Okay, so it’s been a little over 100 days since I started freelancing. During that time my hours have really fluctuated. Some weeks I worked 30 paid hours and others I’ve only worked 15 <- keyword here is PAID. There are weeks where I’ve worked 30 hours but 15 of them were applying for my next gig. Or there were weeks that I took off half of the week, like the week of February 3rd when I moved down to North Carolina.
Needless to say, I’ve really been struggling with hours. Unlike a ‘real job’ no one is here to provide you with structure, you have multiple different bosses assigning you tasks, and you are also your own boss. To be honest I’m a horrible boss. I’m mean, relentless, exhausting, and demanding. That’s to say: I’m really hard on myself. I panic when I have to apply for my next freelance job.
While I’m not perfect, I’ve certainly begun to learn the ins and outs of freelancing. Here’s my approach to becoming a freelancer and tackling the life of productivity.
Here’s My Strategy:
Step 1: Apply for and secure gigs
Applying for gigs can be so daunting. I prefer to hit Upwork first. I still scroll just about every US Only job. I know I can do custom searches, but I’ve found some of my favorite gigs this way and it’s made me try some things I never thought I’d be qualified for or even like. You get 60 credits a month if you don’t pay a membership and each job is 2 credits. So I usually try to apply for 10 jobs when I am applying. If I still have time after that, I’m still looking for another gig, and after I’ve done the gigs I already have for the day, I’ll try Fiverr. In the beginning I recommend spending about 10-20 hours per week applying for and accepting gigs until you have enough to round out your schedule and paycheck.
Applying when you’re first starting out means you also need to set up your profile on whatever freelance site your using. I prefer Upwork, but Fiverr can also be helpful. There’s groups on Facebook for freelance work and you can also check Indeed or Craigslist. Here’s some examples on making a good profile. After you make your profile, you’ll need to apply for jobs! Here’s some tips on good proposals, too.
I apply for new gigs twice a month usually. I also apply for more gigs if I’m short on cash, obviously, but sometimes in those instances it’s easier to put more hours into your side gigs for quick cash.
I’m starting to find that I don’t enjoy steady gigs as much as I do projects, but steady gigs pay the bills way better! So my goal right now is to keep 2-3 steady gigs and work on 2-3 projects on the side. Currently I write for NYCannabisInfo and run their social media. I’m also working on biweekly installments for The Conway Daily Sun; those are my steady gigs. My side gigs are big posts for The Trek, anything I can get hired for on Upwork, and anything I get hired for through Instagram (I know sounds crazy). I also work on the Task Rabbit app sometimes (errands and deliveries mostly), I dog sit, and I’m looking into becoming an online fitness coach.
Step 2: Make a Plan + Set Your Wage
It’s so hard to transition from a job with structure to freelancing. I found that making and sticking to a schedule is when I make the most money. Moving to North Carolina has sort of pushed me off of the schedule wagon. I’ve felt overwhelmed and stressed and I’ve had more interest in exploring my new home than actually doing my work. Which has led me to be struggling this week with my bills. Don’t fall off the wagon! Even if your schedule isn’t the same every day, or every week, or even every month, you need to make some kind of plan if you actually want to make money.
In order to plan, it really helps to calculate your wage. I found this exercise to be super helpful, and you’ll need to do it anyway. How does wage even factor into making a schedule? Because how much you work and what you charge will determine how many hours you’ll need to work for the year in order to make ends meet. This big picture idea will help you build out your profile and set your schedule. Here’s a fantastic tutorial on setting your wage and I’ve applied it to an example below:
Once you’ve set your hourly wage, you can take the yearly hours and break them down. In the example I said I’d work 1,920 hours for the year. That breaks down to 40 hours per week. Some weeks you might not work 40 hours, though, so some weeks you’ll need to plan accordingly for that. Don’t be afraid to set your wage to the actual outcome of your wage calculator! Seriously, you’ll still get hired at $20-$25 per hour. My Upwork account only has 3 jobs completed on it and I’ve gotten paid $20-$30 per hour for every job.
Actually getting paid the wage you deserve, liking your job, and setting your schedule is up to you. Unlike structured jobs, you can’t just show up for your salary or clock in and leave even if the job isn’t done. You have to make the client happy. Choose jobs whose budget or offered wage matches your needs. Choose projects you actually want to work. The more effort and passion you put into the applications, the more likely you are to get hired!
So making a plan is going to include accounting for hours to work for gigs you already have, hours for applying to new gigs, commuting (if you want to work at a coffee shop or something), lunch breaks, and home routines. Yes, I’m telling you to plan your morning and evening routine (just time!) into your work schedule. Why? Because time is money. If you need an hour or two in the morning to get ready, you’ll need to factor it in! Here’s a phenomenal guide to making an actual schedule. I’ll be honest with you, I’m TERRIBLE at making and sticking to schedules. But I’m working on it!
Step 3: Execute the Plan + Track EVERYTHING
Okay, so you’ve figured out your wage, set your schedule, and secured some gigs! Now what? You’re going to have to stick to your schedule, or at least try your best! You’ll want to ensure every job you apply for in the future is in your wage range, i.e. no more than $5 less! Lastly, you’ll need to get into the habit of recognizing when you need to apply for more gigs and when it’s right to leave some behind if they’re not right for you (more on this another time).
Once you get into the habit of doing your thang… you’ll need to get in the habit of tracking. Here’s what you should track:
Your Time Upwork makes a desktop app for tracking hourly work that you’ve been hired for on their platform, which is amazing because it tracks your time and ensures your payments. Or you can use a third party app if you’re doing work for something you didn’t get on Upwork.
Invoices You’ll need to get payments from your clients by creating invoices. Upwork does it for you! Yet another reason why I love their platform. Some time trackers have a service built in, like Due.
Income Keep track of your income! I have a spreadsheet. Every two weeks I go in and make sure all of my income is recorded: every paycheck.
Expenses Business expenses will help save you money during tax season. It can be super annoying to keep track of that stuff and save receipts, but think of it this way: two minutes now, or $4,000 dollars later? You can save so much as a personally employed tax payer, take advantage!
I track my expenses by:
Taking a photo or screenshot of every coffee, lunch, and gas receipt. I add all of those photos to a single folder on my computer when I input my income into my spreadsheet.
Any emailed receipt I get (like my microphone for my podcast, the dongles I bought for my laptop, etc.) I put in a folder in my inbox labelled receipts.
Budgeting, yeah budgeting, how much I’ll spend on coffee, gas, etc. I know approximately how much I’ll spend on my living needs every week. It helps keep my savings growing and my spending in check.
Okay, y’all, what are you still doing here?! Embrace the stress, plan the best you can, and work as much as you can. It’ll be rocky at first. You might fail a few times or get a crappy boss once in a while. But it’s all worth it not to be locked into a 9-5 florescent lit, windowless job until you’re 75, right?! Get out there and do what you have to do to be the best you can be!
As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me! I’d love to help you get started! I’m not an expert, just a newb, but it’s gotten me further than my in-person jobs ever have! DM me on Instagram or Facebook, contact me via email, or message me on LinkedIn!