Determine Your Business Model
There are so many factors that can impact how successful you are as a freelancer. Unlike a job where you have to mold yourself to the company’s work setting, schedule, and so on, you have full control over how, when, and where you work as well as what you do.
While I can’t tell you which business model to follow — since it differs from freelancer to freelancer — I can explain the different ways yours might take shape.
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How to Find the Right Business Model for You
Finding your niche is an important step to ensuring that you become a successful and profitable freelancer. That’s not the only thing that will affect how well you do. Creating a business model that serves you and your clients is also critical.
Here are some of the things to think about as you carve out a business model for yourself:
Choose the Most Productive Setting
For some of you, this will be an easy task as you already have a workspace set up — like an artist’s studio or a cowork space membership. That or your options may be limited since you work on the go — like Uber drivers or wedding photographers.
For others, there may be many more options at your disposal. For example:
Do you want to work from home? If so, do you have a designated space for work and only work? One where you won’t be disrupted or feel suffocated or stifled?
Do you want to work outside the home? If so, what’s your tolerance level for outside noises and distractions? Would the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop be fine or would you prefer a quiet atmosphere like a library?
Do you prefer permanency? Or would you prefer to take your work with you as you travel? If that’s the case, do you have a reliable plan for working and making money while you’re on the road?
Figure Out How Much Time to Devote to Freelancing
One of the great things about freelancing is how malleable it is. Unlike a 9-to-5 job (which, let’s be honest, is usually an 8-to-whenever), you can freelance as much or as little as you want.
Figuring out your time commitment is about more than quantity. Here are some ways to sort out the timing aspect in your business:
Full-time vs. part-time vs. as-needed
This is one of those things that will evolve over time for many of you.
For example, I began freelancing in 2013 on an as-needed basis. By the end of 2014, I was doing freelance writing 20 hours a week on top of the 40 I pulled at my full-time job. In 2016, I quit that job and took my freelancing business full-time, working around 50 to 60 hours a week on it. I now do about 25 hours a week and that, for me, is now full-time.
So, the first thing to figure out is how much time you want to devote to freelancing right now. And how much you actually need to to earn enough money from it. Try to find a good balance between the two.
Then, create some time-related goals for your future self. Having a timeline to guide your decisions and actions now will be supremely helpful. You can adjust them as your business and demand for it evolves.
Day vs. night
Another aspect of time to consider is what time of the day you’ll work. Are you going to be the most productive during the day or night? And how early or late can you reasonably work?
Don’t forget to factor in your clients. For instance, if you’re a web developer, it might be beneficial to work when your clients can talk to you in real time.
That doesn’t mean you have to reject your night owl instincts. Only that you may need to adjust your hours slightly — like from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. so you can speak with clients at the start of their workday and the end of yours.
Fixed vs. variable
You really are the master of your professional and financial destiny as a freelancer. So, if you want to work whenever you feel like it and then go golfing or play video games the rest of the time, you can.
That said, there are benefits to working a fixed schedule. For starters, your body and mind perform better when you have a predictable and structured work schedule. Just look at what happens to some shift workers when their schedules are all over the place — they often spend whole days trying to play catch-up on their sleep or they feel like they’re in a fog until they get used to being up at 8 a.m. instead of 8 p.m.
Another reason to work on a fixed schedule is your clients. It’s difficult to make commitments and set expectations if your schedule varies. Heck, this same reason could be applied to your life. Whether you’re married, single, or somewhere in between, it’ll be tough to make yourself fully available to the people in your life if your work schedule is unpredictable.
If you’re worried about freelancing becoming nothing more than a boring day job, don’t be. I’ve found a way to balance my need for variation with creative scheduling.
I work from Sunday to Thursday and my days follow a block schedule. I start around 9:30, take a big break midday, work for a few more hours in the afternoon when my energy is at its peak, take another big break around dinner, and then wrap up my work by 7. In addition, I give myself 2 or 3 free days each month. That way, if I feel like going to the beach instead of working, I get sick, or an emergency pops up, I just use one of my free days.
So it is possible to work a fixed schedule with some variation and flexibility.
Think About How Long You Want to Be a Freelancer
For some people, freelancing and contract work is a means to an end. They may only do it temporarily until they land a new job. Or they may see it as a vehicle into entrepreneurship, business ownership, or franchising.
For me, freelancing is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I enjoy working on a variety of projects for different clients. And I enjoy having total control over my business. I have no desire to hire anyone to work for me. I’ve been in that position before and I was miserable. So part of this is knowing who you are and choosing a business model that plays to your strengths.
When you first start out, you might not have any idea of what your future ambitions will be. You might not have enough professional experience to know what you do and don’t like either. That’s totally fine. Often, we freelancers discover different aspects of freelancing that we love and hate — and that’s what shapes how long we do it for.
All the same, this is an important question to keep in mind. Do you want to continue working alone and for yourself? Do you dream of outsourcing the stuff you don’t want to do to others so you can focus on running the ship? Or maybe you just want to work for someone else? These are big questions to consider, so take your time answering them.
Just like everything else in the early days of freelancing, you may need to adjust your business model down the line. In fact, you should expect it.
Once you have a steady stream of clients and revenue coming in, you’ll discover better ways of working that naturally suit you. So don’t stress if you don’t find the perfect business model today. Everything will fall into place once you become comfortable and confident as a freelancer.