5 Keys to Making a Living from Freelancing

7 years ago when I was working in a cubicle in Bellevue I thought I had made it. Good money, good benefits, interesting work at a fast paced company. Then came the crippling anxiety and quietly building rage. Those side effects seem inseparable from high profile agency jobs with six figure salaries. When I was laid off I saved my last line of code, packed up my desk, and on the mid-day summer drive home I wept as relief washed over me.

Looking back I was in no shape, emotionally or physically, to be working 80 hour weeks in a high stakes environment. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t even know it until months later when my system started to rebound. My recovery from the workaholism that stopped my marriage and kept me from inspecting my real stress management issues is a topic for another post. What I would like to share with you is a handful of tips that got me through the first few years of working for myself.

In the major life change I experienced there was one place I consistently turned, besides my excellent therapist: The library. I read everything I could get my hands on about starting a business and maintaining it. When I started working for myself I took copious notes and I’d like to share some with you today. I hope this list helps you on your path to independence, freedom, self-knowledge and self-confidence.

  1. Keep your leads.
    A lead is a contact + a need. Leads can be found on Craigslist, job boards, through word of mouth, in the elevator, the bar, or anywhere people with problems and money hang out. Leads should be written down somewhere like in CRM and you should keep that list up to date. If the job is pulled from Criagslist or the job board, archive the lead. If you find out some special information about the lead, promote it.
  2. First contact – go for shock and awe!
    Be prepared for first contact because the opportunity could come at any time. Always have examples applicable to the needs of the lead along with a call to action like setting up a call, a face-to-face, or asking for specific feedback on your portfolio.
  3. Closing the deal – pay yourself first.
    A client should always feel like you began work in good faith (even if you just put their logo on one of your existing templates). It’s a step in building a relationship. That should open the conversation to signing the contract and writing the first check. You can make a commitment to a deadline as long as your deadlines for sign off and payment are being met. If you don’t get paid, the deadline is scrapped (or features are cut).
  4. Do real project management – stay ahead of the client.
    Managing client expectations is key. If they want something done, the answer is always “Yes, and we will need to get back to you with a plan for how to work this in to the schedule/budget.”
  5. Deliverables – DVNO
    The details matter. You need to know the critical path and the pet features so you can include those in each deliverable and cut elements that don’t make the client happy. When you deliver, the client needs to be doing some work. Either coordinating with the operations group, testing, or writing a check (or all of the above). You don’t deliver unless the client is working with you.

Building your client base is hard. Keeping clients happy is hard. Getting paid is hard. But not as hard as recovering from a gut wrenching layoff. Enjoy the feeling of security you will have when you know how to go out and get real paying customers.