The 5 Tools Every Freelancer Needs
These are five important tools that every freelancer should have. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a Cliff’s Notes version to get you started on the right foot.
- A paypal account. If you’re planning on freelancing, this is a must-have. Yes, paypal can be a hassle and charges a 3% fee on incoming payments, but it’s a necessary evil. It’s the internet version of a bank account, and you’ll be -very- hard pressed to find employers or sites that will let you work without one. Once your account is active, you can sign up for aPaypal Debit Mastercard – this is NOT a credit card, just the same as a bank debit card is not. It’s simple a plastic card that can be used to purchase things wherever Mastercard is accepted, or at an ATM to pull out money from your paypal account directly. You don’t pay to use the card, though there is a $1 fee to pull money out at an ATM. You can circumvent this by getting cash back at a store, or offset the fee by getting enrolled in their debit card’s 1% cash back program.
- A gmail account with an appropriate name. Don’t use, say, “KittyKatLvr” or “SexyBeast4U” as your gmail – if you manage to have contact with clients outside of a freelancing site, this will only reflect poorly on your professionalism. Having a separate account allows you to know, at a glance, what emails are for work without filtering through chain emails, spam and sales flyers in your personal account. A first initial and last name is the generally appropriate default, or, ideally, you can start building your brand with a catchy name here – “ThatWordChick”, for instance. It’s simple and short, easy to remember, with no words that are hard to spell (remember, you might have been hired because the client isn’t great with words/grammar/spelling to begin with). This gets an idea into the client’s head about you and what you can do for them…they’re going to remember a “PerfectPenWriter@gmail.com” long before a “JMoscowitz3465@gmail.com”.
Why Gmail? It’s free, powerful, and generally will not cause issues with attachments or mislabel important things as spam. Google docs is an easy-to-access component of gmail which acts as a live Microsoft Excel-like spreadsheet, enabling writers and clients to keep track of larger projects in realtime. There’s also a feature in the Labs section of gmail that can be turned on to alert you when you mention attaching something in an email but forget to actually do so – it’s saved many an absent-minded writer! There are a lot of filtering options, and the capacity of emails you can keep archived is pretty darn big.
Gmail is also excellent for storing portfolio work. Whenever you write anything, for anyone, simply email a copy of it to yourself with the words “Portfolio Article” in the subject line. This way, if you ever want a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done, all you’ll have to do is search those words and you’ll have a chronological list. This is invaluable for situations where you want to show a piece of your writing to a new client, but have no idea where that word document got to. Gmail is also on every internet-enabled computer or device because it’s browser based, which means you’ll have access to that work no matter where you happen to be. A fantastic article sitting on a home computer won’t do you any good when you’re sending a client a response on a cell phone, after all.
- Patience. Likely the most important tool in a writer’s arsenal, patience is the fuel that will keep you going in the long term. Be prepared to tangle with difficult clients, fast-approaching deadlines and micromanaging editors – stay long enough in the freelance biz and you’ll deal with all three. In addition to patience with other people, be sure to be patient with yourself – if an overzealous editor knocks you down a work level, or there are slim pickings in the usual order lists, don’t despair. Like any non-conventional job, freelancing is subject to the laws of supply and demand, as well as the interpretations of editors. Use each stumble as a learning opportunity and let it steel you to do better during your next go-around.
- Dedicated time. As you get better at freelancing, this can be relaxed a bit, but in the beginning you’ll need to block off time to really see results. The best results will come from the willingness to diversify your efforts, which will mean spending a little time on each of your ‘home sites’ every day. Keeping your portfolio current, checking the forums for news, advertising your services and following up with clients are all necessary activities that will demand your time as much as the writing itself.
- A Little Shameless Self-Promotion. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you do and get the word out. Pick up some free business cards from Vistaprint.com, Moo.com (higher quality cards) or another free sample printing site and hand them out to prospective clients. Go to your local chamber of commerce mixers, and reach out to businesses you already know and frequent – all writing has to come from somewhere, so it might as well be you! Want to separate personal life and business life but still hand over a phone number? Get free digits at Google Voice and keep a professional-sounding voicemail box online or link to a cell phone – this last step isn’t necessary, but it is kind of neat.