How to Get Started as a Communications Freelancer

I have a confession:

I didn’t really plan to be a freelancer.

When I left my full-time job at a large public relations firm about a year ago, I didn’t know what my next move would be (school? part time job? another full time job?), but I knew I needed a break from the grindstone to reprioritize my life. I mentioned briefly in a Facebook post that I might take a stab at freelancing at some point, and lo and behold, a few weeks later I heard from a former colleague who needed help with a social media project.

From there, it kind of snowballed – I got more work from my former colleague, and she graciously reached out on my behalf to others letting them know I was available for freelancing gigs, and I ended up with more than enough work.

All because I put it out on social media that I was freelancing.

Now, I knew better than to rest on my laurels, so I decided to proactively reach out and build my local network. I ended up getting even more work, and a burgeoning new career as an independent communications contractor, with the ability to more or less set my own hours and also be available for my toddler.

When I was originally looking around for work, however, I couldn’t find any concrete pieces of advice on how to find communications contract work. I knew there was plenty of work available, but it seems that many contractors/freelancers don’t often share how they got started (or are really vague about it), and/or how they found work.

In an effort to pay it forward as a big thank you to those who took a chance on me over my first year as a freelancer (seriously, I have the best clients ever!), here are some of my tips to those who are thinking about making the leap to freelancing, from my own personal experience:

  • Find someone else who is currently freelancing (or has freelanced in the past) and ask them to coffee to discuss their experience and to see if they have any tips/tricks to share with you. Before I left my full time job, I spoke with a former colleague of mine who I knew did freelancing work a few years back, and she was immeasurably helpful, from giving me tips to find work to things to take into consideration if I was serious about going after this whole freelancing gig (both good and bad). I also met someone else through my college network who freelanced and worked part time at a local agency, and she’s been a great resource not only for work but for commiserating with regarding the freelance lifestyle.
  • Keep in touch with your network (particularly former colleagues), and when you’re ready to freelance, let them know you’re available for gigs, either through social media or sending a quick email note. I’ve found this is a far better strategy than asking “Do you have any work for me?” It’s amazing how people know someone who knows someone who’s looking for help – you never know!
  • Attend industry events and network. I admit I haven’t been the best about this, but it was one of my New Year’s Resolutions to get more involved in the community and attend some events, and so far I haven’t done so bad! When I mentioned to someone that I was a freelancer at a local PRSA dinner I attended a couple of months ago, she mentioned that she knew someone who was looking for help, and about a week later I had a new client. Seriously, you never know who needs help until you put yourself out there!
  • Although you can get freelance gigs via staffing agencies, I honestly haven’t had much luck with them – typically the pay rate was less than my usual hourly rate, and the potential assignments did not work with my schedule. However, I’ve had luck in the past with a staffing agency that provided a temporary freelance opportunity while I was on the hunt for a full time position, so it can’t hurt to meet with one or two recruiters to see if they can find you opportunities. I prefer to retain and manage my own clients directly and not go through a middle-man (or woman!), but others find a bit of work this way as well. It all depends on your preference!

Hope these tips are helpful to those who are looking to get started! Obviously there’s a lot more to getting started with freelancing than just getting clients – I’ll share more tips and tricks over the next few months to provide a more holistic look at the realities of being a communications freelancer.