Patience and focus will go a long way
Congratulations if you, as many Boomers, have decided to start a freelance career and join the Gig Economy. However, if you are not used to this type of work, it may get confusing and frustrating very quickly. Some people start freelancing with a strong plan. Thy have considered their skills, selected their focus areas, researched their market, checked out competition and going rates, added to their skills through some additional learning, and entered the field all ready for a success.
For many Boomer freelancers though the start is not as deliberate and smooth. It is easy just to declare yourself a freelancer because you have heard stories or read on-line about opportunities associated with being a freelancer and running your own business. In a few weeks you might be confused sitting in front of your computer and pitching at every opportunity you can find online. Such a rocky start may bring you down, but if you keep the following 4 things in mind, you will very likely achieve success.
1. Be Patient
It goes without saying that newbie freelancers will most likely face some rejections at the start. If you are not patient and dedicated, every minor setback will be seen as a major disaster and a possible indication that you are simply not good enough to do this. If you had a successful career, every rejection criticism will be seen as personal, especially if you know someone who is successful already. Frustration will grow very quickly and it can make you miserable.
In this case patience is a virtue. Freelancing is a great encore career and life choice, but you can only be happy with it if you are prepared to go the distance. You need to look at least 6 or 9 months forward and not let day to day up and downs frustrate you. Little or maybe even major setbacks will happen, especially at the start. Be patient and focus on your objective of having a fulfilling business. Accept that it may take a few rejections and failures to get there.
2. Start Small
The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, as one famous Chinese philosopher said. As a freelancer you will need to build up some skills and behaviors that may not be obvious to someone who spent their entire career in a traditional office environment. You will need to get used to managing time, pitching for work, staying abreast of your clients, etc., all with the goal of building up your business.
For your freelance career you need to pick an area where you feel that your skills and passions match. It can be anything as long as it is not “just some job”. If you are good at communications, you may want to think about being a “customer support manager” for your clients. If you are active on social media, you may want to think about being a “social media specialist”. As long as you have a passion for what you aim to do, no goal will seem big and scary.
Starting small will help you to put your skills to test and develop the necessary behavior. Do a little bit every day and adjust your working style as needed. Starting small will also show you if you need to build up your skillset every day. Just build the habit.
3. Volunteer to Start
One of the best things you can do to start is to do work for actual clients. However, as you are new to the game, it may be difficult to sell your services at the price that you want to charge in the long term. Instead of dropping your price to win a new client, consider doing some work on a volunteer basis. Offer up to your prospective client to spend a few hours helping them with a project or task.
Volunteering accomplishes a few things. First, you do not set your price low and do not have to worry about increasing your fees later – never an easy task. Second, you will be able to put your skills to work and see if you can manage your time and develop working relationship with your client. You can also show your prospective client all the things that you bring to the table, gaining their interest. If all else fails, at least you will have a small project to showcase in your portfolio.
Key is to stay disciplined and not to fall into a trap of working for free. When you suggest a volunteer or pro-bono work, set a limit that is sensible. A few hours of your work may be all it takes to convince your client to hire you. If not, do not be shy about stepping away and focusing on other potentially paying clients.
4. Build Your Network
The old truth still holds – you will be getting some of your work through people you know. Your past employers or colleagues that are still working full-time may be the best source for early referrals and potential projects. Every business is run by people and they like to hire freelancers that they feel connected to whether by reference or personal relationship.
As you start up, you need to find time to network and refresh your relationships. It’s almost as important as building up of your skills and racking up experience. Make sure that everyone knows about your encore career choice and express appreciation for any help they can provide. Your friends will be happy to help.
So, if you are just starting out give yourself the time, start small and develop relationships. It may feel like you are back at the beginning of your career, but with many more years of experience and hopefully determination.