The First Thing to Do If You're Starting a Freelance Side Hustle, From This 52,000-Person Freelancing Group

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When Tia Meyers was still new to freelancing, she had a nonpayment issue with one of her clients and wanted to know how other freelancers had navigated the problem. She posted the question to Facebook and was floored by the response — both by how common the issue was, and by how many people were willing to offer their advice. She realized the potential for an online forum and launched Freelancing Females in 2017 for women freelancers to connect with one another over job opportunities, pay and how to navigate the expanding freelance and gig economy.

In the years since, the Facebook group has swelled to 52,000 global members, with increasing activity during the pandemic. In a year with competing demands that disproportionately forced women out of the labor force, some came to Freelancing Females to find a new source of income and with absolutely no previous experience with 1099 work.

She told CNBC Make It what she wants every new freelancer to know.

Start with a solid contract

For freelancing newbies, Meyers has one main piece of advice: Always have a contract in place for scope of work. This document lays out in writing what you'll deliver, the timeline, your rate and payment terms, deadlines, an indemnity clause to protect against loss or liability and more.

Meyers suggests new freelancers find a lawyer to draw up this contract; if you don't have the funds to hire a lawyer, she also suggests using a template from resources like The Freelancers Union as a jumping off point to create your own.

Cities and states may have their own policies to protect freelance workers and could impact your contract or serve as the basis of your agreement. In New York City, for example, all contracts worth $800 or more must be in writing and include the work you will perform, the pay for the work and the date you get paid.

You can also ask around in your online communities for localized recommendations or resources that can help you draw out a contract, Meyers adds.

Make the most of an online community

Carey Jordan joined Freelancing Females in 2019 after she quit her newsroom job and considered freelancing as "a last resort" to financially support herself and her toddler son. However, she'd never freelanced before and felt in over her head.

After finding the Facebook group, she was surprised by how much of a sense of community she felt, not only among those familiar with the ins and outs of freelancing, but also among other young working moms. They just "got it," she says, like understanding the pull between being an all-star mom versus an all-star employee, or even that networking at after-hours events just wasn't possible.

"In the beginning, I noticed the water cooler vibe, and just having other people to talk to," Jordan says. "It became this space of, 'Hey, I'm really struggling. Can someone help me understand how to navigate this?'"

Jordan says her main piece of advice to new freelancers is to find the right community to support them through their new work experience. Then, be active. She recommends finding a space where you can comfortably share your experiences, especially if there's something you're curious about or struggling with.

"I don't know why you almost get a badge for doing this in silence," Jordan says of feeling the need to figure out freelancing on her own. "Don't suffer in silence. Reach out often and early."

Because networking can feel awkward, especially online, she also recommends her own approach of creating what she considers "bathroom moments" in a virtual space — referring to moments of running into a stranger in the bathroom of a restaurant or bar and paying them a compliment.

"We should be creating more of those" in an online setting, Jordan says, "where you see someone cool and just say, 'Hey, I resonate with your comment.' It's that simple."

Check out:

How one Facebook group is helping 52,000 women navigate freelancing during the pandemic

3 ways to make the most of your virtual network while in-person events are still on hold

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