7 Easy Steps to a Freelance Life

Being a free agent is exciting, rewarding and gives you carte blanche to choose your own hours and assignments. But standing out from the more than the estimated 10 million independent contractors in the United States can be a challenge.

"Some workers freelance while they look for a traditional full-time job, but most are freelancing because they've made a conscious lifestyle choice," says Ben Jablow, Senior Business Development Director for Sologig.com, a Web site that connects consultants and freelance job seekers with more than 60,000 contract-based projects. "They want to better balance and integrate their life and work and to be able to control what they do, how many hours they work and how much money they make."

Hiring freelance workers is beneficial to employers, too, because it provides more latitude to conduct their operations. Employers can hire based on specific skill sets for individual projects and outsource more operations, ranging from design and marketing to IT. This allows businesses to easily augment or reduce staff levels based on workflow and control costs by dialing up or down payroll and minimizing benefits coverage.

Are you seeking the flexibility and autonomy of freelancing? Jablow offers seven ways to help build your client base and fatten your wallet:

1. Specialize in a Growing Niche
Examine your skills and background to identify the unique services and value you can offer. Then think of ways to apply them in an area that has high and growing demand - and not a lot of experts to do the work. For example, freelance writer Mary L. was having little luck finding travel and entertainment assignments, but after taking inventory of past projects, found several pieces she wrote for her former employer's IT department. Today, she has a flourishing technical writing practice and more work than she can handle.

2. Nurture Your Network Stay top-of-mind by regularly keeping in touch with your network. Go where the people who can hire you are -- attend the same conferences, join the same associations and read the same magazines and newsletters. Call your friends and colleagues and tell them what you are looking for and what you have to offer. Be sure to contact former bosses and co-workers, too. If you left the company on good terms, this can be an excellent way to get clients.

3. Join a Service There are many Web sites, like Sologig.com, that bridge the connection between independent contractors and employers. Unlike many freelance sites, Sologig.com is not a bidding platform. Job seekers are no longer required to register or log onto the site, and do not pay to post a profile or apply to projects. Instead, employers purchase project postings and access to the 1.1 million profiles and résumés in Sologig.com's database.

4. Build Referrals Referrals are one of the easiest and most effective ways to build your business. And, once you get rolling, they have a snowball effect. To encourage referrals, first be sure to take care of your existing customers in a way that will leave them absolutely thrilled with your services. When the kudos come in, ask for testimonials and referrals. One independent accountant even began his own "referral reward" program, where he sends a thank-you note along with a $25 gift certificate to those who send new clients to him.

5. Subcontracting
Subcontract your services out to other firms or independent professionals in your field. For example, a freelance graphic designer supplements her direct business by subcontracting with a large ad agency that uses her talent when it has more work than it can handle or can't do the task as efficiently or economically. The designer works behind the scenes and is paid by the agency - often at a lower rate than if she got the project on her own. But she says it's a win-win for both parties and has been a great way to build her portfolio!

6. More is Good The more qualified prospects you reach, the more clients you will have. Even if you can only handle several assignments at a time, a larger client base gives you the option of choosing the most exciting and rewarding projects. And isn't that why you became a free agent in the first place?

7. Establish Yourself as an Expert
Becoming known as an expert can be some of the best advertising you can get. Write articles in industry magazines, newsletters and trade journals and arrange to speak at professional or trade association conferences on topics related to your niche. Those who like your articles and speeches will contact you when they want more information, some may even become clients. Post your articles and speeches on your Web site, send "FYI" copies to your clients and associates, and include them in your marketing literature.

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