If you’re starting a freelance business, the first fundamental problem is how to find freelance work – your lifeblood.
As a teen, a freelance business where you’re your own boss and can do what you like is quite a smart idea. It means you have the flexibility to do stuff besides running your business and working with your ‘clientele’ on terms which suit both of you. Oh, and you can work in your pajamas…
Its awesomeness is also its bad side. You have to be disciplined enough to actually do the work and make best use of your time. You’ll also need to find your own clients who are willing to give work and money to a teenager – tough ask – and then keep clients happy. Annoyingly, clients tend to eat up more time than you’d like. Be prepared!
Inside this Guide
• Get clients and keep clients
• Build a portfolio of work
• Encourage referrals and repeat work
• Coping with clients
(For freelancers, being able to work nearly anywhere is a great advantage. If you haven't got one already, consider getting a laptop so you can work on the move.)
Some of the thinking behind this guide was inspired by a
video on SEOmoz
on how to get a job in the search engine optimization industry, but so many of the principles can be applied to almost any freelancing business.
So here goes...
Create an Irrefuseable Offer to someone who needs help
If you’re good at what you’re doing and present yourself well, you can easily pick up work from that companies which can’t necessarily afford professionals. At this crucial stage, small business owners are typically very stretched in terms of their budget they have to spend on services you might be able to offer.
When you’re starting out, it may make more sense to offer to work for some people for free (friends and family are normally a good place to start) so you can begin to build up your portfolio. This makes you appear more professional and trustworthy when you do approach businesses, which may lead to you getting more paid work in the long run.
Startups – businesses which have just started – or industries which are relatively young are the best kind of candidates for this. They’re availability of money is almost non-existent, and yet their demands are high.
Charities are another way you can get experience and begin to build a portfolio of work whilst helping a cash-strapped cause with their organizations objectives. It’s a WIN-WIN-WIN situation (the charity helps others, they achieve their goals and you gain pearls of wisdom).
Another easy source of work could be your friends and family. Perhaps they run businesses, have personal projects or events coming up where you can help them. It may be worth getting in touch with some of them and asking if and how you can help. Go nuts – distant aunties and uncles from land far far away. List names of possible people who could enlist your help.
Think of any acquaintances; family friends, partners, people you often (or don’t often) see – add them to your list. Get in touch with them via email or phone or Facebook, however you see best.
Facebook is another fantastic opportunity to find startup freelance work. Scour through your friends list and look at some of your friends’ friends’ lists. Of course, most of your friends lists will probably be people your own age, but if you do have adult friends on there – drop them a message.
Use other people’s networks - when you next see any friends, family or distant acquaintances, mention a bit about what you do and ask if they need any work done. Show them a bit of what you’ve done already. Impress them! Ask them if they know anybody who might possibly need any help from you. Leverage their contacts and networks. Get them to act as a mini-sales agent for you.
This is a simply fantastic idea. They’ll act almost as a sales agent and send you pre-qualified people to you, saving you the effort and the awkwardness of dealing with wierdos you don’t know. This way you’ll have in effect, a “screening” mechanism which also helps keep you and your personal details safe.
• Keep in touch with anyone who agrees to help you find potential clients
• Give them a stack of
memorable business cards
with your details on to give to other people
• Show them some of the work you did for people they referred.
Top Tip: Business cards are the standard way of sharing contact details after a face-to-face meeting. However, they can get very expensive, very quickly. Luckily there is a way to get dirt cheap, high quality business cards.
VistaPrint is one of the world’s largest printing services. They offer a selection of products you can customize and get printed for free or cheap prices like business cards, flyers, t-shirts, pens etc.
Now here’s the trick…
• They ALWAYS have an offer for ‘250 free business cards’. Don’t get these. They come with the VistaPrint logo on the back advertising their free business cards. It looks unprofessional and can damage your credibility. You want to get the Premium Business Cards every time (matte finish to start).
• Almost every customization costs extra. This is how they make their money, by getting you to upload photos, do fancy formatting or anything extra. Avoid it if you can, but if you want to upload a professional looking logo or photo of yourself, provided they don’t look tacky, they can help make you appear more professional.
• VistaPrint offer a variety of upsells throughout the checkout process. They’ll automatically format your details onto other goods and offer you a one-click “add to cart” service. Try to avoid adding to much extra or you’ll start spending a heck of a lot of money!
• The secret to lots of free goods from VistaPrint! Subscribe to their newsletter. They have a ‘sale’ about every few days with a range of discounts and free goods. Typically, these include the Premium Business Cards for Free, but also other stuff. Usually, you can get up to four types of item for free in one transaction. And don’t forget to unsubscribe when you don’t need any more goods!
