7 Tips for freelancers or consultants just starting out

Freelancing and consulting can often seem like an impossible juggling act, but if you keep these seven practical tips in mind, your business will go from strength to strength.

16th March 2009 at 11:24 am

Work out what you’re best at and express it clearly on all marketing material. You need to be able to tell potential clients quickly and simply what you do and how it will help them. Its tempting to claim to do everything for fear of missing out but this just leaves clients confused and thinking that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Talk to current and former clients to understand if they want the services you offer. It doesn’t matter how great you are at ‘widget design’ or ‘creative thinking’, if clients don’t want or need what you’re offering you will struggle. The quickest and cheapest way to find out is to pick up the phone and ask former colleagues and clients for their advice.

Keep marketing even when you’re snowed under with work. Seasoned freelancers will tell you that this is the key to avoiding the ‘feast and famine’ syndrome.  When you get your first client it’s very easy to get wrapped up in delivering services, after all that’s what pays the bills – but you must set aside a little bit of time to keep in contact with other clients and contacts otherwise when the job is finished you’ll be back at square one.

Always use a contract or send clients yout terms and conditions, however small the job. Doing work on the strength of a phone call or email can leave you exposed if the client changes their mind or decides not to pay. Using a proper contract makes you look professional and makes sure your client is clear about what you’re doing and what they can expect to pay. There are some examples here

Invoice promptly and chase for payment as soon as its due. Late payment is a problem for all small business, pre-empt it by being prompt and meticulous in all your admin so the client realises they won’t get away with stringing you along. Follow up invoices with a polite call, ‘to check you received it’. If in any doubt about a clients ability to pay, ask for an up front deposit.

Keep careful records of expenses etc for tax purposes. Tax investigations are rare but if you’ve kept careful records and made sure you keep business money separate from personal money you have nothing to fear. Conversely if your records are a mess then doing your end of year accounts or responding to a tax demand will cost you unecessary time and money.

Put at least 30% of what you earn aside to cover tax and unexpected gaps in income. It’s a fact of life that freelancers and consultants sometimes find that they have no work, and no income, for a period. If you make sure you don’t spend everything that comes in you can use this time as a refreshing break rather than panicking about where your next pay cheque is coming from.

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Gill Hunt is an independent IT and Management consultant and founder/owner of www.skillfair.co.uk Promoting the exchange of expertise, Skillfair offers a unique service for both consultants and clients. Through the on line meeting place clients can invite more than 1200 quality checked consultants and advisors to respond to their requests for expert help. Consultants can access these projects and use the service to find others offering similar or complimentary services to work with them on bids or ongoing projects. http://www.skillfair.co.uk

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  1. […] Check out these tips for starting out with freelancing. […]

  2. 4getmenot says:

    Very useful information Gill and well stated. I could especially identify with the aspect of topping up the pot. It is all too easy to feel a comfort zone when business is going well only for it to go pear shaped within a few days. How ever busy I am I am always on the lookout for more clients.

    I especially liked the section relating to telling the market what you do. I have just reached the point where I have separate cards for each arm of the business. You may want to look as if you are diverse and flexible but also dont want to come across as Jack of all trades and master of none.

    Excellent advice for any start up.

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