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In this course, author and seasoned freelancer Tom Geller shows you how to prepare for a transition to freelancing. Begin by taking a look at your career goals, the systems that will support you, and proper ways to plan for success. Find out how to marshal your resources, refine your portfolio for presentation to clients, and estimate your costs to avoid any surprises on the financial front. Plus, discover how to create invoices, manage your books and taxes, expand your client base with marketing, and grow your business.
A bonus chapter covers common questions freelancers have when entering the field.
My name is Tom Geller and I've come in to answer some questions that members have sent in in response to my Freelancing Fundamentals course. I've been a writer and editor for about twenty years, off and on as a freelancer, and here are some of those questions. I think that there are two things that you have to watch out for, especially in your first year. The first is that it's going to take you awhile before you start making enough money to support yourself. So, be either well-funded enough or have somebody who could support you or be working another job or something like that. I guess, don't expect that big break immediately where everyone is going to be flocking to you.
The other thing is I would say, sort of along the same lines, start small. Start getting used to taking in small amounts of money. Start used to doing the whole process, getting the job, doing the job, getting the money. I think a lot of people when they start out really are thinking in terms of, there's this big splash I want to make. I'm going to be the biggest thing in town. Well, that may eventually happen, but you're going to have to first do it step by step. So I would say, again, be realistic about where you're going and how to get there.
I really like being able to work whenever and wherever I want. In fact, this time around, starting in 2006, that was pretty much my motivation for freelancing. I had just come off of a contract where I was traveling, and it was a great contract. I'd been doing it for like a year and a half. I said, you know what, I never want to go into an office again. So I started writing, and I started traveling on my own dime this time, but I started traveling and working from libraries and cafes, wherever I was and so on, and it's exactly what I want.
It really is the right lifestyle for me. Now, quite honestly, it's not going to be the lifestyle for everybody. Some people start freelancing and then realize, I need to have a set schedule. I need to have a set office, and all that sort of thing, but the good news is you can do that if you want. You can rent an office. You can get up every morning at 8 o'clock and so on. I like not doing that. It's kind of an embarrassing story and it was before I started writing and doing all that sort of thing. My degree is actually in music.
While I was at the conservatory, they came in for auditions, as a lot of places do, and this was for one particular summer event. I sang and they said, well, it's not quite right. We're really looking for operatic singers, but we need a bassist for the jazz band. Do you play bass? I said, yeah, sort of, because I could get around it. I wasn't really a bass player, but I said, yeah, sure and they said, great! They didn't even listen to me. They said, great! We need you. You're hired. Come out and do it. I got there and I discovered, I couldn't keep up, and it was the most awkward time in my entire life.
So I guess what I took away from that is you should have confidence in yourself as a person, but be realistic about your abilities, and don't try to do something that's really out of your league. They'll remember you as someone who did a bad job, and you'll just feel terrible. The first thing I'd say is to expect it to happen eventually, that somebody is either going to not pay you or try not to pay you or whatever. Over the years, what I've found is your best defense is a good offense. Start from the beginning of the job, making them know that they're going to be paying you, with a letter of agreement, a contract that spells out, not only how much, but when and so on.
I usually say, payment is due for this amount within thirty days of the completion of the job, or however it's phrased. Then make sure that you can say when the completion of the job is. Otherwise, it could just go on for a while. Also, be prepared, if you have to, to be aggressive with them. Now, fortunately, I haven't had to do that for years, and what you may find is what I found, that the longer I'm in the business, the less I have to deal with such people. But when you get started out, you're going to be dealing with smaller clients who maybe aren't used to dealing with a freelancer.
So having that contract is good, making it clear is good, and also having an invoice. Just by sending an invoice that's saying, this is a real obligation; you can't get away from it. Well, I can tell about my own freelance writing experience, and I was a freelance writer a few times before I sort of took to it full time in 2006. For the first couple of years, I sort of did a lot of magazine writing, and I found one magazine that was great that gave me a lot of work, not enough to live on, but a lot of work. Then I had to balance that out with another one that wasn't so good.
I wrote few user manuals, that sort of thing. So again, it was trying a lot of things and then revving it. What finally took for me was that I built a site in Drupal, the web content management system, and I got involved in that community. What I discovered was that the community was big, it was growing, but it was mostly technologists. It was just starting to be commercialized and marketed, and they needed writers. So I knew about the technology and I was already writing, so it was a really good fit for me. But again, that didn't really start happening until 2008/2009.
So it took a few years of casting about before that happened. Well, the difficulty in coming from a fulltime career is of course managing your time and also being able to make that break from comfort to something that is completely chaotic, that you're going to be managing everything for. I think that's the biggest change that people have to face is realizing that you're going to be doing everything. There's not going to be somebody buying the pens and making sure that the kitchen is clean. It's your kitchen and it's your pens and it's your desk, and you have to clean it all.
