Gina’s recent post on starting out as a freelancer attracted quite a few emails to Lifehacker AU headquarters, with several readers asking for some more specific advice on competing as an Australian freelancer. Here’s some thoughts to get you started.
An email from reader Alex was pretty typical:
In a dog-eat-dog world in Adelaide, graphic design is hard to get work around here. So I stick to the odd freelancing job when I can.But I can never find a good place to find work. Even the Australian sites like ozlance.com.au still allow people from India and what not to sign up, and then undercut the Aussies on price.
Competition from lower-priced operatives (often, but not invariably overseas) is a major challenge in the freelancing market. I'm entering my tenth year as a freelance writer, and one of the most visible changes in that time has been the increasing globalisation of the writing market. Not all of the behaviour involved is ethical (there's plenty of sites and writers copying wholesale chunks of work from elsewhere), but it remains a major financial challenge to compete with someone who offers to write entire posts for just cents.
While I think Gina's advice on pricing yourself -- overestimate rather than underestimate -- is sound, it does rather ignore the reality that there's a lot of cheap options out there, especially for more basic tasks. The truth is, if the only way you can compete is by advertising for random work on listings sites, you're not going to make much money.
This is where a second point raised in the original post becomes even more important, though: the best sources of work are via people you already know. While it may seem easier to pitch for an anonymous job via an online exchange, the chances are good that you'll be underbid. On a job you score through personal contacts, you may not even have anyone to bid against. Scouting for work through existing contacts is more daunting, but likely to be more rewarding.
The other tactic is to identify skills that aren't so easily duplicated, and focus on those. As a writer, I've placed increasing emphasis in recent years on actually travelling to events to source unique stories, rather than merely relying on information that can be found online. The latter is available to everyone; the former is something that can't be immediately copied. (That's a basic journalism 101 approach in many ways, but it's one that is frequently ignored, and one that's not remotely viable if you're making a handful of dollars per article.)
The main financial tip I'd add is to register for an ABN, which enables you to charge GST (and claim it back against freelancing-related expenses). This may seem like overkill if you're not freelancing full time, but business clients will generally expect you to be registered and to include a GST component in your bills.If you don't have any income in a quarter, it's also easy to lodge a zero-activity BAS, thus ensuring you don't get frequent letters from the ATO, or to apply to lodge a BAS only once a year.
What other tactics have you found useful when working (or sidelining) as a freelancer? Share your ideas in the comments.
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