- Avoid investing too much money or risking too much too early. Getting clients when you are just starting out as a freelancer may take some time. That means cash flow is going to be minimal for awhile. If possible, start your freelancing before you even leave your day job. This will give you an idea of how "the business" will actually happen - what's realistic about rates, the type of clients you want (yes, you need to be selective eventually), and what tricks of the trade smooth the path. In terms of saving cash, there is a growing list of awesome (and often, free) tools that many small businesses and start-ups use - Mashable published this great list of the most frequently utilized web and business tools. Even for the seasoned freelancer, there are some good ones in there. My personal favorites are: DropBox, Google Voice/Docs, MailChimp, and WordPress.
- Don’t overpromise. Promising too much and delivering too little will kill your freelancing business faster than most other mistakes that amateurs make. Whether you are running a freelance graphic design business, a writing business, a home improvement business, your clients are going to expect the things that you promise them and more. Instead of overpromising, it is best to promise less and deliver more. For instance, if you think you can have a project done by Friday, tell your client that you can have it done by the following Monday. Then when you turn it in on Friday (or even better, Thursday), your client will be so impressed that they will come back to you for their next project. Of course, you can't overdo this either - otherwise, you won't get the business in the first place.
- Use social media and use it often. There are so many resources on the Internet to help freelancers like yourself. One of the most important resources is social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These social media websites allow you to increase your web presence and expose your services to a larger number of people. It also allows you to connect with your customers and get an idea of how you can improve your service. You can post things on your social media pages and wait for people to comment to give you a better idea of what people are looking for from you. The world is changing - more and more people are starting their search for vendors and services on google and their social networks.
- Save up money for the slow times. Unlike most day jobs, freelancing does not offer you a steady paycheck. There will be times when the money will be flowing in and you will be getting a full schedule of problems. Its in times like this when you should be sure to put some aside so you can still provide for your family during the slow times. You might want to pay some bills ahead of time, such as your insurance premiums for the year, or just put the extra money away. The rains become torrential. Just as easily, the droughts can hit just as hard.
- Create boundaries for your work like and your family life. The beauty of being a freelancer is that you can work any time you want to as long as you meet your deadlines. But this can also be a curse. Many freelancers end up working after their scheduled working hours and they end up without enough time for themselves which can quickly turn into burnout and exhaustion. The best way to prevent this from happening is to set up boundaries that keep your family life from interfering with your work life and vice versa. If you schedule your work hours for a certain time, make sure your family and friends know that they should not bother you during those hours unless it is an emergency. On the other hand, don’t let your work time spill over into the time you have set aside from your family. Create these boundaries and stick to them as if your freelance job was like a normal job.
- Keep impeccable financial records. One of the more difficult things to do when being a freelancer is to keep good financial records. But even freelancers have to pay taxes (in many instances, more than you think) so it is important to have all of your income recorded as well as any deductible expenses. If you don’t keep good records and pay your taxes quarterly, you could end up with a huge tax bill along with interest and penalties at the end of the year.
- Take time to network. One thing I've noticed about being a freelancer is the inordinate about of time I spend alone getting the actual work done. No more co-workers interrupting and distracting me. No more water cooler talks. Slowly but surely, your business leads die out. Schedule time - at least weekly if possible - to meet acquaintenances for lunch/coffee. Gotta keep the leads from growing cold and have lots of eggs in lots of baskets.
- Apply the power of leverage. The secret to a sucessful freelancing business is also the hardest part, honestly. Bring in the projects and then find some (surprise!) freelancers to actually do the work (at a lower cost, of course). In fact, you could have a stable of 4-6 freelancers that you work with often enough that you could call upon them for work or during times of crazy torrential rains. Getting the project at $80/hour and then paying $30/hour is a beautiful thing. But you have to want to sell sell sell, and you have to enjoy managing projects - this isn't for everyone, but this is how more sustainable businesses are built.
If you are a self-motivated, skilled, disciplined, go-getter, being a freelancer is one possible way to earn a great income while having more flexibility with your family (something that a lot of new parents end up relishing). Here are some suggestions to help you make that happen.