The leap to indie life

A young PR professional with about a year of corporate experience under her belt approached me to talk about how to develop her career. We had a good conversation, after which she said she was inspired “to take tangible steps toward strengthening my visibility and skills for a potential freelance communications career.” I thought others might be interested in what we talked about:

What do potential clients look for in a freelancer?

  • You’re great at what you do. Provide evidence with a portfolio, samples or awards, recommendations or words of praise.
  • You have a track record. One year of corporate work is a start, but you’d be wise to work longer in a corporate setting (if you can) to build your experience. You should also add to it with volunteer work — with your industry association or with a cause meaningful to you — that showcases your skills. Corporate or volunteer, ask for recommendations.
  • You’re self-motivated. In my experience, clients want to get the project off their desk. They want you to pick it up and run, working with minimal direction. Do that, but be sure your client knows you’re making progress with regular updates. Equally important is alerting the client if you run into any problems.
  • You’re responsive. You don’t have to be available 24/7, but do set expectations of when you will/will not return calls or emails. For instance, I usually return emails within an hour at most on a work day. On evenings and weekends, I often read email, but I don’t usually respond until the work day.

What are must-have skills and personality traits to make it as an independent?

  • You’re disciplined. You must be able to focus and work by yourself without being distracted (at least for too long) by Facebook, cat videos, the fridge, housework (ha) or binge-watching TV series. Introverts are often better at working solo than extroverts.
  • You’re able to build relationships and business connections. You may be an introvert, but you need to be able to put on your extrovert face to network and promote yourself.
  • You’re able to juggle multiple projects. Take steps to move projects ahead each day. Block off time during the day for actions that involve others (such as interviews), recognizing that you might need to do your solo work (such as writing) after hours. Remember that your time includes marketing yourself, tracking finances, billing, follow-up and so on.

How do you build up your client base?

  • Follow up with past employers or colleagues, including other suppliers. Writers and graphic designers in particular have complementary skills and often refer work to each other or partner on projects.
  • Volunteer in areas where you want to build experience or where you already have talent.
  • Be active and visible on LinkedIn. Post updates related to your area of interest or specialty, join groups, build your network. Regularly go through the “people you may know” list and connect with people you do, in fact, know. DO NOT click on the “connect” button, though, which sends a generic invite. Always click on the profile itself and personalize your invitation with how you know the person or where you met.
  • Be active and visible on other social media. Where else are your prospects — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest? Be visible there, too.
  • Join IABC or other industry associations and attend networking events; in person when you can, virtually when you can’t. Connect with other people. Focus on finding out what others do and how they might need help.
  • Join and be active in groups of fellow indies, for professional development, support, encouragement and the camaraderie you might miss from a corporate setting. I belong to and volunteer with IABC’s Professional Independent Communicators, and for many years a local group called Communicators Connection (formerly Halton-Peel Communications Association).

These other blog posts have even more advice about websites, finances, pricing, business cards and more:

If you hire freelancers, would you add anything to the list of things you look for in a supplier? Fellow entrepreneurs, what other skills and personality traits do you think are must-haves? Like me, do you think the leap is well worth it? Please share in the comments.

Updated January 2022.