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Starting a freelance business can be a very bumpy and long ride. There are many things one has to deal with if she wants to succeed. In this article, I will share with you the last four things wish I knew when I started my Freelance Business. My hope is that learning about these things, or lessons, and applying them will help you build your own freelance business and keep it going, without killing yourself in the process. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at these four final lessons.
First 3 things, or lessons, are in part 1.
No.4: Never depend on one client
Let me ask one question. What are your thoughts on diversification? Let’s say that someone decides to invest in stocks, forex, commodities, crypto, or whatever. Then, the common advice she will hear is to diversify her investment. Don’t take all your money and buy just one asset. Instead, divide your money into smaller amounts. Then, use them to buy a number of different assets. The goal, and the reason behind this strategy, is simple. It is to reduce her risk. With one asset, she bets everything on that asset. If the asset goes down, she can lose everything.
On the other hand, let’s say that our investor decides to diversify her portfolio and use her money to buy a number of different assets. For example, she may buy stocks of a multiple companies, or invest in multiple currencies or commodities. Or, she can mix it and buy some stocks, commodities and also some dollars and bitcoins. In this case, if one of her assets will depreciate, she will not lose everything. There is also a chance that one of the assets in her portfolio will gain value and cover her losses. In the best case scenario, she will still make some profit.
In the world of investing, diversification is, simply said, a type of protection when you have little to no idea about what are you doing. Imagine you visit a city library because you want to read some interesting book. However, you have no clue know which to choose. Diversification is one option. Instead of picking one book, you can pick a number of them. This will decrease the chance that you will end up with absolutely nothing good to read. If you pick 10 or 15 books, at least one of them has to be good or average, right? Still, keep in mind that this strategy is not bulletproof.
Diversification and freelance business
In the world of freelance business, diversification has a little bit different purpose. Well, it can still help protect us when we have little to no clue about what we are doing. Meaning, you take one job and if you don’t deliver you have another job to get done so you can keep your freelance business afloat. However, I would not recommend or rely on this … strategy. Anyway, in the terms of freelance business, and business in general, diversification is about having more than one client and never relying or depending on only one.
Emotions and assumptions aside. It doesn’t matter how well do you know your client or how much she likes you. You never know what can happen. Also, you can’t control what can happen. Maybe you can in your own freelance business, at least to some degree. However, you have no control when it comes to businesses of other people. (There is still that quiet voice in mind trying to convince me about the opposite.) Let me put it this way. When you depend on one client, you have no control over your freelance business.
You are in a bad position to negotiate because you know that you can’t afford to lose that client. Also, you are almost constantly living in a fear that, one day, your client may decide to terminate your contract. This can happen for several reasons. For example, she may find someone else who can do your work better or cheaper, or both. Or, she may have to deal with some financial issues and she can afford to pay you. Whatever is the reason, you have no control over it. And, since your freelance business depends on this one client, you have no control over it.
Again, please remember that the strength of your relationship doesn’t matter at this moment. It is only about her ability or willingness to pay you. No hard feelings. So, when you decide to start a freelance business, one of your goals has to be finding and getting new clients. This doesn’t mean that you have to bury yourself in a pile of protect every month. In the beginning, accept more project, as much as you can realistically handle and finish in this month while keeping your sanity, or next if it is the end of the month.
When you fill your buffer for the current month, don’t stop. Continue looking for other clients and reaching out. However, now, when you find a new client, agree with her that you will start her project in the following month, or months. Your goal is to always have a number of projects scheduled for the next month or two. Well, unless you are taking a vacation or something like that. Otherwise, make sure to always have two or three projects for this and the next month. If one project is quite big, two will be enough.
The key is to never settle with just one project. As we discussed, when you depend on one project or client, you have no control over your freelance business. You need a steady flow of work and money to keep build up your freelance business. It is usually better to have to reject, cancel or re-schedule projects because you have too much work than to have no project and bills to pay. Which “problem” would you like to have? So, remember, never depend on one client.
No.5: Always have a contract
Whether you just started your freelance business or you are a veteran, when you find a new client, always have a contract. Please, remember that it doesn’t matter how great relationship do you have with your client, whether it is someone you already know, friend, family member or a complete stranger. Always create a contract before you start doing any work. The work you do now is not your hobby anymore. You are in a freelance business. Creating a contract has to become automatic for you, like a routine. No hard feelings.
Contracts are sometimes uncomfortable subject. Some people starting in a freelance business feel bad even talking about them. The assumption is that when you come up with a contract, it seems like you don’t trust your client. This is not true at all. In a fact, when someone argues against contract because you can trust him, that is a good sign you should not trust that person. And, write the contract immediately. The truth about contracts is that they provide protection for both sides, you as well as your client. How?
There are many things you can include in your contract, some will also depend on the type of freelance business you are in. However, some of the most important one are these. First, what work will you do. Second, what work will you do not do. Third, what deliverables will you hand off to your client at the end of the project. Fourth, under what conditions will you deliver them, over email, ftp, in person, etc. Five, fees, or how much will you charge. Six, payment terms, or how (PayPal, bank transfer, check/cash, etc.) and when will your client pay you.
When you create a contract with all these things, there is nothing left to guess. Simply said, you know what will you do and what the scope of the project is. On the other hand, your client knows what results will she get, when and for how much. Everything is agreed upon and sealed. As a result, both parties know what to expect from each other. Do you really think that this somehow reduces the trust between you and your client? I would say that it does the opposite. It establishes trust and removes any doubts or assumptions.