You also have to get yourself up in the morning and go to whatever you call an office, whether it's a cafe or a library or a desk next to your bed. So I would say there are two things. One is be prepared financially, as anyone should be when they come to freelancing, wherever they're coming from, but also make that mental transition to being your own boss and spending your day doing what you want to do, but also getting done the things that have to get done. It's a tough thing, but people do it all the time. So, you can do it too.
Well, first realize that you probably do have some assets. You probably don't have as many as somebody who has been working in the field for then years, but you have been going through college. You know your professors. If you've majored in whatever it is you want to freelance in, there's a chance that you can talk to them and they'll say, oh, yeah, you know, I know somebody else who needs your skills and there you are. That's how you get going. But being a little bit more realistic, you are going against more experienced people. I would suggest, take a look at some of those entry-level jobs so you can build up your portfolio and you can get to know people.
I would also suggest, interestingly, work in tangential areas. If you're a writer, for example, consider working in layout or graphic design if you have those skills, because you'll get to know other writers. That's basically what I did. Before I was a writer, I worked in layout and graphic design, and I got to see sort of the rhythm of the newsroom. Eventually, I started writing, and the rest is history. One thing that I talk about a lot during the Freelancing Fundamentals course is to use what you already have, and that's in a few ways.
One of them is to use the skills you already have, obviously. In other words, don't start freelancing doing something completely new, but also, use the contacts that you already have. Let's say that you've been working in graphic design, but now you want to start working in film. Well, there's a good chance that you know some people from graphic design who have also worked in film. So start asking your friends. Ask your colleagues, and ask the people who know that you do good work, and say, "How did you make the transition? Do you know anybody who might be able to help me? Do you know anywhere I could go, where I could get such work using the skills that I already have?" I guess what I'm saying is that you have to focus on the transition when you're first starting out, and realize that you do have skills and knowledge and contacts that you can use in your future freelancing career.
Well, you're describing me. So, I mean, being on camera is one thing, but I'm happy to be all by myself and a little awkward around people, really, which is what's wonderful about the Internet. A lot of what I do is through email and the web and so on. Now, it all depends on what kind of work you're doing. You might have that kind of high-touch service where you go out and you sell it and so forth, in which case you're going to have to work on that. But for a lot of jobs these days, especially for creative professionals, you can do it online.
In fact, most of my clients I've never met in person. I think the important thing is that you match the medium to the message. Since you mentioned craigslist, I'll start with that one. Now, craigslist has three different areas that are related to jobs and gigs and so forth. There are jobs, gigs, and resumes. The job section, people actually have to pay to put their jobs into there, so there's a sort of barrier to entry, if you will. That means that the quality of things you find there is going to be a lot higher than in the gigs area. However, of course, as a freelancer, you probably won't want to take a fulltime job, and that's mostly what you find there.
The gigs area is more of a free-for- all, because as I say, anyone can post there and it's free. So in my own experience, I haven't found very high-quality jobs there, but it's worth looking through once in a while. Certainly, you should post your resume in the resumes area, just in case someone might be looking for what you do. But there is a catch. When you do that, you might start getting a lot of junk mail from placement agencies and so forth. So, be careful about that. Now, there are other jobs boards. If you do a search for freelance jobs on Google, you'll see all kinds of boards like that.
Then just decide which ones match what you do and the kind of work that you want to get. Well, the problem with bidding on some of those job boards is that you might be competing with people all over the world, including places where they're going to pay a very small amount per hour. So again, I would try it out, but I wouldn't invest too much time and effort, and not too much hope into it as well. But still, what I like to say is that you should try a lot of things quickly and see what works for you, especially when you're starting out. I think it depends a lot on the kind of business that you're freelancing in.
If, for example, you're doing a lawn mowing service, you have to get a lawn mower. So there is some investment there. If you're a photographer, you've got a lot of money to put in upfront. For someone like me, a writer or a graphic designer, there's really not that much. You need a little computer equipment, a place to work, and so on. Again, I would say, "Start small." Actually, let's go back to the photography example. Now, a full professional photography studio will have lots of cameras, lots of lights, lots of props, and so forth, but maybe you could start out smaller.
Just do portrait photography and a specific kind of portrait photography. Maybe you can do family photography. Or if what interest you is landscapes, well, landscapes of the state that you're in, where you don't have to travel, you don't have to pay for a lot of equipment, and so forth. Again, I think the theme is to start small, get that first job, do it, and get paid for it. I've really love doing this Freelancing Fundamentals course, probably because doing it has made me realize all of the skills that you need as a freelancer and that I've been able to gain over the years.
I really hope that by watching this course, you are able to skip some of the hard parts that I had to live through, and that you'll be able to take off very quickly and very easily with a freelancing career.
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