There are several key lessons that freelancers starting out in their field are prone to hearing. From our very first step into the field, we’re warned that ‘chasing payments is a nightmare’, ‘we’ll be in debt until we’re 60' and that ‘we’ll never have the security of a ‘real job’. The lessons we’re supposed to learn are littered with potholes and pitfalls and we’ll never actually make it in the big wide world. There are so many questions asked about our lifestyles — how do we cope without management? How do we manage our taxes? How do we set out rates? How do we handle being both the content creator, accountant, project manager and client information advisor all at once?
It’s a lot to take in, and for someone new to the industry, it can be incredibly overwhelming being buried in the doubts of other people and the incredulous attitudes of your peers and friends. So let’s strip it back. Reduce every single question, query and doubt down into one simple rule: Always be your own client first.
For me, this means that I am my first and last freelance client. This rule can be applied to whatever field you work in, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a developer, photography, writer or designer — you should be your number one customer. Treat yourself, and your brand as a freelancer in exactly the same fashion as you would if you were a high profile and high paying client. Put your needs first, put your schedule first, and make sure that you are delivering — unto yourself — the highest quality work.
As a freelancer, your own personal branding can say a lot about you as a professional. For this analogy, I’m going to be describing a freelance social media marketer — as that is the field I have the most experience in. My branding in particular is one that I’ve crafted through blood, sweat and tears over the past 5 years, transitioning through different themes and styles to create something that truly feels like me. I spent nights up until 1am crafting the exact font, colour palette and aesthetic of business cards, header images and banners — taking photoshoot after photoshoot to get just the right amount of light in my on-site imagery. I poured my soul into creating a brand that felt right for me, and that worked for the professional image I wanted to put out into the world.
That is the amount of effort I want to create for my clients. I want them to see the hard work and dedication I’ve applied onto myself, and to know for certain that I can deliver an identical standard of performance for their brand as I have my own. Not only does this help to promote my own work ethic, but it also works as a great self-marketing strategy — demonstrating the top level of my skills and abilities.
However, one of the most important things you can do as you treat yourself as a client is practice. Through becoming your own client, you can teach yourself how to schedule, how to adapt, how to factor work into a busy lifestyle schedule…You can learn how to live, breathe and work as a client facing freelancer without the terrifying repercussions of losing money or contracts.
My top tips for learning to treat yourself as client:
- Set yourself goals for outgoing and ingoing work
- Make as many to-do lists as you need to
- Create imaginary budgets for yourself — and stick to them!
- Promote yourself as a case study
- Enjoy it! Your passion for your project will shine through if you genuinely enjoy your work!