When you have a contract, your client has no reason to be afraid that she will pay and you will not deliver. Or, that she will get something she did not expect. On the same note, you have no reason be afraid of doing work you will not be paid for. Or, that you will have to do some additional work you did not expect. Or, that you will get paid less. All these things are written in the contract both of you agreed upon. So, if there is any discrepancy, contract will only help you solve it, and sometimes maybe even save your freelance business.
No.6: Get comfortable with self-promotion
In the beginning, your freelance business depends on your ability to promote it and yourself. Later, you will be able to get new project through referrals, word of mouth and recurring clients. However, this all takes times and it will not happen over a single night, or month. Before you get into this position, all you have is you. The existence of your freelance business, and your own, will depend, on your ability and willingness to promote your business. This will be one of the roles you must accept the first day you start your freelance business, or the second.
Fortunately, we are living in an era when we have unpreceded access to millions of people around the world. We can reach out and talk with these people through social media, email, chats and other communication channels. What’s more, many of these channels are free. We don’t have to pay for the chance to post a tweet or share a post on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Sure, some budget will be necessary when we decide to place ads on these channels. However, the access itself is for free. Then, the only obstacle is ourselves.
When you decide to start your own freelance business, get comfortable with the idea that you will be the person promoting your business. You can hire someone to do this for you later. Or, trust that some of your clients will do it for you. However, in the beginning, it will be better to take it into account that you will have to do the majority of promotion. Accepting this sooner rather than later will make starting your freelance business a bit easier. If you know about it, you can prepare for it. Some tips on building a brand on social media are here.
No.7: Take risks and learn on the go
When you start your freelance business, you will probably not know everything. Well, you will not everything even after many years in business. You will see that the more you learn the more there will be to learn. The world of business will provide you with one opportunity to learn something new after another. If you like learning, you will have a lot of fun. If not, you should start thinking about changing your attitude. You will have a lot to learn especially in the beginning because you will have to wear many hats and play multiple roles.
There is only one advice I can give you. Don’t worry and learn on the go. Believe in yourself and your ability to constantly learn new things and acquire new skills. There is nothing you can’t learn. Period. Some things may require more time and effort than others. Some things may be extremely difficult to even start with. However, don’t give up. If someone could learn it, you can too. Develop that unshakable, even foolish, belief that anything is doable, or learnable. Remember, it is better to try and fall flat on your face than to never try at all.
Also, keep in mind that your ability to learn is just another skill. Meaning, don’t give up if learning new things is very difficult for you at this moment. You will get better at it with time and practice. As a motivation, remind yourself that the most successful entrepreneurs are learners. It is their ability to adapt to changes and learn as they go what helps them build successful businesses. And, this ability can help you build your freelance business as well. If there is something you don’t know yet, it is only temporary. Believe that you can learn it.
No.8: Take a break
You are not a machine. You are still a human and your body has its limit. Whether you like it or not. If you want to sustain high performance, you have to give your body time to recover, recharge and also to relax. If you decide to ignore this fact, your ability to work hard and deliver top results will soon begin to deteriorate. Then, you will collapse. This is something I have to remind myself about every single day because it is based on my own experience. I know what it is to wake up with migraines, feeling sick and being barely able to go to bathroom.
I like to work hard and long hours, from early morning to late evening, from Monday to Sunday. This is not bragging, but a fact. My business and work are my whole life. There is nothing else. Well, I do have some hobbies, such as learning, programming and building stuff, design, building businesses, training calisthenics, reading and meditating. However, the rest of my life, and waking hours, is completely devoted to business and work, even some of my hobbies as you can see. For a long time, this was not a problem.
I’ve been running my freelance business, now a company, for years. Fortunately, I’ve been always devoted to a healthy lifestyle, my diet and daily training being a non-negotiable and pursuing both on 100% percent. As a result, I was able to sustain my working schedule for so long without taking any break, even a couple of minutes during the day. It was a big mistake. I pushed myself so hard, my body could not handle it and one day I collapsed and felt sick. Fortunately, it was not serious and I was okay another day.
However, it was enough to learn one critical lesson. Your body needs occasional time to rest, recover and recharge. It is not possible to go all-in, work hard and long hours and giving yourself any time to recover. From time to time, you need to hit the “refresh” button, clear the cache and mental clutter and just do nothing. This doesn’t mean that you have to take whole day, week or month off. I don’t do it either. What you can do instead, and what I do as well, is to take a short break during the day, every day.
This small habit, a few minutes of doing nothing on a daily basis, will help you work hard and deliver high performance without killing yourself. Pick a time during the day, set an alarm clock and when the alarm goes off stop everything you do. Look outside the window, take a walk, shower or meditate. Give your body and mind a chance to recover, recharge and relax. You can also use technique such as pomodoro and work in sprints followed by sessions of rest. Play with different strategies and find what works for you. Just take that break!
Closing thoughts on starting a freelance business
These were just a few things I wish I knew when I started my freelance business. Some were more important and had a bigger impact than others. However, all of them helped me in one way or another build a better and stronger business. Hopefuly, learning about these things and applying them to your freelance business will help you as well. In retrospect, if I could pick only two things that made the biggest difference, and should apply them as first, it would be number 7 and 8. Take risks and learn on the go and take a break.
Willingness to take risks, leap into the unknown, and learn on the go and willingness to take a break to rest, recover and recharge were game changers for me. And, I believe they will be game changers for you and your freelance business as well. So, first, believe that you can learn anything. It is only a matter of time and effort. Second, hard work and high performance requires time to recover and recharge. All the top athletes in the World take the time to rest so they can sustain their high performance. If you want to work hard, follow their example.
Do you have any questions, recommendations, thoughts, advice or tip you would like to share with other readers of this blog, and me? Great! Please share it in a comment. Or, if you want to keep things more "private", feel free to contact me on twitter or send me a mail. I would love to hear from you.
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