Members of Cowork Frederick weigh in with their best advice for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs
With more people leaving traditional 9-5 jobs in favor of choosing their own work, freelancing has become more popular than ever. The number of freelancers has been increasing since 2014. According to Statistica, there were about 53 million people doing freelance work in the United States in 2014, but by 2020 that number had increased to 59 million.
Cowork Frederick, a coworking space that caters to freelancers, solo entrepreneurs, and remote workers, has been providing ways for them to connect, learn, and grow for nearly 10 years. In fact, Cowork Frederick has the highest concentration of freelancers and solopreneurs in Frederick, Maryland – a resource well worth tapping into.
I talked to some the members of Cowork Frederick to get their best advice on how to set yourself up for success. Whether you’re a current or soon-to-be micro-business owner, these tips for how to run and maintain your business are for you.
Write a Business Plan
Liz Van Brunt is the founder and president of Your Third Hand which provides executive assistant services and virtual office management to small and medium businesses. Liz has been a “solopreneur” and small business owner for over 23 years, which means that she is a wealth of knowledge and experience.
She shares some of her tips and tricks below:
- Keep a network of other freelancers or companies that you can turn to for ideas, backup, or to refer your clients to when they are looking for services you can’t or don’t provide.
- Write a business plan with your basic details – even if you have been in business a few years. I’ve done this every year since I started my business in 1998. Writing a business plan helps me better define what my boundaries are so I can check in with myself when a new client comes along. I can more easily determine if it is a good match with my goals.
- Keep an eye on market rates and stay current. If we all charge within the same range then we help our industry as a whole.
Scott Harris is an award-winning writer, editor, and journalist who has been honing his skills as a freelancer for the last 10 years. Scott’s work has been featured on CNN, Vice Media, and Healthline, just to name a few.
Here are his tips:
- Work for free (sometimes). There are different schools of thought on this, but I believe that if you have the right opportunity you should go for it, even if there’s little or no compensation. Don’t work for free indefinitely or let yourself be taken advantage of, but if you enjoy it and get some good work samples out of it, then it may still be worth your time.
- Build in downtime. I’ve been at this for more than 9 years, and many of these years, especially in the beginning, involved working essentially around the clock, including plenty of nights and weekends. After all, if freelancers don’t get the work done, they don’t get paid, right? If you don’t draw boundaries around your own time, no one else is going to do it for you. When the clock hits a certain hour or you reach a natural stopping point in your work, make a point to close the laptop, put down the phone, and allow yourself time to recharge. Everyone needs self-care, even (or maybe especially) those with the most dedicated work ethics. Those deadlines can wait.
- Go for active voice. This is a terrific “life hack” for anyone looking to take their writing to the next level. Instead of “X was done by Bobby,” change to “Bobby did this.” It saves words, it frees up your verb (the hidden powerhouse in any sentence), and it moves the subject of the sentence to the front. If I could suggest one “magic bullet” writing or editing tip, this would be it.
Don’t Do Any Work Without a Contract
Here are my tips:
- Trust your instincts and intuition. If you’re getting an uneasy feeling about a potential client, listen to your gut.
- Don’t do any work without a contract. It is a crucial part of protecting you, your business, and your assets. It’s definitely worth the money to have a lawyer draw up (or at least look over) your contract.
- Don’t allow others to devalue you. If a potential client scoffs at your fees, tries to use “hardball” negotiation tactics, or wants you to work at a super-reduced rate, it’s not a good fit.
- Require a non-refundable deposit before you begin work. When a client has some “skin in the game” they are more likely to be responsive to your requests for information and pay you on time.
Always Have Some Cash on Hand
Derrick Miller is the owner of Axis 80 Interactive, a website design, and digital marketing company. Over the last 20 years, he has learned a lot about managing his business finances. “In the early days of my web development business, one of the biggest challenges I faced was the “boom and bust” nature of project-based revenue. There would be long stretches of no income punctuated with spikes as I completed big projects, which made it tough to maintain financial stability,” Derrick explains.
- Spread payment schedules out over the duration of a contract instead of asking for only a deposit and final payment.
- Offer some services on a recurring model such as a subscription or retainer.
- Always have some cash on hand to buffer the peaks and valleys of inconsistent revenue.
“With those lessons, I was able to get cash flow under better control. It’s still something that I have to actively watch and manage, but it’s no longer the problem that it used to be,” he says.
Develop Strong Working Relationships
Morgan Cherish is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She is also the founder of Frontier ABA, where she provides behavior analysis, speech, and language services for children with autism and other developmental disabilities worldwide.
Morgan shared her best tips for running a small business venture:
- High-Quality Work. This is by far what has made my business thrive. When I first started I got 1 client, but I put a massive amount of effort into making sure the child’s program was of the highest quality possible. From that single client, word spread like wildfire, and I got 5 more clients over the course of my first month! While it may seem obvious to deliver high-quality services and products to some, it is not the norm across the board.
- Relationships. Developing strong working relationships with my clients has also allowed me to deliver first-class services and bring in more clients. I want people to WANT to work with me because not only do they get outstanding services, but the process is enjoyable for everyone too.
- Get your billing/taxes in order straight away! I was so disorganized and if I could do it all over again I would have really gotten my act together from the start.
Establish a Routine
- Establish a routine – “office hours” even if you aren’t in an office. Keep them, even if you don’t have an actual assignment you’re working on – use the time for bookkeeping, organizing, cleaning out your inbox, whatever. Will help both with procrastination and maintaining work/life balance.
- Bank a little to cushion those times between assignments. You can always roll any excess you build up over the year into your retirement account at tax time (and both SEP IRAs and Solo 401k’s have much higher contribution limits than traditional IRAs).
- Don’t feel the need to bill everything at the same rate – or to turn down things that don’t pay as well as others. Sometimes the gig is about more than just money.
Don’t do this alone
Whether you’re a new or experienced freelancer, it’s crucial to keep learning more about your chosen career. Julia Ferguson, co-owner of Cowork Frederick has lots of experience running a business and working with freelancers. She gave us this final piece of wisdom, “it’s important to find a group of people who will give you some tough love when needed, inspire you to be better, help you, and cheer your successes. My biggest piece of advice is don’t do this alone.”
Other Freelancing resources:
- 5 Essential Contract Terms for Consultants, Independent Contractors, and Freelancers
- Frederick County Chamber of Commerce: Starting a Business in Frederick County
- Small Business Development Center
- The Freelancer’s Union Blog
About Cowork Frederick
Cowork Frederick’s mission is to be a catalyst for the success of freelancers, teleworkers and entrepreneurs by creating ways for them to come together to work, share ideas, and support each other. Our diverse coworking community consists of people from a variety of backgrounds and professions, for-profits and not-for-profits. We provide a work-friendly environment, meeting rooms, high speed internet, and the usual office amenities at an affordable price. More important, members of our coworking community benefit from a support infrastructure, a chance to connect with and help others, and a place to belong. For many, it’s just a better way to work.
About the Author:
Bethany Good is a prolific poet, creative writer, author, and storyteller. In 2019 she finally found the role she was meant to play, when she became the Founder, CEO, and “Head Wordsmith” of Good Writing Co., which provides copywriting, brand voice consultation, digital marketing, creative storytelling, and other content writing services. Bethany is a dedicated wife and mother of two elementary-aged children. In her limited free time, she enjoys cuddling with her new Boston Terrier puppy, Scout, as well as gardening, hiking, and telling neighborhood kids to get off her lawn.