However you got into freelancing, either by accident or on purpose, the goal is to make money and be successful. As a freelancer, you are not alone. According to a 2016 study, 35 percent of U.S. workers were identified as freelancers last year. This influx of freelancers does not seem to be slowing down especially as more and more millennials are seeking out these flexible work jobs. So if you currently have a part-time hobby, how do you turn this side business into a full scale freelance career?35 percent of U.S. workers were identified as freelancers last year. Click To Tweet
Before you jump in with both feet, make sure there is a market and enough clients to turn your hobby into a freelance career. Also, make sure you love your hobby so much that you can see yourself doing it full-time. You also need to be willing to put in the work to launch it off the ground. Then, once you’ve committed your time and energy into your freelance career’s success, it’s time to take action.
You may be called a freelancer by trade, but you are really an entrepreneur. And as a small business owner, you need to consider expenses, insurance, marketing, sales and billing. If you’re still sure full-time freelancing is for you, there are several steps you should take to maximize your results, Here are some tips to raise the bar on your freelance career.
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Create a business plan
The first thing you will want to do is have a plan in place. Think of this plan as four simple parts.
- Vision statement – Grab a piece of paper and write down the answers to these questions. Then draft an overall paragraph about your business.
- How many hours would you like to work a week?
- What will your expenses be?
- What do you hope to get from your career?
- What are your long and short-term goals?
- What is the number one client problem you solve?
- How are you different than others in your field?
- Your income – Let’s face it, if you’re taking your business to the next level, you are looking to make money. If your freelance career is now your full-time job, than it now needs to be your main source of income. Calculate what your annual salary is and then figure out what you need to make each month. Make sure you add around 20 to 25 percent to this figure. You need to account for unforeseen expenses, clients leaving, and months where you need to take time to drum up more business.
There are several sites out there to help set your exact billable time. But the main thing to consider is simple. What do you need to make a year in order to quit your full-time job and turn your hobby into your career? Look at your budget, what your industry level of expertise is, and how many hours a week you have to give to this new career. Then, create a project rate that will get you that salary.
- Growing your business – Spend some time thinking about how you will expand your freelance business. How are you going to gain new clients? How are you going to spread the word about your new business?
- Ideal clients for you – If your freelance career was a former hobby or more of a part-time gig, chances are you took whomever on as a client. Now that this is your business, figure out what types of clients are ideal for you. And what makes them ideal clients?
Now that you have all the details for you plan, it’s time to write it. Here is a link to a free template you can use.
2. Set up insurance, retirement and tax plans
When freelancing was a side job and not a career, chances are your company took care of taxes, insurance, and your 401K plan. When you are self-employed as a freelancer, this is now on your shoulders. So where do you begin?
Due to the Affordable Care Act, all employers are required by U.S. Law to have health insurance. There are several options however that work well for someone starting a freelance career. One site is einsurance.com. According to Carefulcents.com, their readers found this the least expensive option with the best coverage.
Since you no longer have a company matching your 401K contributions, retirement savings is solely on you. There are a few options to consider.
- Simplified Employee Pension (SEP): Using a simple one-page form, SEP allows you to fund an IRA. Plus, they can be created and money added up until it is time to file for taxes. You can contribute 25 percent of your income or up to $53,000 annually.
- Solo 401(k): This is a 401K for one person such as a freelancer. These allow $18,000 in annual contributions plus 25 percent of your earnings up to $53,000 annually. If you are 50 or older, you can put in an additional $6,000 annually.
- Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA): This is a great option if you employ others within your freelance career. Even if you don’t, this option allows you (or your employees) to contribute up to $12,500 annually plus an extra $3,000 for those 50 or older. And either a 2 percent fixed or 3 percent matching contribution.
When you are your company, you will need to pay taxes both on the state and federal levels yourself. While a company withholds taxes out of your paycheck usually twice a month, this is not true for freelancers. The best thing to do is hire an account that specializes in small business or freelancers. He or she will recommend you withhold some money quarterly in an account to pay toward your taxes. Plus, as a freelancer, you are entitled to some expense deductions. A portion of items like office supplies, your cell phone bill, and furthering your education can all be deducted from the total you owe on taxes.
