Since becoming a full-time self-employed freelance writer four months ago, I've had a baptism of fire of sorts. I've had work rejected, made bad deals, been screwed over by being too naive and trusting and made some bad decisions with clients who have paid peanuts for work that I've since made significantly more money from later down the road.
Having said that, if it wasn't for all the trials and tribulations I've just described, I wouldn't be in the position I am in now. I'm earning more money each month, diversifying my writing and becoming more and more confident in my abilities as a writer and as a one-man business. I feel like I am in a solid enough position to point out a few essential tools that I feel every freelancer should have in their repertoire. Some might be obvious, some less so. Hopefully it will be helpful to a few people who are looking to turn freelance and need that extra bit of confidence before they jump in.
A Quality Mobile Phone
The first essential tool of a freelance writer after the obvious laptop and/or desktop is definitely a mobile phone of exceptional quality. It doesn't matter whether it's an iPhone, Galaxy or Windows Phone. What matters is that it has quality features, the ability to download apps and has a decent internet connection.
If this was the 1980's, we'd be carrying around a Filofax or equivalent. These days, the smartphone is the Filofax. Your emails, calendars and apps such as iCloud and Dropbox give you access to everything a freelancer needs on the go. You won't have to dash to an internet café like Clark Kent to a phone box when you suddenly get struck with inspiration or you're panicking about that email you're expecting from a client. You can just check your phone. It gives you 24/7 access to you work, something that is essential to a freelancer, who rarely work on a 9-to-5 Mon-Fri basis. There are great deals for business mobiles out there, so get hunting them down. You might save a lot of money and get a superb phone at the same time.
My iPhone is essential to my work. I often get ideas for articles, stories and short films whilst walking down the street with my music on, or I overhear a conversation that is so funny I have to take a note of it. If it wasn't for my phone, I would've lost a lot of material. The "Notes" feature on my iPhone is filled with titles, ideas and quotes. Do I use them all? Of course not. But more often than not they'll be of use somewhere, or inspire something else I'm working on.
An Online Portfolio
The majority of full-time jobs require a CV and covering letter to be sent to the employer so you can attempt to wow them with your experience, education and skills. A freelance writer may well be asked for their CV, but the vast majority of clients will want to see examples of your work, and a Portfolio page on your website is a great place to feature links to your best articles, interviews, published stories or any other creative endeavours that might catch a client's eye.
I started to build my website back in 2010, when I was in my first year at university, and since turning freelance four months ago, I have put more emphasis on making my Portfolio page the best place to find examples of my published works. I would say that every freelancer should have a Portfolio page on their website, and if they don't have either a website or a Portfolio page, to get one fast. Make sure you have a .com or .co.uk domain too. As great as getting a free site from Tumblr, BlogSpot and WordPress sites is, it looks far more professional when you have purchased your own domain and have a hosted website where you are in total control. It gives you complete freedom to purchase stunning themes and download Plugins that will help you to create a great website in which to showcase your work.
Keep a Record of Everything
Personally, I'm dreading my first end-of-year tax return. I've always been pretty good with saving money and I don't live beyond my means. Having said that, I've never had to keep expenses or calculate my earnings before, as I've always only had one employer. Not that I can have up to 15 clients paying me for my work every month - and at different times in the month too - it has become essential for me to keep a record of all my expenses and earnings so that I don't have a nervous breakdown when I have to fill out my tax return next year.
I have created two Excel spreadsheets for expenses and payments, and I regularly check freelance websites such as Freelance Switch and Entrepreneur.com for advice and news updates on tax and N.I. Unless you keep an eye on these things, you could find yourself missing out on vital information that could save you money when you claim tax back on things you never knew you could. I travel on trains quite a lot, so I've had to remember to keep my tickets. If I hadn't read up on what I can claim on, I would've thrown my tickets away the second I walked out the station.