Freelancing can be a dream job. But what makes it that way? Robert Farrington of The College Investor understands the world of freelancing from both sides. With The College Investor celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Farrington knows a thing or two about freelance work. He’s worked as a freelancer himself, and he’s also hired over 30 freelancers as a business owner. He stopped by to share freelancer tips on how to get paid, how not to get fired, and everything in between. Plus, he’s got a plan for brands and companies who hire freelancers that lets them maximize their ROI while treating freelancers well, too.
What is a Freelancer?
Freelancers are writers, right? Sometimes that’s true. But it’s essential to remember that freelancers can work on everything from written content and social media to technical support and graphic design. Farrington says that freelance writing is probably the biggest bucket of freelancers, but there are plenty of freelancers looking to leverage all sorts of creative and technical expertise.
How to Be an Ideal Freelancer
The best freelancers build the best reputations for themselves. They do this in many ways, but two stand out above the rest: They submit quality work and it’s done on time.
Whether someone is writing for a fellow blogger or doing freelance technical work for a large company, adhering to deadlines is paramount. But it isn’t just about meeting deadlines; it’s also about making sure that the essence of the assignment is reflected in the work. Follow the specifications and produce quality work. The goal is to be someone that brands, companies, and bloggers are thrilled to hire.
Another way that expert freelancers can continue to stand out, Farrington shares, is to actually contribute more. While some people might believe that an employer wants a freelancer’s work, not their ideas, that isn’t always the case. If a freelancer works with a client for some time, it may be appropriate, or even strategic, to pipe up. Freelancers might suggest needs and ways to address them. Perhaps research in one topic reveals that the brand could also cover another closely-related topic. Pitching that idea is helpful, and it’s as possible that the freelancer just landed herself another gig.
Setting Rates as a Freelancer
When someone is first starting out as a freelancer, it’s difficult to know how to set rates. Farrington can relate, saying that everyone has to start somewhere. He recalls freelancing eight years ago and how much the landscape has changed. Back then, he would charge $20 for a 300-word post that he could complete in 10-15 minutes.
Obviously, freelance writing has evolved since then. That’s why writers and any kind of content creators need to circle back to a key question: What is it going to take?
If an assignment is something that requires little to no research because it’s within a freelancer’s area of expertise, then their price might be lower. However, if the work requires sources and interviews, freelancers should raise their rates to reflect that.
Other considerations that would impact pricing might be whether or not the writer gets a byline. Ghostwriting and attributed freelancing are often priced differently.
Farrington cautions freelancers to consider if what they are being paid is commensurate with the work they are being asked to do. In addition to factoring in time, it is important to also consider the effort and thought required. Rates should then be set accordingly.
Other Considerations with Freelancer Pay
Freelancers should also know that it is OK and important to discuss salaries. While not every freelancer shares every detail of their income, many do swap notes. That allows the freelancing community to have a better sense of who is paying what and what the job offers are. There are even threads in different freelance communities, like the private FinCon Facebook group, that often discuss pay. It’s important to be transparent with these issues because it comes down to someone’s livelihood and it makes a difference.
Once freelancers set their pay, they sometimes think that’s all there is to it. But actually, it’s important to set up a whole system early on. Freelancers want to make sure that they have an agreement of some kind that gives them a means of recourse. Essentially, this contract outlines the terms and how much they are going to get paid.
It can also indicate if an up-front deposit is necessary. If a freelancer intends to work with major brands or outlets, a contract might also include a kill clause. Often times, large companies contract work out to marketing firms who then hire freelancers. These projects can often come with deadlines that are set out six or seven months in advance. A kill clause protects a freelancer for the time they invest in an assignment if the assignment is pulled, or “killed,” before the deadline.
While it might seem tedious to set up a contract like this, it’s very worthwhile. It also gets easier and more efficient the more clients a freelancer gathers.
The Best Practices of Freelancing
When it comes to freelancer tips, everyone wants to know about how to get paid. The rates and the contract that Farrington discussed earlier cover that. Of course, money isn’t the only thing that freelancers need to consider when they are working through projects.
These are systems beyond contracts and invoicing that freelancers can set in place ahead of time to make their work go more smoothly. It is vital for freelancers to understand the brand that they partner with. That means not just exploring the niche and doing any necessary research, but also looking at the brand’s style and personality. This is doubly important if the freelance work is ghostwriting. Looking at other work posted on their blog, requesting work samples, and inquiring about style guides are all good ways to get oriented in the brand’s style.
