Getting freelance advice (Part I of II)

By March 17, 2011Blog, Freelancing

Welcome to the first piece of a two-part article that’s been begging to be written. Part I covers how to ask veteran or ‘expert’ freelancers for advice (while Part II will address how to give it yourself when asked for it, so that everyone’s happy, well informed and clear on the next steps). Enjoy it.

The scenario

So, you’re newish to freelancing. You’re about to start, or you’ve started and you’re finding it hard. You have a million questions, based on the thoughts that swirl around your head at 2am or real issues with which you’re confronted. And you want guidance, tips, tricks or even specific insight…

But how to get it?

Disclaimer: Established freelancers (FLs) are usually delighted to guide newbies. There’s enough work for everyone, and the more good FLs there are in the industry, doing good work and charging fair rates, the better for all. But these seven tips intend to smooth the path a bit. Take with a pinch of salt.

1. Be sensitive

The kind of freelancer you’d ask for advice is a busy one. One who gets tons of emails and is always swamped. One who is basically a small business owner, responsible for HR, finance, advertising, admin and ops, and who has less disposable time than an ‘employed’ person. So be aware that any attention she dedicates to you comes out of partner, kid, gym, nap or TV time.

2. Be flexible

With this in mind, mention early on that you’d appreciate the FL’s input when he’s able to provide it. Not asap. Not urgently. When and if he has a chance.

3. Be succinct

Give a short bio on yourself, your skills and your experience. By short, I mean 150 words. Not a CV. Not a comprehensive tome of what you’ve done, where you come from, who you’ve worked for. Keep it simple, clear and relevant.

4. Be prepared

Spend time online before you make contact, so that you know what’s out there and can ask for clarity on specific issues, like quoting, invoicing, terms and conditions, templates, negotiating discounts, tax, handling clients, etc.

Also, google the FL first so that a) you know exactly what she does and which niches she works in and b) if she already has a website or blog with freelancing posts or info on it, make sure that you’ve read those beforehand.

5. Be specific

Don’t say things like, ‘Generally, what is the upside of freelancing? And what is the downside to it?’ Don’t ask ‘How does one design a contract? Can you download one for me?’ Do the research yourself, and ask for guidance.

What’s better is to prepare a list of questions in different areas – say, admin, marketing, client handling and networking – and find three or four different FLs that you can ask a total of four or five questions each.

6. Be generous

If you’d like more access than you’ll get via e-mail, and distance isn’t a factor, offer to buy the FL a delicious breakfast or lunch, during which you can pick his brain for an hour or so and take notes. To clarify: the entire meal is on you (even if you’re a struggling artist), and at a time and venue that suits the FL.

7. Be appreciative

Always respond with a big ‘Thank you’, even if the FL took her sweet time coming back to you, or answered only a few of your questions, or referred you to a website. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve penned encouraging, supportive responses to requests for advice, and had no response at all.)

This is useful not only because it’s good manners, obviously, but also because a politely thanked FL will keep you in mind when useful info crops up, or for overflow work if you seem capable, trustworthy and up to the task.

This piece originally appeared on Freelancentral as The Stable Door: Issue 5: Getting and giving advice about freelancing.

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