Setting Yourself Up to Freelance, Successfully

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by Erica Flores and Nathalie Heywood
More and more, the question comes up, “Should I get a permanent position or should I freelance?” The answer depends on what is your ultimate goal. Being a freelancer is much like running your own business. You will need to feel comfortable with the ebbs and flows of the work cycle. Which also means working within a budget, fluctuating payment cycles for work, keeping your skills sharp, keeping your portfolio and resume up to date at all times, and staying self-disciplined.
Many chose contract employment as a way to have work/life balance, expand their skills, hone areas of expertise, and widen their experience. Whether you are joining the industry after a career change or after many years as a staff employee, here are few tips to setting up a successful freelance business:

  1. Set expectations and do some research.

When getting back out into the market, it is important to research what someone at your level should be looking for in terms of compensation. What is the market rate for someone with your skillset? What roles are out there right now and what are they offering? Consulting with industry professionals and recruitment agencies can help you get a better grasp on the marketplace, skillsets clients are asking for, and pay structures.

  1. Update your resume. Your resume is a “snap chat” of your experience and skills.

It is a presentation of your best self— so be direct, take credit for who you are, highlight your successes, think creatively, and make sure you communicate clearly. If you were employed full-time with a company for a long period of time, make sure to highlight any change in title during your time there and the different responsibilities that came with each title.

  1. Tighten up that portfolio. Your portfolio is a reflection of your creativity. It is the visual resume. It is important that your samples are relevant and recent. Try to show only work done within the last seven years. Make sure any big-name clients listed are still in business, as it can date your work. Creating a website is one of the best ways to show and organize your work. You can organize your site by client, or by type of work, but it is important that your website is easy to navigate through. There are a number of portfolio sites like,,, that can assist you in getting your work up quickly and efficiently.
  1. Think about your schedule and what you can commit to. Freelancing allows you to explore new industries and clients and have flexibility. It also requires you to be available on short notice. There are many opportunities out there that allow for flexibility in your schedule, including working from home or working night shifts. Analyze what fits best fits for you. Do you want to stay within a morning schedule? Can you work late nights and long hours?
  1. Set yourself up to manage your finances differently. Check in with your accountant, learn how to create a budget, and stick to the budget. Making the change from being a full-time employee to a freelancer changes how you approach your personal finances. Your pay schedule is going to be different, and you will have to think about your healthcare plan as well. It is important to make a financial plan and stick to it. Always keep in mind that the freelance industry has slow periods, and you need to prepare for weeks of no work.
  1. Make connections. Get out there and network! There are several day and afternoon events for industry professionals. You’ll see a mix of other creatives looking to make connections, and recruiters looking for new talent to fill open jobs. Connecting with a staffing agency can set you on the right track to your next career move. They can discuss new open opportunities and help you narrow down what roles you would like to be considered for.
  1. When changing industries, you need to be flexible about your rate and title. Ending a full-time role is an opportunity to change industries. When making the change into a different industry, it is important to be open and willing to take direction. In today’s job market, many will face a Catch 22 situation in which you might have to take a pay cut for a short time in order to open up the door for opportunities that can benefit you in the long run. Think of it as an investment in building your career in the new industry. Also, consider being flexible in your job title. While you may have been an Art Director in one industry, you might have to go for hands-on design to get into a different industry. Flexibility with your job title and rate can widen your opportunities.
  1. Make sure the amount of freelance work you take is manageable. When entering the freelance world after having steady employment, it is important not to bite off more than you can chew. Always get a clear scope of work, and set clear expectations, schedules, rates, and contingencies. It may be tempting to take on multiple projects with different schedules, scopes, and deadlines. It can be tempting to take on as much work as possible to keep income flowing in. . However, without the proper scope of work, time management, and understanding of how much work you can do at once, you run the risk of burning bridges with potential clients you are trying to build a lasting relationship with. Try not to think about much work you can take on at once, but how much you can produce at a high quality, so you can have satisfied clients that keep coming back.


Written by Andy Brenits

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