We have recently launched our brand new “Becoming a Successful Freelancer” course, which has been designed to help parents and parents-to-be get more flex in their lives.
Many of our Digital Mums graduates go on to become freelancers and find a flexible and rewarding career that fits around their family. Freelancing allows you to set your own hours, doing the work you want to do with the people you want to do it with. However, freelancing comes with its own challenges and it can be a scary transition if you've never done it before.
Thankfully Digital Mums has a tried and tested freelancing framework to help you think about building your freelance career. Read on to find out more about this framework and to get our 10 top tips for making freelancing work for you.
The Digital Mum’s KNOW, SHOW, GROW™ Framework
We have developed a clear and accessible framework to approach your freelancing career. A clear path with steps to follow can help you to feel less overwhelmed.
- KNOW | People make the common mistake of jumping into a freelance career without spending some reflective time answering some crucial questions. Our KNOW stage guides you through the questions you need to ask yourself before you can start a successful freelance career. The work you do in this stage uncovers your values, your skills, strengths and passions, your target and dream clients and your USP in the marketplace. All this helps you to understand what you have to offer, who you want to work with and how to craft the right professional brand to move forward with your freelance career.
- SHOW | An important part of freelancing is showing your professional self to the world in a compelling way that speaks to your target clients. This professional brand influences what you say online, whether on your social networks or on your website (if you have one) and offline, including you introduce yourself to potential connections and clients. This stage sees you develop a clear elevator pitch and an updated LinkedIn profile.
- GROW | The final phase of the framework is about growing your new career. It includes building your network and client base, from setting your pricing strategy and building a sales funnel to keeping up to date with your professional development and marketing yourself as a thought leader. But there is more to building your successful career than finding clients so this phase also includes managing clients and the practicalities of your freelance career.
To help bring each stage to life, here are our top tips on how to become a successful freelancer using the KNOW, SHOW and GROW framework.
1. Understanding the freelance mindset
The right mindset is absolutely crucial when it comes to being a successful freelancer. People underestimate the importance of a freelance mindset. Confidence underpins success at all stages, including:
- Finding work: Freelancing can be a brutal business as you have to put yourself out there time and time again and face possible rejection. You have to pitch confidently.
- Making it work financially: Confidence comes into play when it comes to setting your rates and sticking to them.
- Managing clients: Clients can be really demanding and it takes confidence to set boundaries and to push back.
A great tip to build your self-confidence is to give yourself a pep talk. Negative voices in our head hold us back, so get in front of that mirror and tell yourself positive things. This works particularly well before a specific event, whether it’s a pitch or a conversation to negotiate your rates.
However, negative thoughts aren’t restricted to events in the diary. They can crop up all the time. Try this trick and be strict with yourself. Whenever a negative thought pops into your mind, immediately replace it with a positive thought. For example:
Finding work: Try replacing “They are probably speaking to people way more knowledgeable than me today - this is a waste of time” with “I know I can do a great job for this client they should hire me”.
Setting your rates: Try replacing “I don’t know enough to charge this day rate” with “I am an expert in my field with xxx experience behind me - this is the day rate I deserve”.
Managing clients: Try replacing “What if I push back and my client dumps me” with “I have delivered great results so far and my client is lucky to have me”.
It sounds a little cheesy but trust us, it really helps.
2. Understanding more about your freelance self
Before jumping into finding clients, it’s important to spend some time reflecting and figuring out the answers to the following questions:
- What are your freelance goals?
- What are your skills and strengths?
- What are your professional passions?
- What are your core values?
The answers to these questions will inform:
- Your USP in the marketplace
- Your dream clients
- Your professional brand
Our top tip here is that while internal reflection is the only answer to some of these questions, it can be really helpful to speak to others in your life to help you to identify your skills and strengths. Approach friends, family, old colleagues and old bosses and ask them what you are known for, what they come to you for and what they think your USP is. Having an outside perspective can identify things that you hadn’t even thought of. We can be our own worst critics at times and hearing positive things from others can really lift you up.
3. Carve out a niche
A period of reflection can help you to understand what services you want to offer and who you want to work with. It can be really tempting to offer every service under the sun to any business under the sun and while it’s fine to start your freelance career this way, it can be a good idea to start to focus a bit more and to build a niche for yourself.
This can include:
- Perfecting a specific sub-set of skills that are in demand and just offer those. For example, some of our Digital Mums social media consultants will focus on Instagram and content creation.
- Building expertise in a specific industry. It could be creative businesses, B2C or B2B businesses or perhaps charities. Industries can be very different and having expertise in a particular area can help you stand out from the crowd. For example, many of our Digital Mums social media consultants specialise. We have people working with law firms, people working just with fashion brands or those that work only with charities and social enterprises.
This niche should be focused on what you love as well as what you know.
