How to establish yourself and find business as a freelancer

For those of you thrilled with the idea of striking out on your own, we have good news: freelancing is more popular than it’s ever been.

And with global freelancing set to swell in the near future, it’s becoming a major force in the future of employment.

So as the number of freelancers increases, it’s worth asking the question: how easy is it to do successfully?

Melbourne writer Jo Stewart has spent the last six years working as a full-time freelance writer, with work appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, International Traveller, VICE, among many others.

She struck out on her own after years of working for corporate communications and media companies.

According to Stewart, freelancing comes with its own unique set of challenges, but for the right individual it can be a liberating and empowering lifestyle.

How to overcome freelance challenges

If you’re worried about lost sick leave, no superannuation or annual leave, or the idea of permanently chasing late invoices, freelancing might not be for you.

As for wanting a regular paycheck? “Cashflow can be an issue for freelancers, with feasts one day and famine the next,” Stewart says.

All of those assurances that come with working for a company “are hard to lose”.

However, Stewart informs us that they’re not a deal-breaker; it’s just a matter of setting up your own systems for yourself.

Consider the basic systems first: “You need to get yourself a good small business accountant”.

Despite some of the insecurities that come with freelancing, Stewart reminds us of the flip-side: “for freedom, autonomy and flexibility, I decided that it was worth it for me”.

“I can work on days that suit me in ways that suits me, and with a laptop and the internet, I can work from anywhere in the world.

“I can accept work according to my own thoughts, not those of a boss – and there’s no office politics,” Stewart says.

“If you go into it with a positive attitude and you’re organised, there’s no reason you can’t succeed.”

Freelancer in her personal workspace

How to generate leads for freelance opportunities

Generating leads is one of the more difficult things freelancers have to contend with, especially among those just starting out.

“I found lead generation hard in the beginning,” Stewart says. “Over time I learned that word of mouth is as powerful as anything else, as is having a website and accurate LinkedIn and other social media profiles.”

Stewart emphasises the importance of word-of-mouth.

“If you do a particularly good job for a client or an editor, they’re much more likely to refer you to other people, or they will come back to you for more work.”

She shares an insider’s tip: once a job is complete, reach out to the client with a personal follow-up to keep the lines open.

“I follow-up clients with a personal email saying I enjoyed working on the project, and I ask if they have anything in future, to please keep me in mind. The personal touch is important.”

How to stay motivated as a freelancer

A lack of self-motivation and self-discipline is a common (mental) barrier to entry for those considering the freelance lifestyle.

Stewart argues that the discipline to stay motivated is something that can be learned and there are certain initiatives that can make it less of a struggle.

“One of the best things for me was joining a co-working space,” Stewart says, confessing she struggled to be as disciplined working at home full-time compared to in an employer’s office.

“I joined a co-working space in Carlton called Framework for creative professionals, where I go a few days a week.”Co-working space Framework in Carlton, Melbourne

Freelancer Jo Stewart uses co-working space Framework to work in a focused environment and network with other professionals. Image credit: 

The benefits?

Feeling more compelled to work productively in a professional environment, and being able to look to other freelancers or sole trading business owners for support, Stewart says.

In addition, she stresses co-working spaces offer valuable networking opportunities: “I’ve received work from other tenants, and I’ve given work to other people here”.

Armed with Stewart’s advice, have these factors tipped the scales in favour of freelancing?

She leaves that up to each individual.

“Being a freelance writer is not an easy life,” she says.

“If you want an easy job, forget it. But it is an interesting life.”