How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer

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(Guest review by Shannon Smith)

If you are a fan of FreelanceSwitch the freelancing blog started by Collis and Cyan Ta’eed, their spin-off How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer is written in the same, blog-like style.

The book, which is available as a PDF or lulu.com paperback, is an easy read, written in a clear and informative style. The eleven chapters comprise helpful tips laid out in a format that feels like a series of blog posts with short topics, shorter headings, lots of bulleted lists and quotes in the margins. There are also links (working ones in the e-book version) to online tools and resources.

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Tips range from the very basic (get a good chair) to the unexpected (how to deal with the loneliness of freelance work) to the practical (getting your clients to pay) to the insightful (how to brand yourself):

‘Your aim is to own a word the way Volvo owns ‘safety’, Mercedes owns ‘engineering’ or BMW and owns ‘driving’.’

It’s safe to say that Collis and Cyan Ta’eed ‘own’ at least a large part of the online world of freelancing. They began by starting a freelance web design business, then doubled their work with the freelancing blog, and a number of related microsites. Their book came out and they turned it into a publishing company, Rockable Press.

They stopped freelancing along the way and devoted their time to their new online company which provides an ever-expanding number of resources to designers. All, not necessarily in that order. Now their Envato ‘ecosystem’ has websites is in the double digits, employees across the globe and and shows no signs of slowing down.

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The book is just a small part of their online empire (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) for those in creative careers, but in some ways it is the most personal. It sums up of the authors’ main drive, which is helping freelancers, documents their previous careers, and is an example of the type of ambitious determination that is getting the company they formed in a living room a reported 11 million pageviews a month.

How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer is best suited for freelancers who are still defining their business identity. It isn’t strictly a book for designers either – the advice is general enough that writers and photographers will find this book useful as well.

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The early chapters, which are available online if you want a sneak peak, are for beginners. If you have already been moonlighting, or have some studio experience, the first chapters can be skimmed. There is also some duplicate content from freelanceswitch.com, such as the section on freelancing on the side. However, the majority of the book is new material and later chapters are much more interesting.

Beginning freelancers often have a difficult time determining what to charge clients and there is an entire chapter on that topic. There is a full chapter on getting paid, which also focusses on managing your business and keeping it organized with the use of a CRM, job bags and a simple ABC filing system.

‘Although you might be thinking that freelancing is simply a different kind of job, in fact it is running your own business. When you are a freelancer, you are a one-person business.’
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The book also describes how to expand, should you be inspired by the Ta’eeds’ success.

‘For many people, freelancing is an end in itself and you could easily spend your entire working life as a professional freelancer. But for some freelancing will be a stepping stone to growing a larger business.’

Will I be following their advice? Yes, and no.

Yes, I will back up more often. I will market myself more effectively. I will constantly try to improve myself. But not all of the advice in the book. I don’t need a fax machine. I will not be signing up for all the expensive online tools they recommend. I will not be getting a specialized accountant, making a business plan or keep regular business hours. That would defeat the purpose of going into freelancing.

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Collis recently wrote on his personal blog, The Netsetter that, ‘when you have a long journey ahead, sometimes it’s best not to think too much about it. You’re much better off just getting started.

That may be the major flaw of the book. It spends a lot of time helping you plan, but if you were to follow all of the advice, you might never get that first client. Beginning a freelance career can be scary, exhausting and risky. Yes, it would be nice to have a great business plan, a specialist accountant, and fully branded stationary right from the start. But not necessary.

What is really necessary is the kind of driven optimism that have made both Collis and Cyan Ta’eed successful.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer is published by Rockable Press.

About the reviewer

Shannon Smith is freelance web designer and developer and founder of Café Noir Design. She lives and works in Montreal.

About the author

Andy Polaine

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3 Comments

  • Matt – it’s really good for all those questions that my students used to ask me when they started out.

    Some people who have always been agency-based and never freelanced will also find it good to get over the fear of it all and there are plenty of tips for everyone.

    You’re more of an old hand these days (time goes fast huh?) so you’ll know a lot of it. Maybe you can give it as a leaving present to all those young designers you’ll end up firing throughout your career…

  • Scary I know.

    I find the freelance freedom blog, that this book is closely related to, a kind of practical GTD. I got really obsessed with the meta work for a long time until, like Merlin Man I realised I was spending too much time thinking about working, instead of actually working.

    Never hurts to know your not alone with all the day to day problems though. It would have been the perfect graduation present too.

    Matthew Delprado’s last blog post..we love typography. – It’s like FFFound for typography.