Finding potential clients in Germany - It's a jungle out there!
For many of us, starting out as a freelancer sure can be daunting, to say the least. To take the big plunge after the luxury of job security ie: having a fixed contract and hours, to being on your own and being your own boss: it's quite the transition. Plus, having to determine your own hours and workload for a change. Sure, it could be the kind of sea-change many of us have always dreamed of, but the reality is that it could be something completely different than what you had imagined. Freelancing involves getting involved in a completely different job market - one that is very different than what you're used to. The way that you apply, communicate and interview for these jobs has another process. Even negotiating and accepting these type of roles is rather different to traditional methods.
Add to this the uncertainty of being in a new big city (like say, Berlin) and it all seem a bit too much at times. I know because I've been there - only six years ago, in fact, and it seems just like yesterday. If only I had the contacts and resources in the first instance to advise me accordingly, I could have saved myself a lot of stress. But then again, a hard lesson is a lesson learned, as they say.
Allow me to pass on some wise words of wisdom, in order to help streamline the process and enable you to avoid a whole heap of unnecessary rigmarole along the way. In the sections below, I'll give you some tips on where to look for potential work, the most effective way of getting their attention, building a rapport with potential employers and of course. how to manage several clients at once.
Companies get loads of resumes every day and they can seem 'a dime a dozen' at the end of the day. So what are you going to do to stand out? For example: a friend of mine was recruiting for an open position at her company recently and received a handwritten CV -something virtually unheard of these days. Given.. you know: computers, word processing software, email and other wonders of the modern world! But this cute and personalised form of old fashioned communication (that was faxed through to her office) was something that endeared my friend immensely - and she indeed hired the person.
Likewise with your introduction on any online profiles - whether that be on LinkedIn or any freelance job network you may be part of: try to avoid any of the cliched and stereotyped spiels that every other person has nonchalantly blurted out as standard. Be daring and different. Be yourself but be exciting. Employers like to know that you think outside of the box, take risks and have a flair for innovation - so let them know about.
ONLINE CLASSIFIED AND COMMUNITY WEBSITES
Never underestimate the good old fashioned job boards of old: namely Craigslist or Kleinanzeigen – which is known in other parts of the world as Kijiji or Gumtree. Quite a few employers (and many start-ups in fact) post their job vacancies here, as they are in a budget and it is inexpensive. It can be rather effective at securing short term and sometimes even long term casual work, across a variety of industries. You will notice that many of the postings are in German language but don't let that discourage you: the ones requiring English speakers will nearly always have the post in said language, or simply type 'Freelance English' in the search bar of the job section for the best results.
Why settle for what the current job market presents to you, when you have your mind set on something in particular? Cold canvassing is the most obvious and logical way to get into direct contact with your dream clients. Whether you pre-empted their need for a freelancer, simply piqued their interest with your enthusiasm or completely endeared them with your pitch: luck plays a huge factor in all of this. If you do it at the right time, it's quite possibly meant to be! Contact the head of department by obtaining their direct email in the 'About Us' section of their website, or search on the contact section of their online social media profiles for leads.
In some cases, be prepared to be ignored completely. However, it is quite likely that some will respond to you, and even if it is to just thank you for your interest (despite not being a need for any freelancers at present) be sure to keep a dialogue open with them. This is the best way to develop a rapport which will most likely lead to you being their first preference when the opportunity does indeed become available. As the good old saying goes: never burn a bridge!
FREELANCE JOB NETWORKS
To hone in on the many freelancers and 'digital nomads' in the current job climate internationally, a fair of share search engines and job boards have been targeted at this market which has grown exponentially. Let's not forget: you can work from literally 'anywhere' now, so start thinking differently. Upwork.com , Freelance.com and Guru.com have wide international networks of clients. Clients looking specifically for freelancers and vice versa. Sometimes, a one-off agreement for work could very well turn into an-going and consistent workload, if the client finds your work impressive. Nearly all of the websites have secure and reliable means of ensuring you are paid for any jobs completed and strict criteria checks ensure that clients are legitimate, for the most part.
