I’ve stayed at home with my kids (all 800 of them, it seems) for nearly twelve years now, and aside from two years in a contract position with General Motors, I’ve been self-employed in web-based businesses the entire time. While I’ve learned a lot of my lessons the hard way (ask me about my $300 check for writing the strategy for a $250k campaign….that was a valuable lesson…sigh…), hopefully you won’t have to. My tips:
1. Don’t give away the milk. Just like your momma told you. If you give it away for free, nobody will pay you for it. Wait…maybe that’s not exactly what your momma meant. But, you get my gist. Your work, be it manual labor, ideas, writing, handmade goods, etc… has value. But you can’t convert that value into currency if you’re giving it away for free.
2. Know your rate. You’ve found someone who’s willing to pay for your work. Know how much it’s worth. Check out the competitors. Do your research. Learn the going rate. Know how much it’s going to cost you (in time, childcare, transportation, etc.) to do the work. Know your rate and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
3. Protect your intellectual property. Have a brilliant invention, a new concept, a product nobody’s ever seen before? Don’t go telling anyone who will listen. Take the proper legal steps including patents, trademarks, non-disclosure agreements and extensive documentation both of your concept and who you’ve discussed it with.
4. Contracts are your friend (scope of work, terms of payment, late fees). Do not, I mean this, DO NOT, even start working until you have a clearly defined project plan that includes the full scope of the project, who is responsible for what, timelines, deliverables, terms of payment and costs for overruns that fall outside the original scope of work. This document needs to be signed by BOTH parties, and can save everyone a lot of heartache in the long run. Make sure your payment timeline is clear and that penalties for late payment are stated. If the company or brand you’re working with presents you with a contract, please make sure you consult your attorney before signing.
5. Minimum engagement. Part of freelancing is knowing what your time is worth. Another important part is knowing what’s worth your time. If you have to rearrange your schedule and get childcare and buy a new outfit for something that is going to pay you $100, it’s probably not worth your time. Make sure you weigh costs and benefits of each project before committing to it. And don’t be afraid to set a minimum engagement fee, i.e., “I charge $X per hour, and only accept projects of at least Y number of hours. Even if the actual amount of work falls below that number of hours, you will still be charged the full minimum amount.”
6. Network. Talk to EVERYONE about what you do. You never know which contacts will ultimately pay off. I have gotten multiple projects from people I already know, just by mentioning what I do.
7. Ask for work. Nobody will know you’re looking for work unless you ask for it.
8. Deliver. Deliver your work on time. Above expectations. Don’t be difficult or unreliable. Produce good, quality work every single time that makes people want to use you again.
9. Ask for recommendations. If you’ve done good work, people will be happy to tell others about you. Hand out business cards. Ask for referrals. Request testimonials for your website and Linkedin profile. Let people help you!
Freelancing isn’t always the easiest path, but with some good guidance, experience and a little help from your friends, it can be an excellent way to balance family and career.
Audrey Binkowski is a writer, a mother, a digital marketer, and a hoarder of vintage items. Seriously, her closets and cupboards are full of old crap that belonged to dead people. You can read more from Audrey on her blog, Laugh Mom.