Freelancing in the Time of COVID-19
Like many freelance writers in Toronto, I’ve been struggling figuring out how to navigate what my job looks like during a global pandemic. While many freelancers are used to some degree of uncertainty, this is on a whole new level.
Because of the uncertainty of the marketplace right now, many people who were laid off or furloughed from traditional 9-5 jobs are searching for remote work that they can safely do from home. This had led to an influx of eager writers, graphic designers, and web developers on job boards, Reddit, and other forums looking for advice on how to get started as a freelancer.
My Experience With Freelancing
Many people see freelance writing and content creation as an easy career that you can do from home, but I've found there’s a lot more to it. In the five years that I’ve been in the field, I’ve found that discipline and drive are absolutely essential. This is a job that rewards self-starters, and people who aren’t afraid to put themselves out there to get what they need.
There’s no boss to tell you what to work on next, or point you towards skills that would benefit your career. After a whole day of writing, organizing pitches, and talking with clients on Zoom, you still have to balance the books, network with new clients, and organize invoices before you get to call it quits. The split focus that’s required can be exhausting.
However, it has afforded me a lot of freedom I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve gotten to take on work that interests me, help out friends, spend more time with family, and adjust to a new kind of self-sufficiency that has helped me weather storms like this one. If you’re thinking of taking the leap into writing, here are a few tips that will help you get started.
Many of these tips that I’m going to talk about today are written specifically about freelance writing, but can apply to any freelance job.
Make a Portfolio
If you want to freelance full-time, you’ll need a public-facing portfolio. When I first started out, my portfolio was made up of articles I self-published, and work that was originally intended for other creative and academic pursuits. I repurposed these, and as soon as I had new articles under my byline, I replaced them.
I always recommend building a professional website as an initial starting point, but if you don’t want to invest the money right away, sites like ClearVoice or Clippings.me offer slick, well-designed portfolios where you can display your work by uploading it to the site, or linking from its original location.
A portfolio is an absolute necessity if you want to land clients. Otherwise, why should they trust you can actual deliver on what you promise?
Figure Out Taxes
Many freelancers go into this thinking that because they don’t have payroll deductions and are getting a flat amount from clients, their billing and resulting taxes will be super easy.
This is totally untrue.
It actually gets a lot harder.
One of the smartest thing I did was get an accountant, and work with him to learn how to manage my books and pay the correct amount of tax.
In Canada, there are two forms of sales tax. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is 5% added to most taxable goods and services (duh). The second sales tax varies by province, and is either called HST, QST, or PST. Some provinces, like Alberta and the Yukon Territories, don’t apply this second sales tax at all.
In Canada, once you reach a revenue threshold of $30,000 within a single calendar quarter, or within the previous 4 consecutive calendar quarters, you must register as a small supplier with the government. This process is quick and simple, and allows you to collect sales tax from clients so it can be remitted to the government. You can register to do that here.
Test the Waters
Many freelancers test the waters initially by signing up for a job site like Upwork, or one that’s specifically geared towards their profession like Contently (for writers) or DesignCrowd (for graphic designers and visual creatives). These sites often don’t have a great reputation, because the majority of them churn out low-paying work to eager freelancers who are willing to accept abysmally low rates.
If you want to jump on the marketplace and job site bandwagon, you should go for it. On every site there are a percentage of great clients who are actually willing to pay reasonable fees for quality work. However, if you already have a few bylined or credited pieces in your portfolio, or are willing to take the time to self-publish on your own site or on one like Medium, you should skip past these sites and start finding your own clients.
Figure Out Contracts and Invoices
If you’re lucky, you’ll land your first client quickly. To ensure that you’re operating at peak professionalism and are able to get started right away, you’ll need to get your invoicing and contract paperwork in order. Once you’ve found a template that works for you, you can customize it to each client and project. You don’t want to keep them waiting when they’re ready to sign on the dotted line.
For writers, the Writers Guild of America has published a few useful blank templates that you can take and customize as you see fit. In Canada, the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) has a similar model agreement you can use for free. Ideally, you should get your contracts looked over by a lawyer, but if you don’t have the budget, these templates are a good place to start.
Most often I’ve had to provide my own invoices for clients, but a few have had their own template. Just ask to see what they’d prefer. Both Pages and MS Word have several basic invoice templates, and you can customize it to your client. Just make sure it has your contact information, as well as the contact info for your client.
Can I Help You Take the Leap into Freelancing?
Right now we’re all having a difficult time. There’s not really any getting around that.
Hopefully this article will give you some assurance that you can stay home and build a freelance career on your own. It takes a lot of work, but the freedom and ability to determine your own future is worth it.
If you have any questions about freelancing, or want to talk to me about how I can build blog and social media content that promotes your business, get in touch! I’m always eager to talk to other small businesses and entrepreneurs about how we can work together.