• Don’t forget shipping! Shipping is never free, and with only two (giant) printing facilities in the world (Holland & the USA), shipping can get a tad slow/expensive. Even the free goods have shipping charges attached.
Go to VistaPrint
That link is a referral link. If you checkout with your freebies, I get £1 “VistaCash” to spend on their products. It’s a Win-Win-Win situation – you get free business cards and materials, I get a little compensation and VistaPrint gets a new customer. You can setup your own referral links once you’ve setup your account there (the links are at the bottom). If you’d rather avoid the referral link, just
You can use your business cards to go around to local businesses, shops and organizations too. I would recommend doing this after you’ve already got a couple of clients UNLESS you already have a personal connection.
Why? It’s about credibility. At the end of the day, you’re still a kid walking into a shop and before they’re going to even think about a proposal you’re putting forward, they’ll want some reassurance you know what you’re doing. Take some other work you’ve done with you, ask for their feedback and then let them talk.
Browse around online for any job boards on forums and blogs where you might be able to get work. More on communities later...
In some cases, you might have to compete in contests for work – web designers on
compete for prize money. The problem with this is you have to be quite good to win any awards, and since there are many others (perhaps more experienced than you) also competing for the rewards, you may end up doing a lot of work for nothing. That said, it could be your training ground leading to better and more profitable things.
Search around for contests in your niche:
In principal, if you go looking for work locally, and focus in your work on a specific niche (e.g. graphic design for events organizers) then you’ll help differentiate yourself more from the competition. This increases the likelihood of you getting work (provided there’s enough demand for that particular niche) and not having to slash your rates just to get work.
Get Stuck In!
Have little test projects where you can basically ‘be creative’ and come up with a load of different ideas or designs. Ask other people what they think about them, and in the process of making them a) you’ll learn a ton and b) you’ll create some buzz about you, the fact that you’re young and doing something and c) possibly get people interested in hiring you.
Create a New Niche
Often, you’ll find most areas you’d like to work in are already pretty competitive. People are charging rock-bottom prices and not really making much money. Don’t be one of them. Instead, find an area where you think you’re particularly strong.
Start trying to ‘conqueror’ that smaller niche and you’ll find you can get clients much easier and make more money. If your industry involves knowing lots about what you’re doing (i.e. if it’s technical) then give back to the community. Show people how to do what you’re doing on a blog or forum or YouTube; it sounds odd to give stuff away for free, but if you do, you become the “go-to-guy” (or gal) within that niche.
• The graphic designer who specializes in online caricatures
• The app developer who specializes in creating funny music apps
• The dog trainer who specializes in training super-aggressive puppy’s
Join the Community
What you’ll also find is that people in your field will be active contributors to the ‘industry community’. Perhaps you’ve found a couple of really awesome blogs or forums or books about your topic. Get involved, join in the conversation and follow them.
If you’re not already in an active community that’s passionate about what you’re into, I urge you to search around for forums, blogs, Facebook groups, YouTube channels and more – subscribe, comment and participate, then continue to join in with some of your favourites.
Do it now.
By being in an active community full of helpful advice and caring, passionate people, you’ll pick up all kinds of opportunities and suggestions, as well as learning lots more about your industry.
Coping with Clients
Even when you’ve got clients who’ve agreed to give you work, you need to work hard to maintain a good working relationship with them. A happy client might refer others to you, give you repeat work or even pay you a bonus.
Regular email contact giving periodic updates of how the work is going at various points
• Initial order requirements and signing of contracts – going through exactly what they want and how they want it
• Concept ideas – early contact with client giving mock up ideas
• Feedback – working through their feedback on your mock up ideas
• Progress report half-way through job – a draft of the finished product
• Final delivery – Delivery of product and request for feedback
• Comments and invoice – final comments and bill
As a teenager, the likelihood of you being able to work regular office hours, manning the phones from 9-till-5 is pretty unlikely! That’s why I recommend using computers to communicate. Email is great; you can send and receive it wherever there’s a connection and people are happy to wait a few hours or even a day or two before getting a reply.
Get a good email account which makes you appear more professional. Include your first name and/or your town or city and perhaps a word or two about what you do. Something like ed.awesomegraphics@ whatever…
Whilst most freelancers would suggest getting a hosted email account (so you have your email @yourdomain.com) because it appears more professional than a gmail or hotmail (free email) account, I wouldn’t worry so much when starting out. Although it may help later, the extra money is probably better spent on things like materials and software to use for your first projects.
