I’ve spent the last year or so building a social network from scratch. During that time, I’ve met some incredibly smart, talented, and interesting freelancers in the industries of writing and art. I’ve had an opportunity to learn so much from them about what it takes to be successful.
Along the way, I have also had to cringe a number of times as I saw folks making the same mistakes I have made in the past when I had a new online business idea I wanted to try. Far too many times over the years I have become so enthusiastic about a new online business venture that I’ve spent more money than I made in the first year or two – usually on unnecessary expenses.
Obviously if the nature of your business actually requires a building or materials, then some initial output will be necessary to get going. But for the individual who wants to write and publish online, or sell artwork via the web, it really is possible to keep the FREE in FREELANCE.
Here are some common mistakes I’ve made in the past, and what I’ve learned.
DON’T get carried away with customization. As soon as you announce your plans to begin selling online, you will be inundated with offers from web developers and blogging software companies giving you the opportunity to set up a premium website that is special…for reasons that sound very technical and convincing. Not only can these “special” features be very expensive, but in many cases the technology and search-engine optimization techniques are outdated and take so long to download that visitors give up before they actually see what you have for sale.
DO use the tried and true. Companies like WordPress, Fine Art America, and Amazon have spent years refining and updating their strategies for making their sites searchable and readable. And they offer options for users that are free up-front. (Yes, there is a commission on sales, but you’ll only pay once you actually make a sale.)
DON’T let ego get in the way of success. In the past I have made the mistake of spending entirely too much time “setting up shop” online to make my business seem successful before it actually was. Since in many cases I was still just experimenting to see what worked, I ended up spending more time on the “business” than on my actual work. Why? Because it felt good to at least be doing “something,” and it was so much easier to spend time and money than it was to actually make money.
DO keep the focus on what’s really important. If customizing your website and dealing with contractors is taking up so much of your day that you don’t have time to actually write or work on your art, or whatever you set out to do, you’ve missed the point. The beauty of freelance work is that whether online or offline, you can operate under your own name and start slowly. Focus on producing the kind of work people want to buy, and build your business as your cutomer base grows.
DON’T market only to your peers. Growing a network for the sake of growing a network is a waste of time. If your entire network is made up of people who are never going to buy anything from you, your network is not going to help you make sales. Circular “promotion” of each others’ work simply for the sake of promoting each others’ work is…well, you get the idea. Yes, networking with peers can be beneficial in terms of sharing information and gaining inspiration, but this is just the beginning of growing a successful network that will lead to sales.
DO go where your customers are. This is another reason why using well-established sites like Fine Art America and Amazon can be very helpful. These sites help bring buyers and sellers together. Yes, by all means continue to maintain a (inexpensive or free) blog or website, and the social networking accounts (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+), but find ways to reach out through these channels to your customers. Avoid the temptation to just get comfortable networking within your own peer group.
I would love to hear what your experiences have been with setting up a freelance business online. Do you have suggestions for anyone who is starting out now?