What I Learned In My First 2 Years Of Freelancing + Downloadable!
Sometimes, I have days when I never seem to get half as much done as I wanted to. Do you? I'll bet you do! My to-do list grows even as I check things off, and I find myself working into the night when I really want to (and should be) sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and GoT.
But thankfully those days are regressing as I become stronger and more confident in my systems, planning and strategies; the “business side” of my businesses. I’ve been at this for more than 2 years so it’s about time I gleaned some wisdom!
So let me pass some of these gems onto you, to help you skip over a few potholes.
1. Walk the talk
If you’re marketing your services to clients, you need to look the part. For example, if you’re a copywriter, can you demonstrate your skills with a blog or published articles? If you’re a digital business coach, I’d expect to see thousands of followers on your social media accounts. If you’re a web designer, you’d probably have a great website, and so on. People want to see evidence of what they’re purchasing and be convinced of your expertise.
I have a page on my website to show past clients sites and highlight my awesome web design skills!
2. Put yourself out there
There’s no hiding under a rock these days; businesses need an online presence and it has to be a convincing one. That means social media accounts, full profiles and engaging with your followers. Yeah, it’s a lot of work but you get better and faster at it. Plus, you don’t need to be on every platform - focus on those that work for your business and audience.
3. Get visual
Get a website or online portfolio. It doesn’t have to be fancy but I do recommend using your own name or business name, i.e. not www.lilanigoonesena.wordpress.com. State simply what you do and how to contact you - you’d be surprised how many people don’t put those details up front and centre!
4. Know what you do
Sit down and figure out exactly what you do, what services you offer, how much you charge, and when you’re available. Write it all down. Stick it on your wall.
5. Set goals
How many email subscribers do you want in the next 3 months? How many new clients do you want to sign up? How much money do you want to earn monthly? Put an actual number on it, write it down, and this will push you to achieve it.
6. Put systems in place
Even if you only have 1 client right now, you still need a contract, invoicing system, financial spreadsheet, calendar, portfolio, email newsletter and so on. More clients will come along but you’ll save yourself a lot of time and headaches by having these things in place from the beginning.
7. Treat your business like a business
One of my early clients was a friend who had a consultancy business. When he asked me to help with his website, I decided to give him a proper scope and quote, even though I felt a bit silly doing so. But it set the tone for our working relationship and he said that he appreciated my professionalism. That experience really helped give me confidence in my business services.
8. Develop processes
You can’t write the same emails explaining your services with every new client, it’s crazy. Instead, write out the steps you’re taking with each client and post them on your website, or create pdfs that you can send to clients. People love seeing things mapped out for them and it saves you time explaining it over and over. Do up pdfs or web pages of your packages, services and fees. It makes you look professional and also targets your ideal audience who’s willing to pay for quality.
9. Schedule and automate
Schedule, plan and automate your everyday business transactions as much as possible. Schedule your social media so you're posting and collecting new followers even when you're asleep! Get your finances in order with invoicing software; they can even send overdue notices to clients. Automatically send out blog updates and subscriber newsletters.
There's lots more you can do, just invest a bit of time in setting up the platforms and let them work for you.
RELATED POST: 10 Must-Have Small Business Tools
Even if you go down the DIY path, as I did, sooner or later, you’ll hit a wall over something - logo design, website, email marketing, etc. Save yourself time and stress by outsourcing the parts of your business that give you a headache.
I hired a Mailchimp pro to set up my RSS newsletter; and I sourced a talented artist to design my Eat Drink Laos blog banner. More recently, I hired a virtual assistant to help manage my social media and blog overload. Time is money and you can’t be everywhere at once.
Accept that and invest in other freelancer communities. It’s also a great way to develop networks.
11. Embrace support
Everyone needs support. Starting your own business is hard work, and it’s confusing. Technology is changing at a gallop and we're pioneers here on the online business front. We really are!
Facebook and other social media platforms are great for finding support groups; I have 3 writing groups, 2 small business groups, and 1 Squarespace forum, and I love them. Shamelessly ask for advice; you may be surprised by people’s generosity and willingness to share. If you can, talk to people in person. I miss my freelance writing friends now that I’m in Laos but I love chatting with other small business owners in Vientiane too.
12. Take a day off
I rarely take a whole day off work. It’s my business, I love it and I’m still learning so much; it’s addictive. But I’m not doing myself any favours by staying up till all hours, burning out, and becoming too consumed in work.
Instead, I’m trying to focus on working more slowly with 1-2 main goals per day (write a blog post, schedule a week of Facebook posts, etc). And I'm pacing my days - I exercise 3 mornings a week, I read a novel while waiting for the kids after school instead of checking emails on my phone, and I try to have screen free Sundays.
I've come a long way, baby, and despite all the potholes I've fallen into, I've learned an immense amount. I hope that in reading this, you have too!
What's been the most valuable business lesson you've learned?
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is an Australian freelance writer, Squarespace web designer and blogger currently based in Vientiane, Laos. She loves helping freelancers and small businesses with web design and content, blogging and through her awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff". She also writes food and travel articles for businesses and magazines, and blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos, just for fun.