Monday, 22 November 2010

Going freelance - a few handy hints

Leaving the security of a contracted position to go it alone and freelance takes a lot of courage. Even if you’re unemployed, giving up the job hunt to start your own business is a huge commitment.
But turning yourself into a serious freelancer needn’t be a headache, with some serious preparation you’ll be well on your way in no time, and to help you out we’ve listed some top tips for freelancers starting out.
Your first full-time project will be turning yourself into a desirable contractor on paper with a top notch CV and portfolio.
  • Your CV is your sales pitch, so make sure it’s working for you, not against you.  If you’ve never created a CV before, or your CV is somewhat dated, there’s no shortage of folks waiting sort it for you - for a fee, of course. However, if you’re looking for work, chances are you don’t have cash to waste on something you could easily do yourself. Instead, why not invest in CV guide book? A few quid from Amazon and you’re set.
  • CV’s should ideally be not more than two pages, with a clear and simple layout – try using a Word template, or download one free from directgov.
  • File types – Ensure you have your CV and digital portfolio are in PDF and .doc format, and don’t forget to give your files simple names ‘CV0943643’ won’t mean anything to anyone, probably not even you!
If you’re a recent graduate you may think you’ve nothing to create a portfolio with, but chances are you’ve done at least a few uni projects that demonstrate your skills. If you feel you really have nothing to start with, try undertaking a few pro-bono projects.
Once you’ve compiled your best work, get your portfolio online; if you don’t have a site, consider finding a place on your blog for contractors to view or download it from. And if you don't have a blog...streuth! Get a Wordpress account!
Now that your CV and portfolio are done, it’s time for the dreaded covering letter.
Covering letters are a nightmare, but they’re the best way to set you apart from other freelancers. The sole function of a covering letter is to encourage potential employers and contractors to actually look at your CV, so take time to really distinguish yourself from other candidates; otherwise you’re just another piece of paper in the pile. And yes, while putting together a covering letter is painstakingly dull, it is a necessary evil, and half-heartedly throwing some bumf down simply won’t get you a job.
A good covering letter will:
  • Be succinct and colloquial in tone while maintaining professionalism.
  • List a few interesting experiences you’ve had, such as significant achievements or important skills you’ve gained.
  • Convey your personality and individuality.
  • Build an element of trust by humanising you.
Now that you've got the essentials down get out there! Start creating an on and offline presence (why not start with our very own CreativesRus).

It's important to make yourself known in the offline world as well as online. Exhibitions, trade fairs and events are an excellent way to build up your contacts – excellent networking skills are paramount to building your client and colleague database.

Friends and former colleagues are part of your networking circle too, so when it comes to dishing out your business card, be sure not to forget them!

Once you’ve got the basics sorted and clients start coming in, make sure you can sell yourself in just a few short sentences; in other words, get your elevator pitch prepared. When a potential client calls they want to establish two things; your experience and your price. Your elevator pitch should assure the client that regardless of cost you are the best candidate because your experience and ability trump the competition.

After you've wowed them with your elevator pitch and you've landed the job, negotiate your contract so that you’re under-promising, allowing plenty of room to over-deliver.

Avoid the urge to promise the earth in order to secure a contract and instead under-promise as far possible. 
Many freelance contracts lead to follow up jobs; exceeding expectations will impress clients and increase the likelihood of more work being sent in your direction.

OK, so you’ve just wrapped up your first project, and you know your invoices need filed somewhere, but you’re not sure where to start. Now would be the time to consider getting tax advice. If maths freaks you out and the thought of tackling your own tax affairs sends you into a strung-out frenzy, relax. The Inland Revenue can provide a lot of useful information from tax issues, to useful tax-related contacts. Despite the bad rap, they’re not all bad.

If the phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook with work and you’re worried about not having the cash to keep yourself fed while you get your business going, avoid the issue by creating a savings plan. If you’re in the unfortunate position that your job has ended unexpectedly, visit your local job centre, which will be able to offer you advice about benefits you can survive on until you have a steady stream of work. Often there are schemes available for start-up businesses to help them through the most difficult first year.