In the world of freelancing, many of us are all too familiar with the pressure to hustle, pay bills, and “make it.”
I remember a time in my early twenties when I was struggling and would take almost any gig I could get just to make ends meet. On any given day I would be website coding, coaching clients, making marketing funnels, or finding tenants for rental properties.
Currently, one in three US workers are freelancing, with that number projected to rise to one in two by 2020.
The flexible hours, no boss or office, and no fixed wage are just a few of the perks that have attracted so many to freelancing. Not to mention, 61% of freelancers say they’re happier now than they were as an employee.
But freelancing, like anything, has its pitfalls—and it’s essential to be aware of them if you want to succeed.
That’s why I spoke to an expert about what it takes to be successful as a freelancer. He’s built quite the reputation for himself in a particularly competitive field.
Meet Jeff Toyne, a Canadian-born composer who has worked on major film productions like Nine Eleven, the new release starring Whoopi Goldberg and Charlie Sheen; DirecTV’s Rogue, My Little Pony The Movie, and various titles for Lifetime, Hallmark, and The Discovery Channel.Toyne is no stranger to the hustle. As a composer, he says he’s interacted with occasionally needing to do what he had to in order to “keep the lights on,” especially before he caught his first big break.
This week on the Unconventional Life Podcast, Toyne shares strategies for navigating the challenges of freelancing, which, in spite of being risky, can also be incredibly rewarding—because there’s no substitute for doing what you love.
Below, read Toyne’s 5 mistakes to avoid for playing the field as a freelancer.
1. Don’t wait until your portfolio is perfect. Toyne says a major stumbling block of his was believing he didn’t have a shot until his demo was flawless. “I had just got out of school, and I was trying to perfect it for these filmmakers. It took me a year before I got in touch with them, and when I finally did they said,’It’s a shame didn’t have your number. We were making a movie but we didn’t have your number so we got someone else to do it,’” Toyne recalls.
Don’t let opportunities pass you by because you don’t yet feel ready. You might be surprised by someone’s willingness to work with you, even if you don’t have all of your materials the way you’d like them to be. Instead, seize the moment and pursue opportunities that may feel even a few steps out of your league. This approach can actually help you build your portfolio in the process.
2. Don’t be a snob about the gigs you accept. Let’s face it—with freelancing, you don’t always have your work lined out for you. There’s no built-in sense of security. But that’s part of the thrill.
Occasionally, you may have to accept jobs that aren’t your first choice, but will help you gain relevant experience and lay the foundation for getting better jobs later on. “Until your big break comes and connects you to this random opportunity, there’s all sorts of things you can do to keep the lights on and work close to what you want to be doing in the meantime,” says Toyne. “It’s possible to do work that may not be the exact job you want to do but it’s in the industry you want to do. It’s a way to keep your skills sharp. There is no ‘path;’ you need to put yourself out there for different opportunities.”
3. Don’t forget to outsource. Don’t waste your time fumbling with tasks you don’t specialize in. Instead, do some independent contracting of your own, and hire somebody else to do it for you. You’ll become more efficient and have more time to dedicate yourself to your craft.
Toyne says social media is a headache for him, so he outsources it. “I’m busy writing the music, but I want people to know what I’m doing so I have somebody help me get the word out.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships. As a freelancer, you might find you’re not directly connected to the people in a project who could really elevate you. For Toyne, he says he’ll spend weeks composing the post-production scores for a film but won’t see the actors or director face-to-face until the red carpet.
If this is the case, you’ll need to put in extra effort to make yourself known and nurture those connections. Don’t be passive or assume they’ll happen on their own; take initiative. “You want to interact and socialize with the people you’re working with… they are a great source of leads,” Toyne recommends.
5. Don’t try to do it all alone. It can be invaluable to get in community with others like you. You can learn what others are doing that’s working and potentially collaborate on projects that are mutually beneficial. Plus, as a freelancer, you may be missing the fact that you don’t have built-in coworkers or an office populated with people. Socialization is key, so make sure to join groups and guilds that put you in touch with others like you. Toyne says he’s a member of a composer’s guild and a director’s guild in Canada.
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