When I made the shift from full-time employment to the freelancing and self-employment model, I hadn’t accounted for ways in which it would turn my life around. The only change I did account for was not getting stuck in the treacherous office commute. I had definitely not accounted for the volume of work that now needed to be done single-handedly, the invoicing and follow-up cycle, taxation and refunds, and the need to draw boundaries between work and life. The flexibility of freelancing often means a much more fluid nature of work – peaking on some days of the month and Netflix binges on others.
In the absence of any support from regular office structures like a finance team and Monday morning meetings, freelancing can mean a lot of self-sufficiency and self-disciplining. I found my answers in a variety of services, resources, and tools. I hope they will help you out too.
Going about scouting for work
Almost every freelancing listicle on the internet will tell you about the likes of Truelancer and Freelancer to find work. While the job listings are there, it is extremely difficult to stand out when you are just starting out and have little experience or a credible profile on these websites. Add to that the fact that these sites are a mixed bag of high-quality and mediocre work. Word of advice – the rates these assignments are willing to pay is usually a sure-shot sign of what to expect. I’m not trying to imply that you should give up on freelance job sites; rather, try other ways to find meaningful work too.
For me, what worked best was a combination of these job-listing sites, tapping into past professional networks (ex-colleagues, ex-clients, etc.), and social media posts. A quick glance through Facebook and LinkedIn searches and reaching out directly to those posting these opportunities got me a lot more interesting work, as compared to skimming through hundreds of job listings asking for “Copyscape-proof rewriting”.
The next step after you find the right opportunities is working on compelling proposals. You could spend hours reinventing the wheel on PowerPoint, or you could use these or other similar tools:
- Proposify: At heart a WYSIWYG tool, Proposify has built-in templates to help draw up proposals. It is extremely easy to use even for new proposal writers and its easy-to-use editor allows deep levels of customization and embedding. Proposify also has signature tools embedded into the browser, thus taking away the hassle of printing-signing-scanning and help keep things transparent and documented for both freelancers and clients.
- Canva: If you are bootstrapped and still in the early months of your freelancing stint, then Canva can be a great alternative. Even with little to no design experience, users can use Canva to design compelling proposals with its built-in templates and easy-to-navigate Editor UI. You can download your proposal in a variety of shareable file formats including PDF and JPEG. Canva also gives you access to over one million stock photos or the option of uploading your own images in your proposal.
Building your brand
Moving away from the annual self-appraisal model of full-time employment, freelancing requires you to be more discoverable and have a professional brand that compels people to work with you. There is no single tool for it because it largely depends on the kind of work you do. As a writer, I started out with the usual content sharing and participation in relevant forums and discussions on social media, specifically LinkedIn and Twitter. With the right keywords and tonality, your audience will be interested in clicking on the links you share and reading what you have to say.
The next step, of course, would be to have a one-stop shop for your audience to get to know your capabilities and work. Personal blogs and LinkedIn are some ways to do it. Another is to build an online portfolio. It becomes especially important if you are in a creative field like design, photography, or writing.
- Contently: In essence, Contently is a proudly “nerdy”, irreverent platform that connects writers and journalists with businesses that need related services. One offshoot of their business is the free and easy-to-use portfolio platform. Contently is especially useful for byline writers because it allows them to list the publications they write for and automatically crawls and catalogues their articles.
- Wix: Whether you sell your craft online or are a photographer or writer, Wix allows you to create your own domain using their inbuilt templates, drag-and-drop enabled editors and mobile-optimized outcomes. In addition to a great looking portfolio website, Wix also has apps and tools like blogs, SEO, email marketing, and invoicing integrated into the UI.
Need for self-imposed structure and discipline
This is by far one of the most difficult things to do when you work on a freelance model. Often, there is no real need to sit at your desk for eight hours a day, and most of us get into freelancing to get out of the rigid structures of full-time work. But without this structure and discipline, meeting deadlines becomes that much harder.
With a TV and a fast internet connection waiting for you, why would you not watch the next Stranger Things episode first thing in the morning? Well, you won’t, if you want this freelancing stint like a responsible adult. Meeting deadlines and staying disciplined has the power to make or break your reputation as a freelancer. It’s not about the structure but the discipline to keep to it, so finding a routine and structure that works for you is important. Smart to-do lists with timely reminders and other bells and whistles can help with this:
- Wunderlist: To-do lists are truly the holy grail of productivity and getting things done. Wunderlist makes it all easier and prettier. A device-agnostic tool with a no-frills interface, Wunderlist allows several different kinds of to-do lists that are useful for freelancers who juggle diverse interests, hobbies, and responsibilities.
- Trello: If you work extensively with external parties like clients and collaborators, or juggle different kinds of work like writing and consulting, Trello can be a real lifesaver. From personal list-making to team collaboration, Trello gives your projects a structured flow that is easy to manage and track. You can share real-time updates using “cards” to show progress, label assignments, create checklists, vote, and start conversations.
Pricing and taxation made easy
Everyone wants the work and the money, but the process of getting from the work to the money can be complicated. How much do you charge? How do you invoice? What taxes do you need to pay? Any due payments? Are you even keeping track? These questions are as much a part of your freelancing life as the work itself. The year 2017 made this process that much more complicated with the additional burden of figuring out GST implications. Tools that came to my rescue this last year included:
- FeeBee: FeeBee is FlexingIt’s online, community-driven fee-benchmarking tool. It allows independent professionals to benchmark their fee vis-a-vis their counterparts who take on similar projects. This allows you to not only ensure that you are not underpaid but also price yourself competitively.
- ClearTax: ClearTax was a lifesaver in 2017. Whether you are looking to file individual tax or have questions about GST implications on your freelancing income, all you need is to visit their website. It provides extensive and legitimate resources in the form of articles, blogs, and quick email responses. It even answers tax-related queries and helps you navigate the complex world of tax return calculations and claims for a nominal fee. In addition, you can also use its free invoicing tool for GST-compliant invoicing.
A word of caution – if you are getting into freelancing in order to do less work, you are in for some unpleasant surprises. With no bosses and support teams, you are going to be accountable for much more than what was expected of you in full-time employment. Being a freelancer means a whole lot more admin work than one is used to. The good news is that the internet is ready for this flexible, independent, gig lifestyle. The tools are all there for taking. You only need to get started.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)