How to make being a freelancer work for you

Whether it’s because of freedom, uncertain employment or other circumstances, more and more Canadians are pursuing freelance work. 

According to Statistics Canada, there were approximately 1.7 million gig workers in Canada in 2016. This is an increase from almost one million in 2005. 

This means more than eight per cent of Canadian workers aged 15 and over were in “non-traditional” work arrangements. 

The number of Canadian freelancers has increased since, but the anxiety workers feel pursuing freelance work hasn’t changed. 

Many worry about maintaining relationships with clients, fair payment and self-advocacy — but they are not alone. 

Here are four tips on how to make being a freelance worker work for you. 

Build a brand 

Katherine Ryalen from Durham, Ont. has been a freelance writer and editor for almost 10 years. She’s worked many jobs throughout her career but pursued a freelance career in 2012 out of a passion for writing. 

“There was definitely a drive to prove myself,” she said. 

Initially, Ryalen worried about how to develop and maintain client relationships. She said she realized the key was to build a brand for herself. 

“Invest in yourself like you’re your client,” she said. “Every freelance writer should have a website. When your name is out there, people are going to look for you.”

Ryalen said freelance writers should use their website to blog and promote that work on social media. 

“They’re not going to care that it’s not a paid piece,” she said. “They are going to see what you can do.

“Fake it till you make it. Get your website up, start promoting your own content. If you’re out there and you’ve got that, then clients will find you.” 

Photo by Corinne Kutz

Negotiate payment 

Most new freelancers, regardless of industry, worry about getting paid. 

Leah Sobon, a freelance writer from Dufferin County, Ont., said it’s all about building strong client relationships.

“In the beginning, you’re going to do a lot of stuff for free,” she said. “You have to build a belief in your talent and your capabilities and write with confidence.” 

Sobon said freelancers should discuss and negotiate payment with clients early on. 

Ask their budget for the project and negotiate based on what you know your worth to be, she said. 

Sobon determines her own value and the value of her work to the target audience, she said. 

The secret, Sobon said, is knowing not to take on every project. 

“There are a lot of companies that don’t pay much, and there’s an abundance of freelancers,” she said. “So, what [freelancers] do is they take the jobs because it’s competitive and they’re just trying to make money.

“Unfortunately, that’s at the demise of our profession,” she said. “When somebody takes a job for a penny a word, a little piece of my soul dies.” 

Once you have a sizable portfolio, Sobon said you have to communicate why you are worth your fees. This also means turning away clients unwilling to pay. 

Set project expectations 

The best way to maintain good relationships with your freelance clients is by setting clear expectations for every project. 

For Harneet Badwal, a Brampton-based graphic designer, understanding the goals and timelines of a client’s project is essential. 

Badwal also sets a limit to the number of design changes possible to protect her own time and involvement. 

“It’s about keeping that close relationship and making sure you do each project to the best of your ability,” she said. 

Badwal ensures she has detailed conversations with clients about what they need, deadlines and her own compensation. 

When you execute a project to a client’s standards, Badwal said they will promote your work to other clients too. 

“Word of mouth goes very far and it builds that trust,” she said. If you do a job well, your client will refer you to others, said Badwal. 

Remain balanced and safe 

Set Shuter is a Toronto-based film and TV production and post-production freelance worker. She has specialized in digital imaging, film colourization and post-production supervision for the last 10 years. 

For Shuter, being a freelancer meant working for pay. It also means allowing time for her own creative projects as a writer and performer. 

Being a freelancer also allows Shuter to better manage her rheumatoid arthritis. 

“Being able to bend my employment expectations, depending on what’s going on with me, is very helpful,” said Shuter. 

When her chronic illness flares up, Shuter can make accommodations for herself and adapt her type of work. 

Shuter is also a freelancer who is often required to work outside of her home. That’s something many freelance writers and designers may not experience. 

In this way, Shuter said it is vital for her, as a woman freelancer, to always maintain her safety. 

“My job often requires me to be in close settings with a few people and often they’re men,” she said. “Not all men are predators, obviously, but if you’re the only woman in a room, it can be intimidating.

“If I’m on set, I try to position myself in a crowded area. Sexual harassment is still very big, even in the post #MeToo era,” said Shuter. 

“I follow my gut. If I don’t get a good feeling about somebody or about a job, I do not take it.”

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