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June 17, 2015
Your Six-Step Guide to Going Freelance
Would YOU like a job you can do from home, in your jammies, on your own schedule? Doesn’t that sound great? Then consider becoming a freelancer!
Just know — there’s no starting salary, no benefits, no support staff, and no free coffee. And no clients or leads.
But if you follow my exclusive, six-step program, you too can answer the “what do you do?” question by saying “I’m freelancing right now” (instead of “I got laid off” or “I’m between jobs”) — and really mean it.
Step 1: Decide who you are.
Are you your company? By that I mean, are you going to use your own name or come up with a name for your one-man-band of an agency?
You don’t NEED a fun and creative name — but then again, you might want one to show that your freelance services are going to be unique and memorable. It doesn’t have to be “Scrumptacular Marketing,” but it should at least hint at what you do.
(ASIDE: Three of my all-time favorite agency names are WONGDOODY, Wexley School for Girls, and Kowloon Wholesale Seafood Co. And a new runner-up is my old friends at Spark in PA, who recently re-branded as Lehigh Valley Mining & Navigation.)
Also — will you be a real company? Inc.? LLC? If you’re going full-force at it and you’re totally committed to full-time freelance, making yourself “legal” is worth considering.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, Google whatever name ideas you have before you pick one and get business cards printed. You don’t want to copy someone else’s identity, or be affiliated with someone or something that you don't want to be.
Step 2: Show your stuff.
People don’t search for marketing help in the phone book anymore. (“What’s a phone book?” Be quiet, youngster.)
They go to the Interwebs. So you’d better have a website where you can show ‘em what you got. There is no excuse for any entrepreneur in 2015 to NOT have a website or blog. None. You can do it for FREE, or at the very least, inexpensively. You don’t have to be a designer, although someone with an eye for layout and design can be immensely helpful.
Your site should have:
  • An intro to you
  • A resume/experience page
  • A client list with samples of your work (and a downloadable portfolio, probably a PDF file)
  • Case studies and/or testimonials
  • Your blog (or a page where you post regular updates)
  • An awesome "contact us" page
But make sure there's some fun stuff. Try a crazy File Not Found/404 page (there are thousands of funny and creative examples out there).
Step 3: Get some work.
This is the toughest thing to do: generating leads, networking, landing actual projects and hopefully regular clients. It’s a mindset you need to adopt: Always looking for new business.
To start, hit up your personal and professional contacts. And don't discriminate — a small client can become a big one pretty quickly once you've earned their trust. Go through all your online/social contacts for anyone who might have a need (or know someone who does — you might want to consider offering a referral bonus/gift/reward).
And once you've started those efforts, you have two more avenues to consider:
A) The Real World = Talk to your favorite pizza guy, the local bar owner, all the entrepreneurs that you come into contact with when you're out and about. A well-timed "Hey, so do you need any online marketing help?" can quickly turn into a project. (Sadly, though, many "leads" don't pan out.) So always be "on."
And a few other real-world resources: local newspapers, magazines, and websites. For example, your nearest weekly paper, local/regional business journal, major metro magazine, even those free, local “Coffee News”-type publications. These publications are full of entrepreneurs who need marketing help.
B) The Digital World = Visit the sites of local/regional companies that you'd like to work with. Check out their content, their design, etc., and try to find someone at the company to contact. Don’t forget to join online networking groups, local social media clubs, etc. And although they’re not always great, it can’t hurt to check out websites devoted to connecting freelancers with potential clients and projects.
Step 4: Set clear expectations.
It is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to set expectations at the beginning of the project/campaign. Make sure you agree on what you’re going to deliver — and get it in writing. Put it all in your estimate, and you might want to consider using a separate “scope of work” document.
At the bottom of your estimate and scope of work documents, mention that any possible changes in scope will affect the project deadlines and final invoice costs, price and your commitment to delivery dates, and their commitment to timely approvals and payment. It’s just there to remind your clients of their importance in the project’s success — and that five rounds of revisions will cost them extra.
Step 5: Get yo’ money.
Make sure your invoice is thorough and clear, reflecting the complete listing of services rendered and hours spent — with a highlighted total, as well as copy at the bottom about prompt payment. I recommend saying something like “Prompt payment is expected within 30 days of receipt of this invoice.” Hopefully, you felt good about the client’s ability to pay on time when you took on the project.
When I was doing freelance, I never sent an invoice until the work was completed and the client gave me their final approval. NOTE: Some freelancers ask for 25% or 50% of the estimated cost up front. This kind of request depends largely on your relationship with the client — as well as the size and scope of the project.
Step 6: Keep them coming back for more.
So you completed a project or campaign, the client was satisfied, and you got paid the full amount within a reasonable amount of time. What’s next?
If you’re a one-person operation, a fully functioning Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program isn’t really in the cards. But a well-timed reminder of your success — via a “Hi, just checking in” email or phone call — could open the door for another project.
Pretty much any time is a good time to reach out to your previous clients. Any excuse is fine — ”summer’s coming,” a “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year” message, etc. Just “getting in front of them” is what you need to do.
Obviously, there have been volumes written on this subject, and there’s plenty of good advice to be found. If you’re a younger marketing pro — or a mid-level pro who’d like to explore freelance opportunities — then I hope you’ll find the six steps above to be helpful. Good luck!

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With 20+ years of experience — both at agencies and "on the client side" — Harley David Rubin has enjoyed many challenges and opportunities in his career. He's currently freelancing, with an eye toward starting his own creative communications company. And he loves to share the stories and "wisdom" he's accumulated over the years. (Because what writer doesn't love talking about himself?) He's truly thankful for the opportunity to write for TalentZoo.com, and he's happy to connect via LinkedIn or even on Twitter at @hdrubin.
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