Published 12 September 2017 Category: Entrepreneurs, Startups, Business, Insights, SMEs

What Freelancers Need To Know About Entrepreneurship

If you’re a freelance creative toying with the idea of starting a company, you’re not alone. We’ve entered the age of entrepreneurship, where the “lean startup” is glorified and its trials are handsomely rewarded. Working for someone else, particularly in creative circles, can be seen as capitulation of ambition, a near failure.

This is our modern fairy tale, and it’s one we’re all too quick to romanticise.

On paper, the transition between “freelancer” and “boutique creative studio” can be just a single hire, or easier yet, just a shift in how you present yourself. Practically, making the leap from a creative to entrepreneur is much more complicated.

It comes down to a deceptively simple question: what really makes a “company”? Is it having more employees, or a fancy office, or something else that is currently unaffordable? The answer is your “Secret Sauce.”

Two things really separate a freelancer’s approach and a business owner’s approach: Adapting and selling.

You may be great at disciplining yourself while you work. How disciplined can you be about bills, payroll, taxes, or insurance? The IRS doesn’t care if you don’t collect sales tax, you still need to file. Getting through Workers’ Comp alone can be a day’s worth of research and forms! Even the more creative stuff, like project briefs and estimates, takes up a lot of time, especially when bidding on a larger job.

What about the freedom? The freedom you think you’ll enjoy will only happen if you teach yourself to enjoy it. In fact, you’re likely to have a lot less free time. If you think being the boss automatically means you work on what you want, think again. You’ll have to be willing to hand off projects to freelancers if it better suits the big picture, even if you’d rather work on it yourself. You may need to adapt to several workflows and be willing to develop new ones as needed.

Accept a simple fact: to reach your entrepreneurial goals, you have to finally learn to sell.

You may believe that you already sell your services as a freelancer, but there is a world of difference between what, how, and to whom you’ll be selling as a company.

For instance: As a freelancer, you’re going after smaller budgets and scopes of work. You may be dealing with other small business owners, or creative leads in larger companies. Regardless, the amount of convincing you have to do is trivial in comparison. You may have experience with big pitches, but remember: You’ll no longer have the track record, the portfolio, or the ready-to-go team of an established company when you’re trying to land a project.

The reason financial opportunities expand when you’re a “company” is often because you’re no longer chasing just one part of a project. You’re providing a more complete service with greater requirements. There is also the budgeting, setting project rates, learning your market and understanding your out-of-pocket expenses.
Client relations also get trickier. The satisfaction of every client is 100 percent your responsibility. You must be able to manage their expectations and revision requests, and you must remain tactful no matter how ridiculous those changes may be. Sure, you’re doing a lot of this as a freelancer, but the stakes, and potentially even your legal liability, are now much higher.

All this may not sound like “sales” to you right now, but knowing how to put together a budget that is fair to you and attractive to your client is what will keep your business running. In the creative industry, a good sales pitch is talent meeting economics.

Unless you’ve got financial cushion, an amazing network, or tons of luck, a small business is two steps forward, and one (two, three…) steps back. Success is an attitude, and for many, it’s an attitude learned. It’s a renunciation of fear, or at least of the kind of fear that paralyzes instead of empowers. Success is being absolutely certain in that, no matter what, you’ll always make it work, even if that means gracefully accepting defeat and moving on. It’s calmly resolving yourself to uncertainty in everything else.

Now, if that sounds exciting, welcome to the entrepreneurial dream.