There’s a lot of attractive qualities to freelancing. Probably chief among them is right there in the title — you get to be free. Free from the restrictions of the traditional workspace. Free to choose a path for career progression that’s right for you. Whether you’re a freelance writer, consultant, or designer, it can be a fulfilling journey with space for a healthy work-life balance.
That said, it’s important to understand that for all its advantages, freelancing life has its difficulties. During your transition from a regular job, you’re likely to be leaving behind a certain sense of stability, which means that some of your focus needs to be applied toward ensuring you’re able to get enough clients to keep your cash flow healthy. This is no easy feat in an environment that still often sees freelancing women paid a third less than male counterparts. In short, you need to be your own best advocate.
So, let’s dive into how you can best go about doing this.
Know Your Value
Having a realistic sense of value is one of the perennial hurdles for any freelance worker. This can be particularly difficult at the beginning of your career. You’re having to juggle understanding the rates in the current market while also proving to clients that you’re worthy of more than entry-level investment. It’s no secret either that women tend to have to work harder than men to negotiate for fair and equitable rates. The key here is to always be aware of your value.
There are no secret formulas here. You must frequently research what the current rates are for your level of skill and experience. The best approach is having an open dialogue with colleagues in your industry — of all gender identifications. Talk about what they earn, be open to sharing your own rates. Indeed, there are movements for freelancers to share their rates to dispel the lack of clarity that can lead workers to undercharge or accept lower payments. This can help you have confidence in negotiations.
But it’s also vital to understand that advocating for your worth goes beyond simply knowing what to charge. It is not a display of arrogance to communicate what you bring to a project beyond simple monetary value. Before setting up pitch meetings or interviews, take personal stock of how your personal experiences, skills, and individual perspective raises the value of the projects you work on. The self-confidence to express this may not always come naturally, but it is vital to ensure your place in your industry.
Reacting to Challenges
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to advocating for yourself as a freelancer. This is especially true when it comes to the challenges that are likely to come your way. By taking time to understand what the likely hurdles are, you can put yourself in a better position to respond effectively and confidently to them.
There are certainly some challenges that are common to almost every freelancer. When you’re starting out, it is important to get a grasp of these; you’ll need to pitch without an extensive portfolio, work flow may be spotty at times, and there’s the problem of actually getting your invoices paid on time. Good communication when advocating for yourself is the key to addressing many of these. You can talk about your skills when presenting your portfolio, your attention to outreach can help drive you into pitch scenarios, and your reasonable but firm assertions help when chasing payments.
However, it’s just as important to be cognizant of some of the more specific challenges that women face in freelance environments. One of the more prevalent of these is the difficulty in getting work outside of specifically stereotyped topic areas — this can be particularly prevalent for writers and artists. You need to prepare to talk about your range of expertise and interests with clients from the outset of your relationship with them. Advocate for yourself by demonstrating that you are an agile contributor to their projects.
Remember that an important aspect of being able to advocate for yourself as a freelancer is maintaining your independence. Yes, you certainly want to build positive, long-term relationships with some clients. However, this shouldn’t result in a power imbalance. When freelancers become reliant upon certain clients, it can be easy to make allowances that develop into expectations, which can then negatively affect your personal life. As such, you need to put some focus on actions that keep you independently operating.
This begins with your finances. This is more than making sure you get your invoices paid to take care of your day-to-day expenses. You also need to think of your future. As a freelancer, you won’t have the benefit of an employer-funded retirement plan to give you financial stability in the future. You have independent options here, like opening a self-directed Individual Retirement Account (IRA) which allows you to invest up to $6000 each year. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) schemes are another route if you’re registering yourself as a business. Some attention to how you can prepare for the future now can keep you from having to make poor choices about work to fill the gap in your savings.
However, your best tool in keeping independent is establishing firm boundaries. Be clear with your clients when you are available to work and what the limits of your position are. This extends to your ability to work with other clients — don’t just accept a contract with an exclusivity clause when it’s offered. Sometimes you have to make room for negotiation, and understand that if clients aren’t willing to budge to allow you to keep operating independently, they’re not positive partners. Indeed, it’s more likely that they are trying to have the benefits of an employee without the responsibilities.
Being a woman in freelancing is already filled with issues that most men won’t have to deal with. This means that you need to be your own best advocate. Be confident in your value as a contributor, and prepare for challenges so that you can respond effectively. Importantly, be firm and clear in your desire to remain independent, and put in the groundwork to keep this practical.
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