The Freelance Informer (FI) hands over this week’s Freelancer Tales section to Alex Cooper, YunoJuno Creative Freelancer of the Year 2021. Alex reveals his personal journey into the freelance economy and provides tips he has learned along the way as a successful freelancer. He even shares an email template for late-payments and how you can make money while waiting to get paid (since your time is money).
By Alex Cooper, YunoJuno Creative Freelancer of the Year 2021
I’ve worked in advertising since 2008, and throughout much of my early career I worked crazy hours for low pay, with no real sense of whether I deserved more or not, or even whether I was good at my job or not. It was only when I turned freelance in 2018 – as I had to start ‘selling myself’ and rating my time financially – that I started to truly see my time for the valuable commodity that it is. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt along the way:
Know what you want
First up is knowing what you want. Whether that’s only working with brands who are positively impacting the world or deciding what rate to set, I find spending time working this out makes my career feel more structured and empowered, and less like I’m just doing job after job with no real sense of direction.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t times when you have to take work because it’s work, but more often than not, but having criteria for jobs, led me to make better decisions, and not have my self-worth battered by doing jobs that didn’t pay enough or make me feel like I was doing nothing but flogging products I didn’t believe in.
When it comes to rate, another important thing I recognised was to do my homework about how much I should be paid based on my level & experience. YunoJuno’s annual Freelancer Rates Report is a helpful resource for that, as it lays out the average day rates of top freelancers across a wide range of tech and creative roles.
For me, doing that research and speaking to recruiters was really useful in justifying to myself what an apt figure should be. As, how are you supposed to build self-worth when you sell yourself short before you even start the job? This leads me to my next point…
Communicate what you want – with confidence
Knowing that I was asking for the industry standard helped, but my delivery also needed work. Previously, when it came to things like my rate, I used to almost sound apologetic, and that was part of the problem. Crucially now, I let people know my day-rate, I don’t ask what they’re thinking or offer a range.
If you say something like ‘is £xxx ok for you?’ then people will think they can negotiate you down. When I tell them what it is, they tend to accept it.
The lesson I learnt was that if you sound in the slightest bit apologetic when giving your rate, people feel uncomfortable saying yes to it as you’ve already displayed a lack of confidence.
Oh, and if you give someone a range, take it from me, they will always pick the lower option!
Have a strict process for late payments
This is a big one. Firstly, if a client hires you to do a job and you deliver it within the timeframe they set, then it’s only fair that they pay you on time. When I started freelancing and discovered that many clients didn’t do this – pretty much every job I did was paid late – I took it very personally and felt guilty for chasing them.
I had to train myself to take the personal out of it, and that assertively chasing overdue invoices is not rude. Having a process for this – which I am clear with clients about – has been very helpful.
First, my invoice stipulates that if payment is not made within 30 days, late payment fees will be charged. I use the Small Business Commissioner tool to work out the interest.
Then, if it’s my first time working with a client, I’ll send a reminder email the week before the 30 days are up. While a couple of days here or there is fine, if payments are grossly or repeatedly late I will escalate it by emailing the client with a deadline (usually that evening) and inform them that I’ll be charging late fees from then on. If they still don’t pay, I’ll send another note – this time cc’ing the MD of the company – which goes something like this:
I hope you’re having a lovely week.
The invoice is now X days late, so it’s now accruing late fees, based on the interest calculator on the government website: here
It’s currently at £xx so it needs to be paid immediately otherwise more costs will be incurred. The interest invoice will be sent as an additional cost.
Have a good day,
This means I’m making money while waiting to get paid what is due, which is fair because it means that my time spent chasing for payment is covered. A slight change of perspective but one which helps me a lot, especially when I’m being given the run-around.
When sending these emails though, whilst I try to be direct, I’m not rude. As, let’s be honest, being rude to someone paying you never ends well. It means I remove all emotion from my emails, and simply stick to the facts.
Confidence = courage repeated
In summary, self-worth for me is not theory-based. It’s very much about practical application on a daily basis, despite not always feeling 100% comfortable or confident doing so in the moment. In those moments, I remember that faith without works is dead.
As, only when I act like someone who has self-worth, do I then feel like I have it. Those moments give me the confidence and momentum to keep taking actions like someone who has it – something, ironically, that you can’t put a price on.
When The Freelance Informer (FI) asked Alex if he could in a word or two encapsulate what freelancing represented for him, he said:
The ability to live my life and plan work around it, rather than the other way round. I say this, whilst also overworking regularly, so I love to sometimes practice what I preach.
Many freelancers go freelance and never look back, which means more and more people are freelancing later in life, despite how demanding freelancing can be. The FI asked Alex if he saw himself freelancing well into his retirement years. He said:
100% going to keep freelancing for a good long while, as it gives me real variation which I love.
“Work-wise, I think it’s about finding brands and initiatives that are trying to do good in the world, rather than flogging hoovers. And when I’m not working, I’ll be doing challenges around the world, as I think I’ve become a better writer and creative when I’ve gone out and truly lived my life, rather than staring at the wall, hoping for inspiration,” he added.