Freelance as a Career Choice
April 25, 2017
Younger generations of workers are now choosing to steer clear from the traditional employer/employee work environment, to a less traditional, freelance career or what some call “micro-entrepreneur”. This trend seems to be a lot more common for the millennial generation. According to research commissioned by the Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans now freelance in some capacity. Of that, 38 percent are millennials, compared to 32 percent of non-millennials (i.e., people over 35).
This choice was the subject of a recent workshop, The Business of Freelancing that took place at Miami International University of Art & Design in collaboration with CollabMiami featuring six panelists from different industries discussing their experiences in making freelance a career choice. The panelists included:
• David Verjano, Social Media Consultant, Verjano Communications, www.verjanocommunications.com
• Amanda Abella - Millenial Financial Expert and Blogger, Make Money Your Honey, www.makemoneyyourhoney.com
• Julio Galindez – DJ and Musician, AtellaGali, www.atellagali.com
• Pascal Depuhl – Photographer and Cinematographer, Photography by Depuhl, www.depuhl.com
• Friks 84 – Callingrapher and Illustrator, www.friks84.com
• George Cuevas – Graphic Designer, Creative Director and CollabMiami Founder, www.georgecuevas.com
The 3-hour workshop discussed the many aspects of having a freelance business including the business structure, working tools needed, getting work and making connections, business procedures, estimates, approvals and scope definition, skills and internal process, accounting and post project activities. The panelists shared their experiences with each topic providing students and guests with numerous tips and takeaways. While narrowing them down to just 10, is difficult, below we provide a short list of some of the key points made during the workshop.
Top 10 Freelancing Tips
1. What’s in a name? Consistency is always key – before deciding on a name, look at all social channels, sunbiz.com (State of Florida business registration), domain names available and trademarks (US Patent and Trademark Office) to ensure name availability. It is best to have the same name across all social channels, website, email and legal name. Buy a domain name and ensure that the email you use has your business name (even if it is hosted on Google or any other email server).
2. Know thy neighbor. As a freelancer, you’re not alone – it is extremely important to network and collaborate with other freelancers. These relationships help build your referral business as well as increase opportunities to work on projects that would not have otherwise come your way. Collaborative projects with other freelancers can also minimize equipment costs and provide access to resources that you may not have, but others do.
3. Join industry groups and associations. They can help with networking, but also provide the framework for protection and resources if/when necessary (think American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers, ASCAP; The American Society of Media Photographers, Professional Photographers of America, American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA, etc). There may also be more local resources. In Miami, we have CollabMiami, which connects Miami freelancers through their pop-up co-working meet-ups. They create an environment for freelancers to freely meet and work alongside each other, exchange ideas and get feedback.
4. Commit to your skill. Being a jack of all trades will not serve you were well. Understand what you do best and stick with that. Use your network to connect others to those services you don’t provide.
5. Understand your value. Depending on your level of experience, pricing will vary. That said, it is imperative that you understand all your expenses so you know what your breakeven point is and start building your value from there. Depending on your industry, you may want to charge by the hour or by the project. A note on pro-bono work – it’s very important that when you do take on any pro-bono work that you are taking it on because it will expand your skill level or expand your network. In other words, pro-bono is not necessarily free, there should be something in it for you. To that end, after you complete the project, make sure you send the client an invoice even if it is discounted to 0.
6. Know thy audience. Understand your customer/potential customer. Who are they and where are they coming from? For example, if you’re an a musician/artist, understand who is listening to your music and from what countries (Spotify and Shazam can provide these data points) – this will provide you with insight into where you should focus the bulk of your efforts as it relates to promotion and taking on new gigs.
7. Promote your business. Make sure your friends and family know that you are now an entrepreneur looking to take on new clients. Additionally, it is imperative that you understand how your audience will search for you, a simple Google search will help with that. Use the key words that your client would use to search for yourself, then make sure those key words are included in your website (search SEO for more details on how to do this). Make sure you have separate social channels for your business. Your personal network may not want to see constant posts about your clients. That said, be who you are on your social channels, be authentic as a company.
8. Getting paid. Define payment in advance. For the most part, freelancers require a 50% fee payment upfront, with final payment at the end of the project. That said, our panel was very clear that the final assets and files will be provided once full payment is made. In the case of consulting, it is imperative that full payment is made prior to the consultation project begins.
9. Project Management. All the specifics of the project should be outlined in advance. This includes the timing, communication with the client, payment and scope of the project. It is very easy to get into “scope creep” situation where the client just wants one more change which turns into 10 changes and now requires more time than the project was billed for. The scope of the project should include language that stipulates the number of changes that the project will include and the cost for additional changes if they are needed. This avoids issues and disagreements with the client.
10. Organize, organize, organize. It’s said that the brain has the capacity to remember about four things at once. After that, it starts going downhill fast. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can help automate your process. There are many out there, so it’s important to understand what you really need in terms of automation. At the lowest cost, a spreadsheet can help you get started in tracking jobs and new customers. As the business grows, a more robust option may be more effective. There are numerous systems out there like Salesforce, Infusionsoft, Capsule, Hubbspot, Redboot, Expensify and Quickbooks. Many have a basic option that can be low cost, effective way to help organize customers, billing, receivables, expenses, etc. This will come in very handy at tax time as well. The business of freelancing is multi-faceted and exciting, but not for the faint of heart. The panelists all agreed that their jump to freelance as a career choice, although a bit scary and risky at first, was one that came with more flexibility, higher compensation and tremendous career satisfaction that they otherwise would not have had in a more traditional career path.