Review: The Book Every Freelancer Should Read in 2013

I’m not a big fan of most how-to books on business that cross my desk, but  The Freelancers Bible, by Freelancers Union founder and executive director and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow Sara Horowitz, with Toni Sciarra Poynter, is the exception. I can’t stop re-reading it.

Whether you are a seasoned freelancer or considering quitting your job to go independent, this book will give you frank, honest advice on how to build the freelance life you want.

What excited me is the visionary approach that Horowitz takes to freelancing. As she sees it, freelancing isn’t just about stringing projects together and working 24/7 to pay the bills. It’s about building a business around challenging, exciting, meaningful projects–work that is sustainable over a long career and part of a rich personal life. It’s not about isolation, as many people fear, but about being part of a community that includes other freelancers, clients, and worthy organizations that need pro-bono help. She’s found that the most successful freelancers are “givers,” willing to extend themselves to help both clients and fellow freelancers. “[B]eing a good freelancer is really about bringing your higher self to your work,” she writes.

The book is filled with practical advice that will help you avoid rookie mistakes, like weighting your workload too heavily toward projects that are fun but don’t pay the bills. To build a steady income, she recommends aiming for a freelance portfolio that includes several types of clients, such as major blue chip ones whose business helps keep the lights on, one-shot projects to fill income gaps, customers who offer opportunities that might grow into something bigger and new ventures that might take some time to come to fruition (like doing more public speaking).

She also recommends a pragmatic approach to selling your services–one that’s based on what clients need, not just on what you want to do for them. “If your specialty is ‘I’m the most detail-oriented freelance animator in town, but your customer’s need is `We need it fast, not perfect,'” you’ll quickly become the most detail-oriented, unemployed freelancer in town,'” she writes.

Horowitz has a way of sparking enthusiasm about freelancing even while dishing out tips on matters like handling your taxes or deciding whether to incorporate. And she offers plenty of useful info for established freelancers. There’s a very helpful discussion of how to set freelance rates (delving into the tricky subject of when it may be worthwhile to work for free) and valuable tips on how to grow a freelance business through subcontracting and teaming with other freelancers.

She also offers great advice on something many of us have trouble doing: taking a vacation, for fear we’ll lose work, fall behind on projects, miss out on new opportunities and all of the other reasons readers know so well. “Oh, please,” she writes. Her recommendation: Set a vacation policy about how often you will take vacations and how long they’ll be–and then make them happen. Thanks to Horowitz, that’s my New Year’s Resolution!

Coming soon: The $200KFreelancer’s interview with Sara Horowitz.





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