The only drawback is that it's incredibly competitive, on many levels. Firstly, be sure to setup alerts so that you can respond to advertisements as soon as they are posted. From my experience, it is 'first in, best dressed' and responding to an advertisement after a mere few hours after it was posted is futile, and the job will have already been accepted by somebody else. A lot of these clients are on strict deadlines and are usually quite urgent to have these tasks delegated. Second thing to be mindful of is your hourly rate - you can be certain that there is somebody out there with just as much experience, if not more, offering to do the job for a lot less. In some countries, an hourly rate that you would probably scoff at is a small fortune in their economy: and this is capitalism after all!
As much as you would been tempted, in desperation, to amend you hourly rate, really think it through. They might have been worth that much, but are you? Believe in your own self worth and be patient: the work will come through soon enough.
OBTAIN A VAT NUMBER AND OR STEUERNUMMER (GERMAN TAX FILE NUMBER)
A bit of a curveball here, but we mention this now because you would have noticed this upon filling in your pay details on the aforementioned websites and seen that is a mandatory field. Having a tax file number is a no brainer really, as you would have needed one of these in your home country and the same rules apply here, as in any other part of the world. Your clients are going to ask you for one too, don't forget! And you won't be able to start working (or just as importantly, get paid) without it. Depending on the time of year, there may be longer than usual waiting lists at the Finanzamt as well.
That being said, rest assured that organising this is relatively easy, so do not get put off by the whole 'German bureaucracy' thing just yet. Simply make an appointment online with you local tax office and on the day remember to bring your ID and relevant paperwork. You will answer some basic questions relating you your current business circumstances and in the end be provided with a number on the spot. The same goes for a VAT number, which in case you didn't know - you'll need for invoicing your overseas clients.
JOIN A CO-WORKING SPACE
Finding it hard to get motivated while working in your makeshift 'office' in the kitchen? Finding it hard to concentrate because your flatmate or significant other is constantly distracting you? Or perhaps you're paranoid that waitress at the cafe has noticed that you haven't bought another coffee in the last three hours? Yeah, we've had to endure all of the above, and sometimes still do! Therefore, we would suggest it's worth joining a co-working space. You may have heard of them – expensive, packed full of ambitious start-up entrepreneur wannabe types, all looking to do 'public relations' and 'collaborate'.
We know how cliché it all is, but if you can't beat em, join 'em we say! Besides, it really is a great way to socialise and make contacts, instead of being cooped up in your house all day. Remember that a lot of the time it's not just what you know, it's who you know. And it Berlin this is something to be really be mindful of! This is a huge city after all- making friends and getting out there is an important part of making the most out of this wonderful place: so get up and get out there!
SLOW AND STEADY
This might all seem a bit daunting at first, but don't worry. As the old saying goes “slow and steady wins the race”. Instead of rushing into things in a haphazard fashion (and almost certainly facing a heap of rejections), take heed of the advice given here and implement it slowly. If many of us could have gone back and done one thing differently: it would have been to be more patient.
In our next article, we will deal with the next set of hurdles you will face as a freelancer in Germany. Once you have the sense of accomplishment and elation from winning your first bunch of freelance contracts, you then have the wonderful task of filing your taxes and balancing your books: fun fun! Just the thought of it is enough to give anyone a headache, not to mention an everlasting sense of panic! But not to worry, help is on the way.
We will advise you on how to find an accountant in your city that can deal with foreign tax returns, in addition to opening a business bank account. Companies such as Kontist can help you escape the 'tax trap' with their online financial services, which are tailor made for freelancers in Germany. With their new banking app, you get an overview of what you owe for taxes over the month and how much disposable net income remains, in addition to real-time tax calculation. To ensure you aren't surprised by a tax payment and more advice to keep ahead of the game, watch this space for our next instalment coming soon.