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New to Freelancing? 9 Things You Need to Know

Freelancers now make up 35% of the American workforce, per Freelancers Union’s Freelancing in America: 2016 report. And, according to a 2016 study by Intuit, that percentage is expected to increase to 40% by 2020. In partnership with General Assembly, Hired recently hosted a series of events, The Rise of the Independent Worker, to hear more about the challenges — and tribulations — that come with freelance work. Here are 9 concrete takeaways we learned from those incredible conversations:

Read contracts thoroughly. Bonus: have someone read them through with you to make sure the writing isn’t only in the client’s favor. Hired candidate Stephan Castro uses UpCounsel, which he says is “awesome for finding a lawyer for a one-off job.” Also, get very familiar with W-2 vs 1099 employment classification, and don’t forget to brush up on copyright and intellectual property law, too.

Know what you’re getting yourself into and why. Freelancing is a lot of work, and you have to know the business side of freelancing as well as you know how to do the actual freelance work.

Set up an invoicing system. Hired candidate Kian Lavi recommends Bonsai. “It’s for freelancers and also for companies hiring invoices. You can manage your invoices and payments through it. Bonsai also drums up boilerplate contracts, and tracks your time. You always have clients that pay you late, and Bonsai sends annoying automated emails to get you paid.” Bonsai isn’t the only awesome freelance invoicing and accounting system out there; Hired candidate Lana Phillips also raves about 17Hats.

Know your market value. Talk to other freelancers to compare rates, and make sure to anticipate that recruiters will take a cut, so hike up your rate if you’re working with a recruiter or agency. If you’re a Hired candidate, definitely ask your TA for guidance on your hourly rate.

Be nice to everyone; freelance projects can come from everywhere. Your first and best jobs can come from friends, acquaintances, chance encounters. Say yes to projects you think are interesting (and that will pay the bills). Be curious about every new person you meet — you never know if they might need your help with something they’re working on, now or in the future.

Research before you pitch. Your pitches should be tailored to the needs of each client. Really  know your work, your strengths, and the kind of work you want to do, and the work best for your unique strengths. More tactically, center your pitch around the 3-4 skills that you think you’re great at that they could really use, and go from there.

Be persistent about pitching work to “ideal” clients. Don’t just pitch your dream client once and then give up. Keep talking to each client and make sure to send them updates about your work particularly compelling projects, and any new accomplishments. Assume they want to talk to you, but just have to find the right timing/budget. One candidate brilliantly suggests creating a kind of drip campaign for particular clients to keep your work top of mind throughout the year.

Give your portfolio a refresh. Do so regularly. It’s hard to keep your portfolio updated with all the many projects you’re managing, while also devoting time to searching for new projects. It’s a lot of work, but keeping your portfolio polished and up to date should remain a consistent unending priority.

Don’t be scared to ask for payment. Kian explains, “When it comes to money, most people aren’t malicious… They’re just busy. Honesty is the best thing. Adjusting for people’s schedules is also smart — get to know their accounting cycles and send your invoices when it makes sense. Also, consider offering different payment options that work for them.”