It’s time to shake off the ‘I’m just a freelancer’ image and start acting like professional solopreneurs. Here’s how to take your small business to the next level—with an entrepreneurial mindset.
The last time someone you just met asked you what you do for a living, what was your response?
‘I work from home’?
‘I’m a freelancer’?
‘Oh, I’m just a writer and sometimes I teach a bit on the side’?
All too often this is what we tell others about what we do. But then how do we expect to be taken seriously as professionals? It’s time to dust off our ‘I’m just a freelancer’ image and start thinking and acting like business owners!
We certainly don’t all need to become the next Richard Branson, but the sooner we become solopreneurs, the better for us all individually and the freelance industry as a whole. Being great at our core activity —writing, editing, translation, design and so forth— is fantastic, and I dare say the bare minimum each one of us should bring to the table.
But it’s by no means enough to succeed in today’s challenging marketplace. The rise of the internet, social media and online job portals, coupled with emerging new technologies like machine translation or AI-based copywriting programs affect every single one of us — and locking ourselves away is not a solution. So what other skills do we need to become successful, established professionals in our industry?
If you’re not a natural business whizz — and few of us really are — I strongly recommend that you start developing your business skills as soon as possible. Companies such as Coursera, Udemy, and of course most professional industry associations and other business organisations, offer a vast range of online and offline courses and workshops that will help you establish and grow your business. Many of these are cheap or even free, so there’s no excuse for not taking advantage of these great sources right away.
Marketing and client acquisition
You may be a fantastic copywriter delivering world-class work — but if clients don’t know you exist, how are they going to give you business? I strongly believe that every self-employed freelance professional should set aside a certain period of time each week for marketing activities. Very often we tend to neglect marketing when we’re busy and don’t notice that we didn’t invest any time in finding new clients until our regular clients go quiet for a while, and then panic sets in.
My personal tip is to market yourself to potential new clients whenever you’re drowning in work. During those periods, your confidence is at a high and you have nothing to lose because you’re fully booked anyway. As a result, your negotiations with potential new clients are much stronger than during a dry spell when you may accept any rate out of sheer desperation.
I’m listing writing (or whatever else your core activity may be) in third place because I consider us business persons first, and translators, editors, writers and so on second. Once the business side of things is taken care of and we’ve ensured a steady flow of income through targeted client acquisition and marketing, then we can focus on our core activity and enjoy the process. If we do it the other way round, we’ll soon run out of work and feel stressed.
Unfortunately, as solopreneurs we can’t just do what we enjoy, but we also have to deal with a host of other business activities, whether we like it or not. Admin is the stuff of nightmares for many of us, and I’m no different. If you find it’s really taking up too much of your time, you may want to consider hiring someone for a couple of hours a week to help you out. Virtual assistants are a popular choice these days.
But the best option is, of course, to always stay on top of your administrative tasks: file away invoices and important paperwork right away, log your expenses daily, schedule 15 minutes in the morning for checking your bank accounts and allocating incoming payments, etc. This will ensure that you don’t end up spending an entire day (or three) cursing in frustration at the end of the month when you could be spending this time earning money.
If you’re like me, you simply hate anything finance-related. I’m lucky enough to have an accountant husband, but even so I’m still struggling to motivate myself to keep up with money matters. A few years ago, I therefore started to invest in project management and accounting software. Initially I chose Wave, but now I’m with Avaza and very happy. I’ve found that makes my life so much easier.
Rather than logging everything in Excel and struggling with formulas and time-consuming manual entries, the software automatically adds the pre-configured rates for each service I offer, issues invoices at a click of the mouse (rather than fiddling with Word templates and copying and pasting) and generates reports for each client or time period as needed. This has freed up so much time for me and lets me focus on other activities I enjoy a lot more, so I’d highly recommend investing in such an accounting program for freelancers— or marrying an accountant!
… what do you do for a living? Are you still a freelancer working from home or already a small business owner?