Every month, SFAN invites professionals from different careers to participate in #SFANLiveChat, a Twitter Live Chat to explore topics ranging from business to career. For the March edition, we hosted Amy Sept, owner of Nimbyist Communications, and Kelechi Udoagwu, Co-founder of Skrife, to consider how freelancers can grow and thrive in their career.
This Live Chat comes ahead of the 2017 edition of SFAN Quantum Leap Career Fair: Technology and the Future of Work in Africa.
Amy and Kelechi have both carved remarkable niches for themselves in the freelancing business — Amy through her marketing and communications work with nonprofits and tech companies like Upwork, and Kelechi by sieving everything she learned as a freelancer into co-founding the writers’ freelancing job shop, Skrife.
We were ecstatic about having this chat with Amy and Kelechi for two broad reasons:
The freelance economy is on the rise and is expected to keep growing at a steady pace.
Building a freelance career isn’t just about looking for short-term work, it’s a journey that involves branding, negotiation, and competition.
Here’s what we learned about skills, clients acquisition, pricing, and replenishing yourself:
First: Create a niche by identifying your marketable skills
If you’re new to freelancing, you’re probably wondering how to start. The first thing you do is to find that angle between what you’re really good at and what people are actually willing to pay for — your marketable skills.
But, how do you start?
Apart from taking tests to identify your niche skills, Amy says, “one question you can start with is: What do you know well enough to teach others?” Again, before leaping off, test for freelancing potential by finding out if jobs/projects exist. “Are other freelancers succeeding with your skill set? It’s also important to understand your industry — read blogs, media, and white papers. What are the current trends and hottest skills?”
At the early stages when you’re still torn between multiple skills, Kelechi says, it’s advisable to do some free work. This helps you identify where your strength lies. “As you gain experience, your skills become more marketable.” And with experience comes credibility, which in turn determines how much you ask for your service.
Second: Unleash the power of self-promotion
“Finding clients and marketing yourself…it’s the biggest struggle for most freelancers.” — BRENT GALLOWAY
Even though getting your name and work out there in front of potential clients can be daunting work for both experienced and new freelancers, there are proven tricks that work every time.
Participate in online communities and chats, Amy says, don’t just focus on clients. “Meeting people with similar skills is just as important and can lead to referrals and subcontracts. I didn’t know my first clients. I met people (i.e. on Twitter) who introduced me to friends they thought I could help.”
Other freelancers also could be potential partners and people you can learn from! Also, even if you prefer to work virtually, leverage offline networking — you never know where your clients could be.
“Be bold and create a personal brand — be known as the go-to person for high-quality deliverables, highlight your value — early on in your career. This will make people recommend you and use you recurrently,” Kelechi recommends.
Third: Don’t undervalue yourself, ask for what you’re worth
“With pricing, it’s not just about the money. It’s about the quality of life. But always remember that with pricing, there are no rules.” — JAKE JORGOVAN
Speaking from experience, Amy observes that pricing your services can be tricky. “Do the math: [How much $ you want to earn] ÷ [Hours you can work] = potential rate. Is it competitive? That takes research — find average salaries for related jobs, check freelancing websites to see what others charge.”
When setting your pricing, you also need to consider whether to bill hourly or flat project-based rate. Essentially, you need to find what works for you and the client. But always remember that you have bills that must be paid!
Fourth: You cannot pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself
“You are your best asset.” — WARREN BUFFETT
A lot of freelancers get trapped in a vicious circle of work and eventually risk burning out. Balance is tricky if you work from home, Amy says: “You don’t have the cues of going to and from an office, so you have to create your own. My top tip is to set boundaries and stick to them! Focus during work hours; don’t work when you should relax.”
“Make regular (even daily) commitments outside of work, especially if you work from home — exercise, hobbies, friends, etc.,” Amy adds. “There’s a growing co-working movement around the world, there may be one near you that you can sign-on to.”
For Kelechi, though, the caveat is “work-life balance doesn’t mean sacrificing things as much as it means loving the roles we have chosen to play.”
Bonus point: We asked Amy how folks leveraging freelancers to complete their projects can get the best from that collaboration.
Amy: “As a writer, I do my best work when I’m seen as a partner. Communication is always key both ways. So, clearly communicate project details, context, expectations, timelines and discuss each with the freelancer.”
If you want to thrive as a freelancer, you have to 1) move from being a generalist to an expert in a particular field. When you have raised your skills, your rates will take an equal turn. 2) You can be the best at what you do but unless people know about your work, you’ll be of no use to anyone. If you haven’t got to that point where clients are seeking you out, you have to do the legwork of getting your stuff in front of prospective clients. 3) When it comes to pricing, there’s no formula. Set your standards and stick to it. 4) No matter how efficient you are, you cannot work from a hospital bed if you break down — take some time off for self-care.