Best advice for those just starting out?

What advice do you think would be helpful for someone just starting out? Any common pitfalls that a beginner should avoid?

I'm looking for any general advice you might have, but specifically I'm looking for tips on:

1) Generating ideas
2) Getting jobs
3) Marketing yourself
4) Setting rates (as a beginner)


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5 thoughts on “Best advice for those just starting out?”

  1. Let me start with rates, because that’s where so many new freelancers go wrong. And setting the wrong rates can get you stuck in a rut for years.

    The key things to keep mind are this:

    A freelancer’s hourly rates are not the same as an employee’s hourly rates.

    This is because your rates are charged per billable hour, but they have to cover all working hours — including marketing and admin.

    But that’s not all. Here’s how I usually explain it:

    A freelancer’s yearly earnings can’t be compared to an employee’s yearly salary. They should be compared to an employee’s total annual cost to the employer — salary + bonus + paid leave + insurance contributions + the employer’s retirement contributions + overhead. Only then are they comparable, because all of that falls on you when you freelance.

    This is important because you’ll often want to start with a yearly income target.

    Let’s say you earned $50k at a full-time job, or could reasonably expect to. And you want to earn an equivalent amount freelancing.

    You wouldn’t set a $50k income goal as a freelancer, because the employee position actually gives you much more when you account for benefits and such.

    I spent some time a while back looking at national data on salaries and employees’ total costs to their companies (you can find this kind of information at places like if you want local numbers).

    What I found was that a freelancer, on average, had to earn 30-40% more than an employee’s reported salary for all things to be equal.

    In other words, if you wanted to replace a $50k job as an employee with an equivalent amount as a freelancer, you would have to gross $65-70k annually.

    You shouldn’t neglect to account for time off.

    This is another newbie mistake that leads writers to burnout and quit. They forget to account for time off when calculating their rates.

    That includes holiday, vacation time (yes, you’ll want it), any other personal days you might want, sick time, etc.

    Knowing that lets you figure out how many working weeks (or days) you’ll actually have per year. Without knowing that, you can’t come up with rates… Or, you can, but they’re going to come out much too low and you’ll be screwed when you find you do need time off. (You should be setting aside money from gigs to “pay yourself” when you take those sick days or vacation time so you don’t have a hole in your budget.)

    Those are the two biggest mistakes I see freelancers make — unrealistically low income targets (they learn the hard way it won’t cover living expenses), and thinking they’re capable of working all day every day (and those hours will all be billable — nope).

    To help make this easier, I hired a developer to put together a calculator for freelancers. You can access it here:

    Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator

    There are two modes. In the simple mode (the first you see), you start by entering your yearly goal. (Don’t forget what I said about that above though.)

    Or, if you’re not sure how much you want to earn, click the link near the top that says “Advanced Freelance Rate Calculator.”

    In advanced mode, you’ll enter more details about your expected work schedule, living expenses, and savings goals. Then the calculator will let you know not only how much you need to earn each year to reach those goals, but also how much you have to charge per billable hour to do that.

    Once you have an hourly rate from the calculator, decide if you want to increase that. I’d suggest 10% padding just to protect yourself from slower periods. But remember, this is the minimum rate to meet your goal. So also think about your market, competition, and your credentials or experience. If there’s a reason you could charge a premium, increase those rates.

    I hope that helps in giving you somewhere to start. I’ll respond to your email privately in the morning.

  2. Oh wow those are things that I hadn’t really considered before, thanks for pointing that out. I’ll definitely keep that in mind!

  3. What an eye-opening answer, Jennifer!

    I am also just starting out as a freelancer, so I’ll now be looking at my income goals through a new set of lenses.

    Best wishes to you Jennifer and Alexandra in the new year!

  4. Hi Jennifer, I just discovered your calculator, and it’s a really great idea. I will redirect people who ask this question to this page next time.


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