3. Market yourself
When freelancing was a side job, you didn’t have to take on more clients. Now that this is your main source of income, you need have enough clients in order to be successful. The best place to start is with some basic marketing. Not only will this attract new business, but it will make you look “official” with existing clients.
A good place to begin is by creating a portfolio or business website. There are several sites you can use depending on your industry that are great resources:
Portfolio sites for writers:
Portfolio sites for designers:
Examples of developer portfolios:
These sites serve as great examples to showcase your work. Some have templates you can easily drop your information into.
Your goal is to create an online snapshot of you and your work. Make sure to include case studies that outline a client’s problem, what you did to solve the problem, and a visual of your finished work. You also want to explain who you are, what skill sets you possess, and why a client should choose you over the next competitor.
No matter what field you’re in, it’s important to have your LinkedIn page completed and polished. Make sure your LinkedIn page has a link to your webpage and/or your portfolio. You’ll also want your work history to match what your resume says. It’s also important to have a professional looking headshot and a few testimonials from past clients.
4. Get more clients
Hobbies are great, but you can afford to take on only one client when it is convenient for you. Once your hobby becomes your freelance career, you need to be proactive about getting more work. The key is to get a stream of qualified clients that will likely use your services more than once. The more “repeat clients” you have, the less time you have to dedicate to finding new clients. And this “less time wasted,” equals more billable hours for you.
Broaden your LinkedIn network
Now that you’ve polished your LinkedIn profile, it’s time to put that profile to work. Reach out to potential companies and recruiters through LinkedIn. Craft a simple message introducing yourself and asking to be added to their network.
Another way LinkedIn can bring you more business is through a group. Every industry has groups that are great for networking and gaining new clients. Do some simple searching on LinkedIn to uncover these groups. Some you can join automatically and others you will have to request access to. Once you are in, lend your expertise to group discussions. You will get noticed quickly as an industry expert and may be approached for a potential project.
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Attend networking events
There are always events going on within your industry. Seek out some events where you can not only learn more, but meet potential clients. You can do some research online or ask within your LinkedIn groups if anyone knows of upcoming events in your area.
Register on job sites
There are several sites out there for freelancers to gain new clients. One of these sites is Hubstaff Talent. First of all, it’s free to join and there are several clients looking for available freelance talent immediately. Simply fill out a profile with your skills and you will get an email when there is a match. Plus, there is no bidding for jobs. If a company likes your profile, they can review your website/portfolio, and reach out to begin working on a new project with you.
Besides Hubstaff Talent, register for a few more sites to get your name out there. Just make sure to do your research and select sites that are reputable. Some will ask for money to join, but if it’s more than a small fee, you should pass. Also, if you have to bid on jobs, make sure the bids don’t seem too low. After all you are in this freelance career to make money.
Tell everyone about your freelance career
You never know where a potential job could come from. If you used to have a hobby that you are now trying to segway into a freelance career, let past clients know. You never know if they can recommend your services to another potential client. Also, let your social circles know you are embarking on this new freelance career path. Again, you never know where your next job could come from.
5. Become an expert
Freelancing in any industry is competitive. In order to take your career to the next level and beat out your peers, you need to stand out. One way to do this is becoming the “go-to expert.” Whether you go back to school to get your M.B.A. or take a few classes to further your industry knowledge, these are all steps to put you ahead of your competition.
Since you no longer work for a company who may pay for classes or schooling, look online. There are always webinars you can listen to in an afternoon. It’s thought that CEOs read at least 60 books a year. Why? No matter if you are at the top of your industry or not, you want to continue to grow and be innovate. So instead of 60 books, aim to follow a few key blogs each week. These blogs will tell you what’s new and evolving within your industry.
What are your keys to your freelance career success?
Although it can be scary to take a hobby and turn it into a full-time job, it can be done. You just need to have a plan, market your business, and uncover new clients. We’ve given you a few ways to succeed at freelancing full-time, but we’d love to hear your experiences.
Are you currently freelancing full-time and if so, did your career start off as a hobby? If so, please let us know your thoughts on how you turned your passion into a career. Please comment below and share your insight.