10 tips for successful freelancing

Book Buzz

It’s been two months since I jumped out of the safe zone of full-time employment and into the wild, unknown and exciting world of freelancing. Here are my top ten tips for making freelance life as fun and successful as possible.

1) Be organised

Hooray – at last, you’re your own boss! Unfortunately, this means that the only person who’s going to boss you around and check you’ve got everything done is you. To save yourself a series of brutal one-to-ones in the bathroom mirror, find an organisational strategy that works for you, and stick to it. I have a Word document with colour-coded lists that I update every day, and although it’s simple, it keeps me on the straight and narrow. Online tools such as Trello and Asana can also help. The key is to find a solution that’s easy to set up and easy to maintain.

2) Be nice

This doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover. It’s fine to turn work down, or negotiate the terms of a job – but relationships work best with people who are calm, friendly and honest, so be the kind of person you would like to work with.

3) Network, network, network

Coming in at number 3 is the most important tip of all! Talking to strangers can be stressful, but it is incredibly worthwhile (and if you need any encouragement to get over your shyness, fellow BookMachiner Stephanie Cox has some excellent advice here). Go to networking events, conferences and any other publishing-related gatherings you can, and make sure you talk to at least two people you didn’t know before – and don’t forget to swap cards or Twitter handles so you can stay in touch. The more you do it, the easier it gets – and you don’t have to be in sales-pitch mode: just get to know people, and be yourself.

4) Communicate, communicate, communicate

Even if you’re working from home most of the time, technology makes it easy to stay in touch with your collaborators. With Skype and Google Hangouts, you can have face-to-face meetings without leaving your house, and if you’re more of a text-based person, Slack is a great tool for work-related conversations. (And gifs – there are times when only a gif will do.)

5) Ask for a clear brief, and ask for feedback

Now you’re working with lots of different clients, you’ll find they have different expectations and different ways of working – so it makes sense to find out as clearly as possible what they want you to do before you start, and then check in them afterwards to see if they were happy with it.

6) Be generous

Yes, you need to be an opportunist, and keep an eye out for new jobs and new clients – but sometimes a job will come up that’s not quite right for you, or that you’re busy to take on. If you can connect people together to get the job done, do it. It will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and both the other parties will think well of you. And my experience suggests that people share with people who share, so you won’t lose out.

7) Dress for success

‘Hooray, you can work in your PJs all day!’ was the most common thing I heard when I told people I was going freelance. The truth is: I’ve tried it, and I didn’t like it. If I’m dressed for bed, I don’t feel like a smart, alert publishing person – though on the other hand, I wear jeans and a T-shirt a lot more in Headon HQ than I did in my last job. Try out different options till you find the one that works for you.

8) Don’t forget to go outside

I know: this sounds totally ridiculous. However, it is incredibly easy to spend all day indoors when you work from home – and even speaking as someone who loves being indoors, I know I feel like a much saner, more human person if I go for a walk at the beginning and end of the day. You may be a sporty Fitbit-wearer already, but if you’re a desk potato like me, you might find the Active 10 app useful, as it makes you feel like a hero just for doing 10 minutes of brisk walking.

9) Invest in yourself

Try to build time into your schedule for developing your own business, whether it’s fine-tuning your website, researching new clients or learning new skills. It’s all too easy to say ‘yes’ to everyone else and not leave enough time for your own needs, but you need to keep moving forwards, so be sure to book some time in your diary for developing your business. You won’t regret it.

10) Have fun!

Work is important – really important, but the best thing about being freelance is being free. You don’t have any more hours in the day than anyone else, but you do get to choose how you spend them. If you want to go shopping on a Tuesday morning when the high street is quiet, and work on Saturdays – do it. If you work best from your bed – do it. And if you need to re-energise yourself by dancing to classic tunes on YouTube or spinning on your swivel chair – you get the drift.

What are your top tips for winning at freelancing? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter at @bookmachine.

Abbie Headon runs Abbie Headon Publishing Services, and offers a range of skills including writing, editing and commissioning, alongside social media, website development and publishing management. She champions fresh approaches to solving the industry’s challenges and can be found mingling at most publishing events. Abbie’s also on the BookMachine Editorial Board

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  1. This is great advice! I think investing in yourself is especially important. A big part of freelancing (for me, at least) is being able to grow as a person and develop myself professionally. It’s easily to get sucked into a job and forget about that side of it.

  2. This is a great article, very practical advice! I would also recommend joining local freelancer groups – I’ve found that it’s a good way of meeting other freelancers and learning from more experienced colleagues!

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