Tips for Freelance Success
A version of this article was originally published in the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) newsletter, The Freelancer (November–December 2014). It is reproduced here with permission.
The strong desire to break free from organizational shackles had become so overpowering in the later years of my career that it was becoming almost impossible to resist the temptation every passing day.
The need to stop the atrocious wastage of time spent commuting (6 hours daily—a routine that I had endured for more than 15 years!) and turn part of it into something productive and spend part of it with my family and kids could no longer be ignored.
The confidence that my skills were good enough to get work directly from publishers abroad had always been there but I was curious to find out how many of the contacts I had acquired over the years would actually be offering work.
The requirement to earn more than what my current job was paying was perhaps the final push that burst the dam that had been holding back the freelance river flowing inside me.
I was waiting for the perfect moment to leave my job and start my freelance editorial services business but had to take a quick decision in December 2010. I spent the first week enjoying my first real break from work—sitting in the sun and basking in the warmth of the winter sun, sleeping to my heart’s content, munching on dry fruits, calling up friends, and doing absolutely nothing.
The first two assignments came from those who had known me as a colleague for years but were now working in different companies. They approached me and asked whether I would be interested in freelancing for their companies.
The next major one came from someone who had just connected with me on Linkedin, and another major domestic assignment came from the company I had worked with prior to working with my last company.
To make the joyride more fun my best friend too joined me in January 2011. A whirlwind round of tests and samples followed over the next few months and we had a hat trick of successful results on the same day, all from international clients.
I am more than happy to share my Ten Testaments for Freelance Success. These have sustained me all these years:
1. Always have money in the bank for at least 6 months’ household expenses: Before you start, make sure that you have enough money in your bank account to last 6 months even if you don’t earn enough in the first few months. Even if you are lucky to get work from the first month, it will be some time before you start receiving the payments. The first few months will be real test of your patience as most of the work that you will be doing will not be paid for, the reason being that these are samples that need to be done for work to start coming in.
2. Never burn bridges with your ex-colleagues and companies as these can be your first clients. This also means keeping in touch with your ex-colleagues through e-mail/phone/facebook/Linkedin. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind!”
3. Form a team: You need to have at least one more person other than yourself to handle your business. This will help you offer more services, get constructive feedback on each other’s work (rather than from the client), handle more volume (something that companies are interested in outsourcing), complement each other, and take a day/week off when needed. In my case, for instance, I am fortunate to have my best friend as my partner. While she handles mathematics, physics, and chemistry with great ease, I handle medicine, life sciences, and humanities. Thus, both of us cover what all the clients have up their sleeve! Also, in copyediting, it is vital to have a pair of fresh eyes. So, while she will pick up errors in my work that my eyes fail to find, having become too accustomed to the content I have been reading, I will pick up errors that her eyes miss. What finally goes to the client is error-free, quality content.
4. Have a strong presence on Linkedin: (a) It is very important to have a complete profile on Linkedin. You must list what all you have accomplished in your career, what clients you have worked with, and what sets you apart. The most important part of your profile is getting recommendations from people you have worked for/with. Recommendations from the client side is what you should strive for. (b) You also need to be an active participant on various groups linked to your field of activity. Be a part of ongoing discussions, start discussions of your own, ask, answer, share links, and so on. Better still, why not start a group of your own. This is what I did and this is where I got my first international client as a result of a discussion that I had posted and participated in. Others must view you as a thought leader. (c) Also, do keep an eye on the various requirements that are posted on different groups, sometimes in the Discussion section and sometimes in the Jobs section.
5. Get in-house industry experience: If you have worked in-house for around 5 years, you are ready to take on the world as by now you have been exposed to the expectations that clients have and also the tricks of the trade, which you will never get to know if you haven’t worked in-house.
6. Underpromise but overdeliver: Always, take on less than you can chew. If you have capacity for 100 pages daily, I will suggest taking on only 80 pages. It is vital to have a buffer as you never know life’s unexpected twists and turns. You must never miss your deadline. Rather, you must strive to beat your deadlines. If you feel that you have more than what you can deliver with quality in the stipulated time frame, ask for more time at the very outset rather than doing so on the due date.
7. Don’t stop learning: Keep reading industry news, keep referring to your style manuals (every day you will learn something new), and always consult a dictionary (onelook.com is a very good option to use).
8. Network with fellow freelancers: There will be times when you will have more work than you can handle and it is always better to refer a potential client to some other freelancer (who is as good as you) rather than turn down the work. This way you will be perceived as a well-connected person. I keep receiving queries from clients referred to me by my fellow freelancers.
9. Get a Web site: Having your own professionally designed Web site will help you get new clients as well as direct queries relating to your work to the Web site for people interested in knowing more details about you and your work. The Web site better be dynamic rather than static. Joomla freeware will help you get a dynamic Web site. The home page should be a brief description of what you do, the second page should describe you (the section must have a photo as well as your resume), the third page should list out your services and programs, and the final page should have details about how to contact you. However, you cannot just rely on your Web site to get you business. Remember that it is just your business face, and you need to handle your marketing separately.
10. Strive to have dedicated clients rather than changing your clients every few months: It is always better to build long-term relationships with your clients. This way you will be assured of work all the time and will be perceived as a dependable freelancer.
I hope these tips will be as helpful to you as these have been in making me a successful freelancer.
In less than 5 years, I have been interviewed twice for my views on freelance copyediting as a career. I was first interviewed by Sunil Patki for notjustpublishing.com, and Kris Emery has used parts of the second interview as quotes in her ebook Feel the Fear But Freelance Anyway.
I am a professional freelance editorial services provider based in India. Visit the Indian Copyeditors Forum on Facebook, find me on LinkedIn, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.