more effective than any other form of advertising, after all…
4. Long term is the way to go
I used to be ecstatic whenever I got a little logo of flyer to design.
“A few of hundred rand extra in the bank? Yes please!”,
but then you have to find a whole punch of new clients the next month to keep the flow of money coming in.
Now, I only take these on in my free time. What you really want are those big, juicy ONGOING CONTRACTS. These make sure that you have a steady flow of work (and money) for 3months, 6 months or even a year.
As a newbie, you will make countless pitches before landing one of these, but once you do, you’re on your way to being a successful entrepreneur.
5. Location Location Location
The big city is not where the money is! Small towns offer less competition and a great untapped market. I’ve always been a small-town girl and love the sense of community that the little “dorpies” have.
Moving every 6 months or so, I have never had a problem fitting in and picking up new clients… Until I moved to Durban… 4 months of delivering kick-ass pitches to exciting companies (who seemed just as excited about my pitch), only to find out in a follow up call, that they have gone with a more established marketing or advertising agency.
Research the competition in your area before you decide to jump in head first.
6. It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know
Networking is always an important part of marketing yourself and your services. My first move, in any new town, is to hit the local libraries for community events or Google business networking events in the area. Once you’re in with the community, your name gets passed around pretty quickly and those calls will be rolling in in no time!
There you have it. My little pearls of wisdom from what I’ve learned so far. I’d love to read your comments, questions or personal stories below, so feel free to leave your 2 cents or get in touch for a chat.