I have been freelancing through my limited company for 14 years this year. It has been a real adventure, with plenty of ups and downs.

And that is what I’ve come to realise is the best part of freelancing. Unlike traditional careers, you really can choose your own adventure. And the ups and downs become part of that adventure. I’ve learned to enjoy the ups, and manage the downs.

There are countless people out there making money by selling their advice to freelancers. Some of it is great advice, some of it I find questionable. Some of the 14 tips I outline below might contradict the conventional advice given out there. And that’s fine, these are my tips based on my experience.

1. Don’t be scared of whale clients

A whale is one that brings in significantly more revenue than your average client. Plenty of people will advise you to avoid them because if they go away, they leave a massive hole in your revenue. And while this is true, this doesn’t mean you need to avoid them. You just need to be aware of the risks.

The reality is that for most freelancers, managing 2 or 3 whale clients is a lot easier than managing 20 to 30 smaller client relationships. And it’s also often just as difficult to find a smaller client than it is a whale client, and you’d have to do that 10 times more.

Having a couple of whale clients can be great for your freelance business, as it has been for mine. You can build fantastic working relationships with these clients over the long term.

Just be aware of the risks. If one of these clients leaves, it does leave a sizeable gap in your revenue. The way I handle this is to make sure my business can regularly save and build up a runway. Once you have more than 6 months of runway in your business, you don’t need to be scared of whale clients.

2. It’s OK to bill for your time

There is a lot of advice out there about how you should move on from time-based billing as fast as possible and switch to fixed or value pricing.

I’ve done all billing methods: hourly, day, week, month rates, fixed price and value priced.

I don’t think that one is inherently better than the other. Value pricing may be better than hourly or day rates in some ways, but it also has its own set pitfalls for both you and the client. They all have their pros and cons, and they can all work.

My current preference is to bill for sprints. Sprints are fixed duration iteration, each with specific goals. I see sprints as a hybrid of billing for time and fixed price. The sprint is fixed in price, but it’s also time-bound. The scope of the sprint can change, but the time and price cannot.

3. Experience trumps education, but education can get you started

Once you have enough experience under your belt, you can make decisions based on your data. But until then, you might rely on education from others.

Education can be a tremendous kick-starter. You can learn from the experience of others, and even borrow their systems for a while. But make it your own, so it suits your personality, history, and way of working. And eventually, your experience will be as valuable as anyone else.

That’s not to say you don’t keep learning from others. We are all always learning, continually trying to get better.

4. It’s not just about results

Some people will tell you that in business, the only thing that matters is the end business result.

I’ve found this to be not true, and most client care about more than just the end business result.

Business results do matter, but they are not the only thing that matter. People matter. The relationships you build with others, including your clients, matters. Trust matters. Ethics matter. Always coming through for your clients matters.

A lot more than pure results matter.

5. Do what works for you

Eventually, you need to find what works for you. And no-one can tell you what that is but yourself.

You can learn from others, learn how they work, the systems they use and business models they employ. But eventually, you have to figure out something that is going to matter for you and your clients.

6. Marketing feeds your family

When I open my LinkedIn profile, I see so many talented and high experienced people looking for work. It saddens me to see the state of the tech sector at the moment. It appears that no-one is hiring, and everyone is looking.

But there are opportunities out there, for both permanent and freelancers. The key difference between those that regularly get work and those that don’t usually isn’t about core skills or experience. It’s about marketing. We all need to be marketing, all the time.

Being a human in a capitalist society is no different to being a business. We all need to change value for money, and we all need to find people who need that value and are willing to give us money for that. And that requires marketing. Marketing comes in different forms, but you can’t avoid the need for it.

7. You don’t need to be a specialist, but it might help

Again, a lot of advice out there tends to be binary. Including on the topic of specialism. People will say you must be a specialist, and it’s the only way to be successful.

And while it is true that it is ONE way to be successful, it is not the only one.

Generalists are incredibly valuable in today’s world for their versatility and ability to adapt.

8. Embrace freelancing as a career

Some people perceive freelancing as something that you do between jobs to keep the money coming in.

But not for me. Freelancing is my career. I love doing it, and never want to go back to a traditional career path. Learning how to get good at freelancing is the best way to keep it as your lifelong career.

9. You need more skills than just the skills you sell

Being a freelancing teaches more skills outside my core skills than any career could. I have to do my marketing, sales, bookkeeping, dealing with taxes, running my systems, blogging, building an email list, running a CRM etc. It’s important to deep learning about all these areas and developing these additional skills.

It may feel like you are always having to wear multiple hats. And you are. But you are also learning and building critical business skills that are super valuable to the world.

10. Find your tribe

Freelancing can be lonely. You don’t have a boss or team to rely on and bounce ideas off. You are often on your own, for long periods of time. So it’s really essential to find other freelancers and similar business owners that you can connect with.

For me, that comes in the form of my mastermind group that I have been in for 7 years, my coworking space, various Slack groups and people I’ve worked with in the past.

11. Make a profit

This one might sound super obvious. But so many freelancers charge a rate that is enough to pay the bills, but not enough to make a regular profit.

Being a freelancer is running a business. Businesses should be normal amounts of profit. Profit is literally the reason that businesses exist. So freelancing income is not merely a replacement for a full-time salary.

12. You don’t have to scale

Many freelancers feel the pressure to scale, to build a team and become an agency. And while you absolutely can do that, you don’t have to.

I’m toying with the idea of building into a small agency, but I’ve been a solo freelancer up to now. I do sometimes bring in other freelancers for specialists skills on specific projects. And I like that as sort of middle ground between being an agency, a pure one man/women band.

13. Have fun and enjoy freedom

Bring a freelancer is a wonderful thing. You can choose your destiny. You can pick and choose the projects you take on, the skills you develop, the marketing channels you pursue. If you aren’t having fun with it, you don’t need to stick with a particular path. You can change and pivot.

Likewise, freelancing should bring additional freedoms. Occasionally, it’s easy to get bogged down and working all the time, no different to everyone else (often times worse, thanks to the additional responsibilities you have). But it’s important to remember that one of the core reasons why we forged our paths in the first place is to have more freedom. Maintaining that freedom is hard, but it’s worth fighting for and protecting.

14. Develop relationships

Businesses are built on relationships and connections. And because freelancing is a business, it’s critical to keep putting in the effort to deepen relationships with others and build new ones. This will enable you to have mutually beneficial relationships where you can exchange ideas, referrals, and support.

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