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Things are looking grim in the US economy. Millions of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, with many on the verge of being homeless. Only one-third of Americans have a nest egg of $1,000 in savings, meaning they wouldn’t be able to afford an emergency room visit or an unexpected automobile repair. If you’ve found yourself in this difficult position lately, short-term or freelance work in the gig economy might be a way for you to boost your earnings and build a more promising quality of life for yourself.
Many people are hesitant to switch careers or even start a freelance side hustle because they either don’t consider themselves to be creative, talented, or business-savvy. Luckily, the reality is that many of these skills can be learned. If you’re willing to try new things, improve your problem-solving skills, and think outside the box, you might be the perfect candidate to start a short-term project or a longer-term freelance side business in the gig economy.
Here are some tips for anyone who is interested in getting started making some extra income in the gig economy through freelance work.
Starting the Right Business
First, it’s important to consider what type of business you’d like to start. What are your skills, passions, and curiosities? How will you make money? What’s a need people have that you can fill? Some ideas might include a photography business, such as capturing headshots or snapping product photos. If you’re tech-savvy, you could learn to code and build websites on the side. If you’re creative or love to write, you might take the Meghan Markle approach and become a freelance calligrapher, ecommerce designer, listing copywriter or content writer. As you can see, the options are endless!
The key is to find your passion and expand on it. Freelancing gives you the opportunity to discover what you are good at and what you enjoy doing, and leaves room for trial and error along the way. As you go, you might find that you are able to narrow down your skills further. Perhaps you are good at photography, but macro photography is where you really shine.
Building a Successful Business
Going from employee to business owner — and from working for a company to working from home – is a huge transition. You can set yourself up for success by investing in time-tracking software, such as Toggl, and/or project management software, such as Asana or Trello, to help keep things on track and within budget.
If you’re a graphic designer, for instance, you’ll obviously want to purchase and install the Adobe Creative Suite. However, even if you’re not a designer or in the tech field, you could probably benefit from having some small business software and apps.
When you’re first starting out, you probably won’t have the funds to hire an accountant. This is where Freshbooks and other invoicing or accounting software can come in handy — and save you some serious payroll headaches.
Additionally, every small business needs to use some sort of project management software. This helps keep things on track and ensures that your projects don’t tumble out of scope, another nightmare situation that can cost you precious time, money, and reputation points.
When it comes to your business, it is important to wisely spend (and save) your money. While there are some overhead costs involved in starting any new business, the good news is that you don’t necessarily need to have cash available to cover every single purchase in order to run your business. Today, there are a wide variety of business credit cards available to choose from.
It’s important to carefully weigh your options to decide which business credit card is best for your side gig. Do you need a lower interest rate? What’s your credit score? By asking the right questions and doing some research, you can find ways to safely finance your side hustle. This lets you focus on the end goal: achieving financial freedom by making money off your passion.
Connect with Others
Whether you are new to the freelancing world or you’ve been around the block a few times, it is important that you build your network to build your sales and client base. Start by reaching out to your current network and set up an informal coffee date or lunch to discuss your goals and where you are headed.
Keep in mind that you aren’t limited to networking with people within your field. For example, your business-savvy friend might have connections at a writing firm, or know a friend of a friend who is looking for help with a project. You might be busy with work and your freelancing endeavor, but you should always strive to reach out to people who may be able to help you, even if it’s just a quick Skype call or text to check in.
You should also be taking steps to expand your network. Start by joining a Facebook freelancing group and connecting with people on LinkedIn who are in a similar field. You may be able to find a local MeetUp group dedicated to freelancers and entrepreneurs. Don’t underestimate the power of the classic networking event. Come prepared with a description of what you do and plenty of business cards. Be sure to follow up with anyone you meet via phone call or email, and set a time to meet and discuss your work and goals further.
Learn to Sell Yourself
While you might be fortunate enough to have a few established clients, you’ll need to be able to pitch yourself to expand your client base and really get your name out there. Take your time getting to know your potential client, including their wants, needs, and challenges. Consider whether you have the skills necessary to complete the project and what experience and knowledge sets you apart from the rest.
Rather than rattle off a list of your skills, detail specific projects you have worked on that are similar to what they are asking of you. Talk about the challenges, how you handled them, and how it has played into your development as a freelancer. It’s okay to talk about snags, but make sure it’s a snag you were able to move past so that you inspire confidence as opposed to fear.
Be prepared to answer questions beyond your experience and past work. Let the client know your guidelines for dealing with deadlines, revisions, and invoicing. Depending on what the client is expecting, decide if you can be lenient with your rules and if they can be lenient with theirs. Make sure everything is laid out in the contract so that questions don’t pop up later on.
Don’t Overdo It
When you combine your regular career with freelancing work, you’ll quickly find that free time is hard to come by. However, if you don’t take time for yourself, you run the risk of burning out. In the world of freelancing, you decide what projects to take on, when you will work, and for how long, so it is easy to meet deadlines. Set realistic ones, too, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. You might find it difficult to turn down a project, but if it means sacrificing your health and the quality of your work, it simply isn’t worth it.
No matter how many ongoing projects you have, take breaks so that you can return feeling refreshed. If you’re really in the zone, by all means continue, but take a moment to at least stretch or grab a quick snack. If you have to, set an alarm to remind you. Look for signs that your body is trying to tell you to step away. Maybe you hit a roadblock, you are having trouble focusing, or you are literally falling asleep at your desk.
Looks for ways to incorporate an hour of time for yourself each day, whether you spend it doing yoga, reading, jogging, playing with your pup, or catching up on one of your favorite shows. Freelancing is a great way to make some extra cash, but it shouldn’t come at a price that isn’t worth paying. It’s okay if you need to press pause on the freelance work to deal with life; that’s the beauty of freelancing. You’ll want to finish your current projects, of course, but then you are free to take a step back and return when you feel ready.
Taking the leap into the gig economy can feel like a huge step, especially for those who are new to running their own businesses. However, with some proper planning, including financing, networking, pitching, and de-stressing techniques, you’ll be well on your way to reaping big rewards. You’ve got what it takes, so run with it!
Lucy Reed has been starting businesses since she was a kid, from the lemonade stand she opened in her parent’s driveway at age 10 to the dog walking business she started while in college. She created GigMine because she was inspired by the growth of the sharing economy and wanted to make it easier for entrepreneurial individuals like herself to find the gig opportunities in their areas.