Learn the key steps you need to take to have a successful freelance practice.
Freelancing can be a very attractive career path for many creative professionals. It affords high levels of flexibility, freedom, and variety. However, it also has its unique challenges. Freelancers should be prepared to learn basic business skills as well as commit to marketing their abilities. But don’t worry, we can help you understand the basics you need to know. This page outlines some of the key things to consider when starting out as a freelancer, along with some helpful resources you can use.
Key Ways To Get Started As a Freelancer
1. Show Your Work Effectively
At its core, freelancing is about selling your services to those who need it. So, potential clients need to be able to know what you offer, see examples of its value, and contact you to start a conversation about contracting you. This is why creating a compelling and easy to navigate online portfolio is so critical.
There are plenty of options for online platforms to create a portfolio. You probably want to have your own personal website to signify you are an established freelance business, but you may also want to join popular portfolio communities to gain further exposure for your work. Explore the advice and resources linked below to build your portfolio.
2. Test Things Out
While the majority of freelance work usually comes from networking and word of mouth (we will touch on this later), when you are starting out it can be helpful to look for available freelance gigs that are posted on platforms dedicated to the freelance community. The quality of opportunities can sometimes vary on these sites, so you should be selective in what you pursue. Still, these opportunities can be a good way to test out the freelance market and get some early experience.
These platforms may allow you to build a base of experience and learn what freelancing looks like for you. These sites also often present the budget for a project upfront, and payments are handled entirely on the platform. These benefits can make for a smooth entry into freelancing. Use the resources linked below to find platforms you might want to explore!
3. Price Your Work Right
Knowing how to price work is often one of the most daunting challenges for emerging freelancers. Many often choose between pricing by an hourly rate versus a flat fee per project. Depending on the type of work you do, you might also need to consider pricing for usage via a licensing arrangement.
There is no one-size-fits-all method to pricing, but you should learn about the different approaches and industry standards to decide what works best for you. Learn different pricing models, industry pricing rates, and more in the resources linked below.
4. Market Yourself and Your Work
As a freelancer, knowing how to market yourself is essential. Getting your work in front of the right audience is a key ingredient to sustaining a freelance career. First, people need to be able to find your work and services. This means you need to create a plan on how to market yourself effectively, and know how to pitch your value to potential clients.
You will want to identify who your target clients are. What type of person or business is most likely to need your services? How can you find them and market yourself to them? What marketing channels might work best for you to reach your target clients? These questions form the basis of a simple marketing plan that can help you get work.
5. Network to Find Work
A significant portion of the way people find work is through networking. In fact, many freelancers find most of their opportunities from connections, referrals, and word of mouth from prior clients. This means that building relationships with people in your community (both real-world and digital), and sharing updates about the work you do is an essential way to get more opportunities.
Tapping into the vast RISD alumni network is a perfect place to start. There are more than 30,000 living RISD alumni, and many of them love to work with other alumni when possible. Use networking sites and the RISD alumni network to connect with the creative world and market yourself as a freelancer!
6. Use Contracts With Clients
Using contracts and understanding agreements is a crucial element of a freelance practice. Sometimes, freelancers can be hesitant to use contracts on every project. However, it is important to keep in mind that getting the agreement in writing protects you and your client in case of any confusion or disagreement. It’s good for everybody!
You don’t need a law degree to learn the basics about writing contracts and understanding intellectual property. Most contracts need to include language around the scope of work, ownership of work, payment terms, usage, deadlines, and rush or cancellation fees.
7. Understand Finances, Taxes, & Cash Flow
When you freelance, you are basically running a tiny small business. So, you need to have a basic understanding of accounting and tax fundamentals to be smart financially. The good news is, you do not need a business background to learn the essentials and make sound financial decisions.
This section has links to teach you accounting basics, guides to managing finances, software to help organize your freelance income, and ways to find additional expert assistance.