When it comes to running your own small business, many people tend to think of “freelancing” as a dirty word.
Personally, I really don’t see the difference. Small business, freelance business, entrepreneurship… they all mean the same thing to me, and that is- YOU WORK FOR YOURSELF!
Get it? You and you alone are the Big Kahuna, you call the shots, you run the day to day, you make the cash, you deal with the fuck ups.
See the trend here? You, you, you. So in this guest post from Dennis of the Whiteflash Jeweler’s team, some vital points are touched upon on how it really is to well… work for yourself. Whatever you like to call it, it’s like saying to-mate-o, to-mah-to.
It’s still a friggin’ tomato and sometimes it feels like you just landed in a big jar of ketchup. So enjoy the ooze and your timely dose of reality. 😉 Oh and if you’ve questions, comments, or input… you know what to do! (I hope.)
For some, working freelance is a dream come true. No boss, no commute, and as many vacation days as you want. If you are a creative professional—a graphic designer, web designer, writer, or photographer—chances are you’ve thought about going freelance at one point.
But before you quit your day job and hang your shingle outside your house, it’s worth at least thinking of the 10 most common challenges and struggles freelance creative professionals face. None of these should be reason enough not to pursue your dreams of freelance work, but it’s always important to know what challenges you will face when you do so.
Being Your Own Boss
It sounds fun—no one looking over your shoulder, demanding that you fill out the form in triplicate and hand in a progress report by the end of the day. But being your own boss also means finding your own clients, operating without a safety net of a larger company, and not being able to pass a difficult situation on to your superiors.
Lack of Stability
Even experienced freelancers compare the freelance lifestyle to riding a roller coaster. At times, work will be coming in so fast and furiously that you’ll have to turn clients away.
A few weeks later, you might have a dry spell with few clients. Creating a balanced work schedule and something resembling a reliable income takes hard work and a strategy that can allow for extra work or even hired assistance during peak seasons and cash reserves for the lean times.
That means using spare time when demand is low to get organized and gear up for the next marathon work session. Anyone who has lived on creative freelance work will warn you that just because you made $3,000 one week, you can’t start living as if you are going to make that kind of money every week—you might make next to nothing the week after that.
To avoid bankrupting your own business, you must make a realistic budget and stick to it—despite any unexpected windfalls.
It’s All About Client Relationships
As a freelance creative pro, you rely on building solid relationships with your clients so they will come back to you, and more importantly, refer everyone they know to your business.
As a freelancer, you are responsible for marketing yourself, and getting your name out there, so when people need graphic design or copywriting, they immediately think of you. Make up some business cards and hand them out whenever you can, consider buying advertising in local media sources, and include your business information in local business listings.
Make sure your contact information is accurate and professional—provide hours when you can be reached by phone and then make sure you can be reached at those hours.
Starting Your Own Business is Hard
And this is no matter what kind of business it is. Whether you are a freelance creative professional or a cupcake bakery owner, when you start your own business, you are throwing your heart and soul (and sweat and tears) into a project of passion that you also hope will pay the bills.
Before starting your business, take a good look at your available resources. How much cash do you have available? How long can you survive before the business becomes profitable? How many potential clients or contacts in the relevant industry do you have?
Learn how to write a business plan, how to conduct the relevant accounting, and what tax information you will need. Network with other people in your industry that are not your direct competition to get a sense of the specific needs and challenges of your career.
No Free Lunches- Even For a Friend!
If there is one gripe that all freelance creative professionals share, it is that friends and family always expect you to do work for them fo free. Unfortunately, if you work from home or from a coffee shop, some people will always view your work as a hobby, no matter how hard you work.
Those people are always going to expect you to create a free logo design, figure out what’s wrong with their website, or write them a nice ad for their organization. You may be inclined to do them the favor, but if you want to be taken seriously, you have to establish yourself as a professional from Day One.
Offer a friends-and-family discount, throw in a perk, but never, ever, give your services away for free to anyone but your mom.
Maintaining a Constant Pro Web Presence is Harder than it Looks
When you click onto your favorite shopping sites and breeze through a convenient, user-friendly checkout, you might not realize what a challenge it is to create and maintain a professional website at all times.
And yet, for the 21st century freelancer, a slick and accessible website and social networking presence is one of the most important components of your marketing strategy. A customer who has never met you is going to judge you entirely on the quality of your site, especially if you are in the field, like a web or graphic designer.
Think of it this way: if you were going to buy diamond rings online, would you buy from a site with broken links and obnoxious animations, even if the prices were good?
You Might Actually Miss the Office
For most people, the office is like, well, The Office. Irritating coworkers, daily hassles, tedious assignments, etc. But once you commit to full-time freelance work, you might find you actually miss the camaraderie of working with other people, and the routine of going to an office everyday.
No matter how much your boss reminds you of Michael Scott, there is no denying that coffee breaks, birthday celebrations, and water cooler chats are a part of office culture that helps make the day go by a little better.
But going freelance doesn’t mean missing out on that life entirely—once you start working, you’ll discover what parts of office life you miss, and then you can find a way to incorporate that into your freelance workday.
In One Word- TAXES
Say goodbye to the easy W-2 forms from your employer. Working freelance means compiling numerous checks and payments into accounting tables and then paying your own taxes off of that.
At first, it may be easier to go to a professional tax preparer to avoid making expensive mistakes. Keep documentation of every transaction and expense, and take time throughout the year to keep this information organized.
You’re Never Just a Graphic Designer
Or a video editor, or a copywriter, or whatever kind of creative freelance professional you are. As a self-employed creative, you are also the marketing professional, accountant, advertising agent, customer service representative, IT guy, and janitor of your business.
Put it this way—if your business needs it, you have to do it yourself, or spend precious business assets hiring someone else to do it. For bigger jobs, like accounting or web design, bartering with other freelancers can be a good way to get the services you need and get a little promotion in on the side.
Your Time is Your Own- to Waste
One of the hardest skills for a first-time freelancer to master is efficient time management. When you first start freelancing, you may be tempted by your newfound freedom to hit the gym, run some errands, or shop online during your ostensible business hours.
Control that urge and do nothing but business during business hours. Give yourself a set number of vacation days and track every hour spent not doing work as cutting into those days. If it helps, time-tracking apps or computer programs can help you organize your day efficiently.
Of course, the beauty of working freelance is that you can set your own hours-so if you want to start working at 7 AM and then take a siesta in the afternoon, that’s perfectly fine. If you like to save the more mind-numbing aspects of work for late at night, that’s fine too.
Just make sure you have a schedule that includes some traditional business hours for meeting with clients and sending emails at professional times.
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