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Five Tips for Freelancing

2017 July 12
by WWGD

 

Finding a way to balance my career with motherhood has been one of my proudest accomplishments and drives a lot of the inspiration behind this blog. I truly believe that the key to a lot of my sanity and sense of self as a working mom is in large part to the flexibility, creativity and yes, imbalance, that my freelance career provides. First, a little background. I am a full-time freelance consultant who specializes in public relations and copy writing. I previously worked for various PR agencies in Los Angeles before striking out on my own (at the urging of a fellow working mom) almost nine years ago. I work from a home office five days per week and am on the road typically once per week for a client meeting, work-related event or business trip (I was in Palm Springs just this past Monday – yes, it was hot!). I am freelance which means I am technically my own boss, but in reality…my clients are my boss. I have my own clients that work directly (and only) with me and then I also support other PR agencies on occasion and work with a network of fellow freelancers (all moms) on projects from time to time as well.

completely recognize this type of professional set up isn’t feasible or of interest to everyone. I know a lot of very successful working moms who work full-time in an office or corporate setting and they are happy and fulfilled and kicking ass. But if you want more flexibility, independence and time to live your life on your own terms, freelance is a great way to do it. So for those of you who are freelance and/or may be thinking of doing it some day, I thought I would share the top five things that have helped me along the way:

How to get started. First, get a pushy friend (hi Karsha!) to talk you into it. If you don’t have one, call me. Second, prepare yourself to take the leap. Depending on your industry, this might mean saving up six months of emergency fund. It might mean honing in on your new craft so you are extra good at it. It might mean moonlighting for a little while before you make an official switch. It will (and should) definitely include a good long chat with your husband or partner to figure out how the uncertainty of a freelance income might impact your day-to-day life and long-term goals. Prepare yourself mentally and financially for the transition because it is one. Third, and most importantly, tell everyone you know. Pull out every single professional contact you have ever had and let them know you are going (or have gone) freelance and what your services entail. I did that in one mass BCC email nine years ago and (knock on wood) have never looked back. Do not send it if you’re still employed by someone else. Wait until you are on your own, day one. And research any non-compete contracts and non-disclosure agreements that may be in place at your current gig before you do it.

The basics. Again, this depends on your industry and/or what type of work you do but here are some basics in mine: a professional email (ideally not your personal one and definitely NOT a Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL if you still have one) and an updated LinkedIn profile that includes a detailed list of services and the word “freelancer” somewhere in your new title. Develop a web site, if you need one. Start your new Instagram feed (because you are not weaving your work into your personal one unless the two are very related). Just have some sort of polished place online where you can send possible business leads and referrals for more information on your background and services. And then keep it up to date every step of the way.

Mind your money. I highly recommend finding a good accountant who can steer you in the right direction for freelance financials. I keep mine fairly basic. I am a sole proprietor which means that all my billing goes through my social security number. You might need to incorporate or become an LLC. It all depends on your set up and industry and a trusted professional is worth the investment to get it right. Once the money starts coming in, be smart with it. As a freelancer, you are responsible for deducting your own taxes, savings, retirement contributions, etc. and it’s the number one area I see freelancers stumble over once they start seeing pay checks that are larger than what they are used to. I deduct tax and savings money off EVERY single check or payment I receive right away and siphon them away to their respective accounts. I have done it this way for nine years – even when I may be tempted to book another trip to Costa Rica instead – and it has served me very well. Also, invest in your own success.  You should hire a babysitter to let you work in peace when your kids are home (more on that below). You should splurge on the nicer business cards if you are going to be handing them out. You should get a photographer friend to shoot a good headshot for you if it’s at all relevant to your networking. Treat your business like a business (even if it starts out as a hobby) and it will pay off.

Prepare yourself for instability. This is a tough one and admittedly, comes with time. Freelance life has loads of peaks and valleys. One month, you are working 16 hours per day with more on your plate that you ever imagined and the next you are fitting in mid-day manicures and wondering if your email is down because nothing new is coming in. Enjoy those days when you can. The one thing I have learned with freelance work is that when one door closes, another one usually opens. While you’re waiting on it, send out another mass email. Dust off your LinkedIn. Think about ways you can expand, evolve and/or grow your business. But do not panic. If you are smart with your finances and your time management, you can ride these peaks and valleys with the best of us…ahem, them.

Set up your parameters. This is very important for those of you balancing work and kids, in particular. You need to set up boundaries on the work and personal front and treat the flexibility of freelance work with respect in order for the two to succeed harmoniously. Find a space to work in. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t even need to be outside of your home. But it does need to allow you peace, quiet and a barrier from the kids, dog, neighbor friend who always has a bottle of wine in hand and no one to drink it with. Make a schedule of work and non-work hours. One that is conducive to results. When you are just starting out, focus it on work and growing your business. You will reap the benefits later. Now that I am a few years in and established, I don’t typically book any calls or meetings after school lets out because I want to be able to do pick up and check in with my kids in the afternoon without the distraction. On the flip side, sometimes I work evenings and weekends and have to ship my kids off with my mom or husband so I can focus. The give and take is part of the fun. Do not apologize to your kids for working. Explain it to them, but do not apologize for it. And do not fatigue your clients with your tales of pick up duty, room mom responsibilities and personal to-dos. It’s only my advice and you don’t have to take it, but I never use my kids or family as an excuse for work related things and I never feel bad about working if I have to when my kids are around. Emotional parameters are just as important as physical ones.

Hope this was helpful for those of you out on your own or dreaming of it. I truly believe that if it’s something you want to pursue, you should, can and need to. And I am more than happy to help inspire you along the way.

*If you have any other questions about my freelance journey or yours, I’d love to hear them! Leave it in the comments below!

**The photo above is five years old in my last home office…and no, I don’t look that young and fresh-faced anymore 😉

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