Career Advice
November 24, 2021

A Letter to My Younger Self : The 3 Must-dos Before Your First Freelance Gig

A Letter to My Younger Self : The 3 Must-dos Before Your First Freelance Gig

Looking back on the first freelance assignment I took on, it was task-based and fully remote. I spent my time servicing two clients. All went swimmingly, these grew into assignments for other clients. I gained experience in industries I would not otherwise have had access to on my own; such as Mining, Pharmaceutical and so on. What no one knew was that I was in the deep end, and not of my own accord. I stepped out of institution pay levels in an attempt to "keep one foot in" amidst institution-level change. It was no longer sustainable. I had to leave, even if I felt unsure what the path ahead of me would look like. With days from initial chat to project start, success as a freelancer is no accident.

These are the top 3 must-dos that I would have shared with my younger freelancing self, written from the perspective of an independent based in Australia.

1. Terms and conditions

As a freelancer, you are a business of providing time to another business. In both, you are an expense for an organisation. Terms and conditions help manage and align expectations for both your client and yourself, so that there is less stress around what may be unsaid. It also helps you to start thinking about what is non-negotiable when you are providing your service. Are incidentals such as stock imagery or purchases included in your fees? What about working file ownership? When would you consider staging payments?  Would there be a fee if your invoice is paid but late? Are you going to charge interest on such payments? When would which of these terms apply to a fixed fee contract versus a task-based freelance assignment?

Do not be too intimidated, my younger self.

There are some simple terms you can find and start using. You learn to be specific and may have to adjust these as your responsibilities change. The more time you spend on getting it right at the start, the less time you spend clarifying your terms later on.

2. Staged payments

Younger self, this can be a stressful area if you have always been in predictable pay cycles. You will have rent to pay, and the internet connection will never be good enough at home. Just how much do you need to get by; only you will know. When it comes to staged payments, this will help you think about how much you need and when to get paid. Don’t stress yourself unnecessarily.

Have this discussion early so there is time to come to a happy arrangement with your engager. You need this to make sure you can meet your life responsibilities on time and not get a black mark against your rental history records. I digress, but this is important because it follows you to your next home!

Thinking about remuneration helps you plan ahead and manage your cash flow. Younger self, as someone billing for your time, the money that lands in your bank account, is not automatically your paycheque.

Keep your business sustainable and minimize your risk and stress of time management by considering a separate bank account. Is freedom why you are freelancing in the first place, separate your work life transactions and have more time for that cuppa.

3. Record keeping in the digital age

It excites me so much that there are so many tools we use to conduct your business in the 21st century. Younger self, the boundaries get blurred and you will get better at communicating even if it is in a way that may feel uncomfortable at first. Be confident, ask the obvious questions, as your 3rd-grade teacher has told you, ‘assume’ makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. I promise I am getting to my point!

For legal reasons, life and business admin will always require a paper trail. You may take FaceTime calls that were unscheduled. Put it all on your calendar! Be pedantic especially if there is no email invitation for the many calls you will be taking. You will be invited to file sharing servers, don't trash that "access granted" notification email yet. When you are chatting and making decisions on platforms such as Slack, or for anything you do not have administrator access to, screenshot it.

In the remote working world, there is little proof of what was done and when. This is a point of frustration in instances when things go sideways. Don’t worry younger self, your backup files have kept you afloat in most freelance arrangements. However, don't take that for granted, you run a business now younger self! The onus is on you to save, screenshot, date your documentation in an orderly manner. Future you will be so impressed at any efforts I promise.

Unlike conventional work arrangements such as permanent roles, a freelancer has to feel and be confident to take on the administrative and business aspects of providing their service.

If you have a grand vision, freelancing can be a fast tracked way to expedite your personal growth. Clearly articulating what is expected before, during and after a job is a transferable skill in any case. Some of these are obvious and easy to get good at; you just have to start somewhere. You will learn as you go younger self; there is no wrong way to go about this 🙌🏼

With love from 2021,
Your Future Self .

Originally published on Beatrice Chew's LinkedIn on the 25th of October 2021.