Even if you didn’t start your career as a freelance, you will probably remember (acutely) the feeling of disorientation as you learnt a new company language and culture. For many of us, that feeling would repeat as we moved companies and didn’t get much better as you became more senior.
Each one of us begin our career in any field without experience. And it’s no different for newbie independents either. No portfolio, no achievements to showcase on LinkedIn.
One of the most common questions I get asked by aspiring freelancers is whether experience matters when you start out. A young friend told me that she was convinced about having a freelance career but that she felt she needed to ‘pay her dues’ first to give herself the best start.
As we prepare for Artsmart, (the graduate fair for London’s art and design graduates), we’re thinking about how to encourage young talent leaving colleges and universities that a freelance independent career is not only just as valuable a choice, but high up there in the fulfilment rankings.
So, what is the answer?
There isn’t one silver bullet when it comes to freelance success. And since you don’t necessarily have the luxury of experience when you start out, there are other ways to establish your credibility.
1. Get out and get going
Unless you’ve managed to establish your credibility as a superstar at Uni, you can’t freelance with a laid-back attitude. You’ve got to get out there and grow your network, seeking out opportunities. Some of those opportunities won’t look like opportunities at first, but assess each one with a long-term view of what it will bring you. We won’t get into the debate about doing work for free here – that’s a whole other article – but this is about establishing a reputation until such time as people come looking for you. That means sorting out the time wasters that are looking for cheap resource to identifying someone or some company that will look good on your client list and be happy to share the kudos of a job well done with you. But be aware that you won’t always get this right. Some people are just not nice.
2. Be bigger than one
Unfortunately, there are still many people who are sitting in their companies with a salary and a budget who aren’t quite in our world yet. These are the people who think freelancers are a kind of lower caste of human being that exist solely to plug a gap.
Don’t work with them. Or if you have to, take charge of the relationship by persuading them that you are part of something much bigger. Just having a Limited company or professionally produced business cards can give you extra credibility.
There are plenty of clients out there who will approach you as an equal partner and be prepared to pay for your skills because they don’t have them. Seek these clients out because they will propel you quickly to greater success.
3. The social you
OK. We all have social lives, and social media is integral to the way with get new business.
You really need to think about how you express yourself online and what you want to share. Ultimately, your clients are going to get a sense of ‘you’ you’re your website, blog and even Facebook. Here is the ultimate ‘fine line’ between your personal life and business. Remember. Everything is public.
Now that said, I’ve found that practically every gig that I’ve ever got came about as a result of my social life. Getting out to a meet up of like minds, or a coworking jelly like the ones we run in London, where you might meet someone who is looking for someone with skills like yours is exactly how modern networking happens these days. There simply isn’t any need to go to those awkward business card exchanges.
So, in a nutshell. Be social. Be you. But be professional you.
Here’s a couple of useful books that you might like to expand on this idea.