More so, as a freelancer’s client list grows, it is imperative to stay organized. Set up a system ahead of time that is useful for tracking deadlines. This way, as someone starts to take on more work, they can do so without overcommitting or under delivering. The goal is to be someone that people want to work with.
Why Freelancers Might Lose Work
Farrington says there are two main reasons why freelancers lose work. Of course, brands merge, companies restructure, and staffs downsize. There are myriad reasons why layoffs might happen. But actual firing? It comes down to punctuality or rather, a lack of it. Farrington estimates that the majority of freelancers who are fired are cut because of tardiness. Deadlines are set for a reason, and it’s crucial to stick to them.
Additionally, work quality is another reason why freelancers are let go. Often times, assignments come with stipulations. Writers might have to adhere to certain tones or style guides, or the assignments might require a certain number of sources or interviews. In that case, falling short on the agreed upon assignment can certainly impact that working relationship.
What to Look for in a Client as a Freelancer
Freelancing is a two-way street. The best partnerships include not only top-notch freelancers, but also dream freelance clients. Farrington has some ideas on what a dream brand or client should do. Giving freelancers appropriate time to accept pitches and complete tasks is key. Offering an assignment on Friday and expecting a Monday turnaround might be difficult, especially when people have multiple commitments, professionally and personally.
Also, clients need to compensate freelancers fairly and in a timely manner. Freelancers aren’t working for exposure, and they shouldn’t have to. It also should not be a battle to get paid. By treating freelancers fairly, clients are more likely to get quality work, so it benefits both parties.
What Brands Need to Consider When Hiring Freelancers
Anyone who is looking to hire a freelancer needs to think about the return on investment. Freelancers are investments. Just like a financial investment is intended to benefit the investor, freelancers should benefit the business owner.
Farrington admits that sometimes, freelancers produce poor content. He’s quick to point out that this isn’t necessarily the fault of the freelancer, though. Instead, he sees brands assigning work without considering how the work plays into their overall marketing strategy. If the topic is terrible or disconnected from the brand’s mission or purpose, there isn’t going to be much ROI on the content.
That means that brands need to be really strategic when they hire freelancers. It isn’t just about finding the best talent. Instead, brands need to make sure that they think about how the work that they assign will push their business forward. A blog post, no matter how well written, might not be the best tool for boosting social media presence, just like Instagram content might not translate directly into email list building. Brands should focus on identifying what their business really needs and then hiring based on that.
Final Thoughts on Freelancer Tips
Freelancing can be a great gig. It can allow for a more flexible lifestyle, whether someone wants to freelance on the side or as a full-time career. There are no restrictions on when work needs to be completed. If someone’s ideal work time is 4PM or 2AM or any other point on the clock, freelancing invites that kind of freedom.
However, freelancing is only a dream gig when both freelancers and clients work together to optimize it. By establishing a partnership focused on fair pay and high-quality work, both content creators and companies can leverage all the benefits of freelancing.
For the full interview with Robert Farrington, listen to episode 75 of the Money and Media podcast. Plus, in this special episode, Bethany Bayless visits Stacks House in LA and talks to one if its founders and FinCon alum, Farnoosh Torabi.
Farnoosh Torabi is one of America’s leading personal finance authorities — hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. Millions have tuned into Farnoosh’s #1 award-winning podcast, So Money, where she interviews top experts, authors and influencers about their financial journeys. She is sought-after speaker and bestselling author. Her latest is entitled When She Makes More: The Truth About Love and Life for a New Generation of Women. Her latest project is Stacks House, a touring pop-up that aims to make financial literacy fun.
Stacks House is a massive Instagram museum for financial empowerment filled with 11,000 square feet of selfie-worthy exhibits like Debt Boxing, Retirement Rodeo, Stacks Salon, Gold Bar, and Money Moves Room.
Stacks House will be open in Los Angeles for only 5 weeks, April 17-May 19. Reserve your ticket using the code FINCONstacksLA for a 15% discount on tickets.
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About Our Hosts
Joe Saul-Sehy is the co-host of the Stacking Benjamins personal finance podcast and operates the Stacking Benjamins blog.
Bethany Bayless is a public speaker and emcee who co-hosts the podcast The Money Millhouse.
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