If you're a freelancer, you're not just an employee...you're the CEO of your own organization, the president of your own brand! And even scarier, you're the entire PR department for your business.
So how do you succeed in all these roles AND manage to work on projects you love? Copy from the professionals! Meet Julia Thiel, one of Artisan's talented, successful freelancers who has been working in Chicago for years. She's managed to meld passion and project using these 10 pieces of advice.
How to Succeed as a Freelancer
1. Stay in People's Minds
When you leave a full-time job, after a while people forget you exist. Connect with everyone you know on LinkedIn and other social networks. Post interesting content, write blogs, newsletters, or just retweet cool stuff. Don't let it overwhelm you, but try to remind everyone that you're out there, interested in creative endeavors, and available for work.
2. Be Nice and Helpful
When agencies hire freelancers, usually they are fresh out of internal resources. This often means you're entering a stressful situation with tight deadlines and an overworked team. Everyone will appreciate you if you manage to alleviate the stress not only by being there working, but bringing some optimism and cheerfulness, offering to help wherever you can. After all, you get paid by the hour, and you can take vacations whenever you want to. Enough reason to smile?
3. Be a Breath of Fresh Air
Agencies don't hire freelancers to see the same old same old stuff. Don't be afraid to push the limits a bit to show different approaches, even outlandish ideas as an extra bonus alongside a more traditional approach. As freelancers, we don't have the same baggage as many long-term employees. We don't have that little voice in our heads that tells us what we can't do, or who doesn't like what color. As a result, we sometimes open new lines of thinking.
4. Know Your Worth
You're no charity. Unless you can afford to do charitable work, of course. But for the rest of us, keep in mind that everyone (you and your clients) loses if you go out of business. So learn to say no to gigs that won't pay the going rate for your level of expertise, don't be afraid to ask for more money, and be sure to give yourself a small raise each year or so.
5. Learn to Say No
You and your client, or the project, are entering what could be a long-term relationship. You have to like each other, and the work. Otherwise it will be a struggle — and no good creative results come from that. So make sure a project is a good fit for you. You're in charge of your assignments now, and that's a blessing. You get to cherry pick!
6. Allow Yourself to Panic
Every so often, work slows down, all of your contacts say there's no work in sight, and you think "this is it, back to full-time work." I have this thought probably at least once a year. But somehow, something always comes along. You just have to ask around*, and not give up easily.
7. Have a Rainy Day Fund
For getting started, and for those times when you think you won't find work ever again. I'd recommend six months worth of living expenses.
8. Don't Specialize
I have heard again and again that I should find a niche and specialize and capitalize on that. Unless you want to start a big business, my recommendation is the opposite.
If you're like me, you get bored easily, and you need exciting and inspiring projects, not the same thing every day for the next umpteen years. So do a little bit of everything. In my opinion that makes for a much more versatile, and much less bored creative person.
9. Pursue any Silly Idea
Learn new things...stay creative. It's up to you how much work you want/need to take on, but I have allowed myself much more free time since I started freelancing, and I've used that time to learn lots of new things and explore all kinds of creative alleys.
Sing bluegrass? Yes! Take a photography course? Of course! Design fabric patterns? Why not? Start writing a book, and realize you've run out of steam after two chapters. Oh well, it was still fun! And of course there are always new programs to learn. Somehow that's more fun, too, when it's your own decision to do so.
10. Embrace the Unknown
As in love, there are no guarantees in freelancing. Sure, sometimes you get a contract for a while, but in the end, you're on your own. You're the first to go when budgets get tight. No one is contributing to your health insurance** (unless you're married, of course).
It's definitely an adventure, but thankfully more and more the norm, and there are great support systems out there. You're free-ish! Enjoy it and take lots of vacations.
Julia Thiel (pronounced yoolia teal) hails originally from Munich, Germany, and has worked mainly in book advertising and in Chicago works in pharma/healthcare. She has won several awards in both industries, but refuses to specialize. In exchange for an interesting assignment, she offers relentless enthusiasm, good humor, unwavering dedication through a project's end, and maybe... just maybe...homemade banana bread.
*Editor's note: Check out Artisan's open jobs here.
**Editor's Note: Artisan proudly offers benefits, including health insurance, to qualifying freelancers. Talk to your Talent Rep for more details.