09 Jun 2021 11:07 IST

Lessons from freelancers in the game

Don’t sell yourself short, resist the temptation to do it for free, and experiment with prices

With all that’s been going on in our country, I did not know what to write about that would bring value to students and freelancers or those who are interested in the gig economy and the future of work.

The atmosphere is tense and work seems to be the last thing on our minds right now. Yet, for so many it has been a source of comfort, something we can put our minds to, something that makes us feel accomplished in our day. It’s these small doses of comfort that are taking us through. Being productive is, frankly, quite the dopamine releaser. So for those of you who want to start something new, or have been considering freelancing, or have already started freelancing, I have something for you. I’ve asked freelancers who’ve been in the game for about 5+ years to tell us what advice they’d give to people starting out. Especially in these times.

This column is a curation of their responses, and I hope they help you.

Define your niche

A lot has been said about “narrowing your niche”, and “knowing your ideal client” — these are important questions. It would be uninformed to say “I am a freelancer that does everything.” But at the same time, don’t let an undefined niche stop you from starting out. Your positioning will evolve and grow as you take on more and more projects — you’ll understand what your audience want and you’ll understand what you like doing. So, for people starting out, there’s no harm at all in being pretty broad in your offerings. The specificity will come gradually.

Should I work for free?

As a newbie, you might be tempted to take on a few projects for nothing in return. Trust me, this temptation is real. You just want to start somewhere, and so you’re willing to do whatever it takes. That’s completely fine. If you have the capability and security to start off with a few projects to build your portfolio — go ahead. But the best advice that came through the interviews was “if you’re working for free, do it only for yourself.” This can take many routes —start writing articles and blogs and make your expertise obvious, start building a community online where people you see as an expert, spend enough time building an unforgettable first impression through your portfolio and online presence.

Process = product

This is an important one and something most freelancers take a while to figure out. But, here you have it. Refine and customise your client interaction experience. People are willing to pay more for this than you can imagine. What this means is that the process you take your clients through is as important as the final outcome. You can start off with a simple step-by-step framework alongside dates and outcomes. This simple step can do wonders for you, even more so because everything is digital now. Clients like to feel secure, that they’re getting their money’s worth — and they feel this in the outcome for sure, but also in the way the outcome was produced.

Experiment with pricing

Here’s another thing you should try out — experiment with your prices. Raise it off and on, and see how people respond to them. Are they dropping off after hearing your price? Are they more curious after hearing your price? Are you getting fewer clients but more revenue? You may be surprised. Please don't under-price your services, you’ll end up resenting that project and what you do, and that’s not a great place to be in. Always think about who your client is and quote depending on them. You can always charge differently for the same work.

Get rejected

As a freelancer, you will be rejected a lot, and that can be hard. But once you read Kim Lao’s, Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year — your perspective changes entirely. So many people have followed suit. The idea is, the more rejections you aim for, the more acceptances you are likely to get. Read this article and try it out for yourself.

Multitasking is overrated

How many times have you felt busy, but haven’t actually done much work? In fact there is a 17th century verb that describes this exact feeling — Spuddle. It is to work feebly and ineffectively, because your mind is elsewhere. The number one, and in my opinion, the only solution here is to deep work. That could mean different things for different people, but to put it simply it means, do not multitask. The world we live in, has, for some reason, shown multitasking to be this glorious skill. Don’t fall into that trip. If you have a task at hand, especially a creative/strategic one, give it full attention. The time taken to achieve that outcome will be significantly lesser, and the outcome itself will be significantly better.

There you have it. A mini crash course on things you should keep in mind as you start freelancing. Some of these tips are not freelance-specific, so whether you’re working at a corporation or studying — multitasking is still overrated.