If you are going to use hosted email, then make sure you
choose a quality email provider
Besides email, I recommend you use services like Skype and Instant Messengers like MSN to keep in touch with clients real time; because it’s free and live, its an effective way to communicating as if you were over the phone + you can turn it off when you want to do something else. A constantly ringing mobile is the bane of a freelancer’s life - some clients just won’t shut up!
Fax may seem a dated method of communicating, but it’s the only way you can get a signature from a client without having to meet them in person (which is nearly always a pain!). It’s also pretty likely, if you’re dealing with another business, that they’ll use fax for business-to-business contact.
There are a handful of ways you can still send and receive faxes via the internet – and as a teen freelancer, you’ll likely not have to pay to subscribe to many services since you won’t be using them hundreds of times each month. And if you are, you’ll more than be able to afford it – rates are normally only a few dollars each month.
If you email over your contract with your signature embedded on it (you can scan in a copy and use it as a graphic) then get them to fax it back to you with their signature on it. You can use a service called Drop.io to do this, and still use a
free account for receiving faxes.
Creating a Freelance Contract
Contracts are important. They ensure both you (the freelancer) and the client have a clear understanding of what work and responsibilities have been set, the how’s, when’s, who’s, what’s and why’s… it essentially gives both sides safety from “well, I thought you agreed to do this and that – but you haven’t”.
It covers your bottom. Make sure you use contracts every time you accept paid (or even unpaid) work. This slideshow will walk you through the process – you can download a template below.
You need to take "getting paid" incredibly seriously... its the most important thing in your whole existance as a freelancer. Don't agree? Watch this video... "Fuck You. Pay Me."
Regarding how much you should charge clients for you work, the best advice I’ve heard is this…
Charge on an hourly rate unless you know exactly how much time it’ll take you for a single project. This will stop clients taking advantage of your precious time, getting work revised or in case of any unexpected problems.
Other freelancers will tell you that getting paid on time is one of the biggest issues they encounter day-in, day-out. You’ll get good clients and bad clients, but if you prepare for the worst (several week late payment) each and every time then anything better can be seen as a bonus. :-)
Make paying easy. Offer payment online using services like PayPal (although they do charge a fee for receiving money and HATE under-18s using their services) so people can send money from their accounts or pay by card quickly and easily. Other payment options you might like to try:
• Cash: If they’re local, and if you’re meeting them in person, and only when you’re physically exchanging goods (if they’re digital, put them on a memory stick or CD and exchange it for the money) then cash can make perfect sense. It’s untraceable – once its gone, its gone – which is why using cash should only occur when you’re meeting with your clients face-to-face and the work in question was only for a small amount. Anything else is way too risky.
• Cheque: Cheques can be sent in the post, and are a reasonably safe way of transferring money. Remember, you’ll need a bank account and once you’ve deposited your cheques at your local branch, it’ll take a few days to clear (for the funds to actually show in your account). Don’t give your client the completed project before the cheque clears, because they can still be cancelled in that time – leaving you out of pocket after giving all your work away! It would help having access to internet banking so you can see when funds are in your account rather than dashing to-and-from your local bank.
• Postal order: Some post offices allow you to send a postal order where you buy a postal order card which can be sent to you, for you to exchange at the post office in return for cash. The commissions charged are often quite high (whereas a cheques is free) but its another alternative; useful if you don’t have a bank account yet.
• Bank Wire Transfer: You can send money between bank accounts relatively easily (businesses will often like to transfer funds this way) by requesting a transfer in your local branch or via online banking. Again, the money takes a few days to clear so don’t give your goods away in this time. This is often an effective way of transferring money on larger, more expensive projects. Just be careful… bank wire transfers can’t be reversed so only do it with companies and clients you trust – ideally, you’ll have done work with them before.
• Gift: Hey, perhaps you’d rather have goodies? Get your client to buy something you want or need and pay for your work that way. Perhaps you’re creating a website for a toy store and you get a free teddy bear. Maybe that’s a bit naff, but you get the idea. Consider it as a more creative option – you can sometimes get more value via this method than taking straight money.
If the project is more than around £20-30 then you might want to consider splitting-up the payment process. For example, you might charge £20 at the start of the project before doing any work, and £20 at the end – or on larger projects charge a portion of money at regular intervals like once a week.
Remember, if you’re dealing with busy individuals and small companies, creating unnecessary hassle like sending lots of small amounts of money to some scrawny teenager is probably gonna irritate them a little. There’s opposite extremes, so use this technique to help protect yourself, but don’t overuse it if you see what I mean.