Melinda F. Emerson shares her five key traits that you'll need to develop a successful freelance business.
Your marketability as a free agent can be appealing to employers who need to get the job done but don't want to pay the extras -- health insurance, taxes and overhead costs -- associated with full-time employees.
One in three Americans is a freelancer or temporary worker in the post-recession era, according to research by the Human Capital Institute (HCI). The majority of contract workers are part-timers, and their ranks are growing at more than twice the rate of full-time employees, the HCI reports.
The reality is that many midcareer workers who lost jobs during the recession are putting themselves back to work by pitching their skills to companies, including their former employers, as 'free agents.'
You can use this demand to your advantage and build a freelance business to support yourself, stay current in your field and keep moving in an unstable economy.
Here are five key traits you'll need to develop a successful freelance business.
1. Be Businesslike. Just because you may be working from a home office doesn't mean you forget your manners. The same standards of professionalism you used in the workplace apply as a self-employed professional. Set up a work space that is conducive to doing business and working long hours. Make sure you are in quiet surroundings when making calls -- your clients should not hear the TV blaring, your child crying or the dog barking while they're considering whether to give you money to work on a project for them.
2. Be Meticulous About Tracking Your Time. It's easy to lose track of the time you spend on a project when you're not punching a time clock. Often, independent contractors find themselves spending more time on a project than they would have if they were working in a regular office environment. It is up to you to ensure that you're getting paid for the work you're putting in and complete projects in a timely manner. To set a realistic hourly rate, Michelle Mangen, president of Your Virtual Assistant, based in Sarasota, Fla., suggests surveying the competition. "When I first started my business as a virtual assistant, I asked other VAs what they charged, and that's how I figured out my initial pricing strategy," says Mangen. Be sure to include project management time in your bids; interaction with clients eats up lots of time.
3. Develop a Niche Specialty. You cannot be all things to all people. Focus on a specific niche customer or industry. Examine your transferable skills, figure out the pain points of your target customer, find out where those skills are in demand, and go after the business. Also, seek out work that may fulfill a passion that you wouldn't have gone after on a traditional job. For example, if you are a CPA who enjoys cooking, you could specialize in doing accounting work just for restaurants.
4. Build a Great Online Portfolio. Potential customers and recruiters will search online to find information about you before making contact. That's why it's essential to have a website and online presence that displays your expertise. LinkedIn can help you showcase your portfolio.
5. Be a Networking Machine. Don't become a hermit in your home office and do all of your socializing online. Seek out local networking events and trade associations in your field and join the chapters in your area. Keep your elevator pitch handy. When you're out in the community, whether you're in transit to meet a client or running errands, talk up your business to your banker, your local merchants, and the parent on your child's baseball team who is an executive at a company that could use your services. Carry business cards at all times. Make sure contact information is updated and includes all places they can find you online.