Digital Mums graduate, Annette Henry, has two passions - interior design and social media - and she’s now lucky enough to combine both. Annette’s clients have included architecture and interior design agency Mansfield Monk and Volks Flooring. She said:
“I couldn’t believe my luck the other day when I was looking through Elle Decoration and Dezeen to get content ideas. It makes such a difference when you have a real interest in your clients’ work and I can honestly say I love what I do!”
And another one of our Digital Mums, Kelly Stanton, says “Find your niche, that subject or area you know best, and look for clients in that space. The more you know and love the subject, the more you can offer a potential client. Passion shows in interviews so find your passion.”
4. DEVELOP YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH
The KNOW stage answers some fundamental questions about how you position yourself and helps you to identify a clear professional brand, with a USP and a target ‘market’ in your ideal clients. With this information, you can now develop a great elevator pitch that communicates what you have to offer in a way that speaks to potential clients. This forms the basis of how you introduce yourself, what you say in your biography and what you say on your social networks. It should be identical across your digital footprint so your brand is communicated consistently.
Our top tip here is to be authentic. If you’re targeting B2B professional services clients but you're bubbly and fun, don’t try to come across as a stuffy and serious candidate in order to speak their language.
5. REFRESH YOUR IMAGERY
Be honest. When was your LinkedIn profile photo taken? We come across outdated profile photos time and time again. People you meet will expect you to look like your photo, so it’s important to ensure it’s up to date.
Not only should your profile photo have been taken recently it should also make sense for your new professional brand. The language you use and the tone of voice are part of this brand and who you are targeting is also important.
Let’s look at the following example:
Anna is a freelance graphic designer. While she can do branding and general design, she is an expert at communicating data. She creates beautiful and accessible data visualisations and infographics. This is her USP, she is great at it and she loves it.
She has strong values around creativity and freedom and is targeting relaxed, creative businesses in the consumer insights space that have to communicate data to their clients on a regular basis.
Anna’s LinkedIn profile photo was taken 5 years ago at her last permanent job in the Government. Her hair is much, much shorter. It’s black and white. She is wearing a grey suit. There is one of those mottled school photo backgrounds.
Does this photo reflect her brand and the clients she wants to work with? I’d argue that’s a solid ‘no’. If I was her target client, I’d be concerned that her work would be traditional, not particularly inventive or creative and that she wouldn’t ‘fit in’.
I would advise her to update her photos and to do it pronto. I’d go for a colour image, relaxed attire and an interesting background that suits her new ‘brand’; perhaps a cafe with plants. Something interesting.
Our tip here is to check out the imagery across your social networks and your website if you have one and to critically assess them. If you can’t answer yes to the following questions you need to update them:
- Is the photo recent?
- Are you immediately recognisable from your photo?
- Does the photo accurately reflect your new professional brand?
- Does the photo appeal to your target clients?
Don’t underestimate the importance of your professional photos.
6. BECOME A LIFELONG LEARNER
When they enter the GROW phase, freelancers quickly jump to growing their network, finding clients, winning work. But to be good at all of these things, you need to focus on your professional development and ensure that you are keeping up with all the trends and developments in your industry.
Freelancers, more than employees, need to be at the top of their game, because they are competing daily with their peers. Having your finger on the pulse and maintaining your professional development is crucial. You need to be a lifelong learner to be a successful freelancer.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is only important if you work in a digital role. All roles are digital these days. There is always new software, new disruptors.
Our top tip is to build your learning into your daily routine. Save time by seeking out the thought leaders in your space and following them on your social networks. This means you’ll get fed with the industry news on a daily basis. Skim through articles daily and for anything chunky that you’d like to come back to, use a bookmarking tool to save it for later. Work out a slot once a week to catch up on these.
7. ALWAYS BE LOOKING FOR NEW CLIENTS
We recommend devoting 3-4 hours each week to business development, even if you have your hands full with clients. That might sound like a lot, but it’s the key to being a successful freelancer for so many reasons. The benefits of always filling your client pipeline are:
- The more in demand you are, the more you can charge. It’s harder to negotiate your rates if you feel like you need that client. There’s no better-negotiating position than knowing you have a queue of potential clients lined up.
- We have known some of our freelancers to have their hands full with clients only to discover a month later that their work has dried up. Peaks and troughs naturally happen and having a bank of potential client leads to fall back on is always a good idea.
- If you need your freelancing income, it can be stressful not having a reliable and steady income each month. Your clients can leave you at any time and you can leave them. While this can be a benefit of freelancing, financially it can cause anxiety. Having a pipeline of potential replacements can ease the stress.
Business development doesn’t have to be as onerous as it sounds. Here are our 3 top tips for making it work.
- Schedule business development time in your diary and stick to it.
- Weave marketing into your professional development as much as possible. Follow great industry thought leaders and then after reading their most recent trends blog, share it with your network and add an insightful comment. Suddenly you’re content marketing!
- Regularly evaluate which tactics work best for you. Ask clients and potential clients where they heard of you so you can understand which marketing tactic brought them in. You might be spending loads of time offline networking only to discover it’s your Facebook Group posts that have brought most of your leads in.
"The secret to a successful freelance career is constant hustling", says Digital Mum graduate Anna Jones,
8. ALWAYS DO THE HUSTLE
This is our mantra at Digital Mums for a reason! Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that clients are going to fall into your lap when you make the transition to a freelance career. So you need to go out there and hustle for them.
Of course, it makes sense to attend relevant sector and industry events, but the best freelancers see any invitation as an opportunity to build their brand. Approach any event as a potential networking event, even if it’s a dinner party or a chat at the school gates. Just let people know what you do and what you’re passionate about. You never know where it could lead. We know a Digital Mum that picked up a client when getting waxed and several that have found clients through the school run!
“Potential clients pop up in the strangest places,” says Digital Mum Amy Duthie, who now manages three clients including Mums with Attitude and Bear Foot Breaks, as a freelance social media manager. “I met one of my clients, who runs a coffee business, at my daughter’s sing and sign class. There seem to be a lot of entrepreneurs setting up at the moment so make sure you get out there and tell everyone what you do.”
9. FIND YOUR TRIBE
Even if you have more clients than you know what to do with, there can be other challenges around freelancing, one of which is the isolation of working alone.
In the KNOW phase, your reflection should start to help you to think about how important social connections, feedback and support are to you. For introverts, they can be happy to work alone. For extroverts, this can leave them lacking in motivation and can even result in depression. Likewise, some people are happy to work without input or feedback. For others, this causes problems. Understanding this is the first step.
Once you are clear on the potential barriers of lone freelancing, you can do something about them in a way that works for you.
If it’s important for you, nurture relationships with other amazing women who have struck out on their own.There are loads of great communities out there find the right one for you. All of our graduates have access to the completely awesome #DMCollective - a supportive online community of like-minded mums. There is also our Facebook group to empower all women to find #WorkThatWorks. Go here to sign up. There will be others devoted to your industry or your area. You can find support in these groups on anything from professional development questions to support handling a tricky client.
If you hate being alone all day, go and work in a co-working space or a cafe or find local freelancers and work from each other’s homes.
Chloe Samwell-Smith, otherwise known as Chloe Loves to Shop, said: “After working with a team of people in an office for 17 years, one of the things I missed the most was the daily chit-chat and laughter. There was always someone to check spelling, proof-read an important email or bounce ideas off. When you work for yourself, there are days when you can feel a little isolated and cut off from all of that. I think it’s really important to find a friend in a similar position to you that will understand your struggles and frustrations. A quick phone call with someone who understands can make the world of difference.”
10. SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES
One of the main reasons people go into freelancing is to have more freedom and flexibility. But one of the biggest challenges of freelancing is managing clients and managing your work/life balance. It can feel like work permeates your home and that you’re always working.
Being a successful freelancer means setting clear work and home boundaries and learning when to switch off. Some people are better at this than others. If you’re a perfectionist, are a tad obsessive and love what you do, then it’s likely you’ll struggle here. But there are some things you can do that will help.
- Create a clear space to work from that isn’t the same space where you relax. If you have a tendency to be ‘always on’, then why not join a co-working space or go to a cafe so that you can ‘go to work’ and when you return, you leave work at the door. Or, if you work from home, try not to work in the lounge in front of the TV. Create a work station (or ideally have a home office) that you ‘go to’ every day and if you work in the evening, do your work there and then finish and sit down in the lounge.
- Set yourself clear work hours. It doesn’t matter when these are and they can be daytime and evening. But have clear work hours and stick to them. If you are bringing up a family, have clear family time and don’t let your work spill into these, even if there is a ‘client emergency’.
Have clear boundaries with your clients that are set and agreed upfront. Let them know your work hours and when you will be available. Discuss what constitutes an ‘emergency’ when they may contact you outside of these hours and have this emergency contact be via WhatsApp not email or Slack if you use that. It needs to be a non-traditional mode of communication for you so that you can avoid checking email/Slack outside of your work hours.
“When the children come home from school, I try to leave my phone in another room so that I am not distracted and they feel like they have my full attention. I have three children and two needy cats so there’s enough competition for my time without adding a phone in the mix!’ Chloe, Digital Mum’s graduate.
If you're new to freelancing or are struggling in your freelance career, sign up to learn more about our new "Becoming a Successful Freelancer" course that uses the KNOW, SHOW, GROW framework to set you up for success. It's filled with strategic and practical tools and templates, and a confidence coach will help to build the right mindset. You can find out more and enrol on the course here.