Top 13 Tips for Becoming a Successful Freelancer
Freelancers are everywhere these days.
However, the successful freelancer is a bit of a rare breed.
Clients often have trouble finding reliable people to work for them, and the market is cutthroat competitive.
In the sea of good, hardworking, skilled people, how can one person stand out?
Even more so, what can you do to make freelancing a successful endeavour for yourself?
We have some tips that just might help with that, so read on.
1 – Start early
Starting freelance the moment you quit work is a mistake. Why?
Setting up your brand, finding clients and networking requires a lot of work and preparation.
To start this unemployed would take up much time, during which you could have already started making some money, and will undoubtedly put a dent in your plans.
Start doing the research 30 days or 6 months before quitting your regular job, in your spare time.
2 – Dismiss illusions
Freelancing is a job like any other, but unlike any other, it is not so forgiving.
When you are solely responsible for your work rates, work hours, scheduling and negotiations, you take up the job of CEO, manager, marketer, and employee.
Yes, at one point, we all fantasised about starting our workday idyllically by waking up late, and sitting down at a small coffee table after our favourite TV shows, to checking our emails for the day at noon, still in our PJs.
The reality can be much more 9 to 5 than we all believed.
The sooner you dismiss the illusion of it being relaxed and cosy, the better.
3 – Don't expect pats on the back
The sad truth is that there's no instant gratification in this business.
If your clients succeed, so did you, and this becomes evident only after some time.
Aside from a paycheck, not many people will be willing to hand out compliments like candy.
Keeping this in mind will help you grow a “thicker hide” and learn to look for gratification in other little things and most notably, with yourself.
4 – Focus on your portfolio
Nothing sells you better than your portfolio.
However, there is a trick to it – showcase not only your best works but also the kind of work you love doing.
Boasting your skills range is excellent, but it can give the sense of being all over the place.
Moreover, maybe that one project in your portfolio was not really up to your alley (or you hated it), but shows how good you are at that one particular thing?
To potential clients, your portfolio also shows your preferences.
Moreover, if there's something you just don't like doing, don't include it in your portfolio.
It will save you many headaches later.
5 – Always be prepared
Being your own CFO and business negotiator, you and you alone are responsible for how much money you will earn.
Inform yourself about the hourly rates in your field of freelancing, and always have a contract written up for each project.
Alongside the contract, request a down payment, to ensure the client does not back out or send the work back for revising too many times.
A legal executive or a mentor (if you have one), could help you with this.
Don't go into contract-making headfirst and on your own, as another pair of eyes will most likely spot something you omitted or didn't consider.
6 – Create a business plan
No person has succeeded in freelancing just by diving into work.
The preparation as mentioned above to get into this line of work includes writing up realistic, achievable goals.
They need to be small, short-term and focused on immediate needs to boost your work: building clientele, earning a certain amount of income in a particular timeframe or having a specific number of visits to your website.
There should be no free space left in your schedule, at least for the first few months, until you have gotten on your feet.
After that, it is all about you – find a goal that is a little far-reaching, that can help you settle in on the long run.
7 – Legal matters
One good thing you can do for yourself is to get very familiar with all legal matters that would concern you.
Hire a lawyer, or find a person who's been in this business longer to show you the ropes.
Knowing the law could save you from a client trying to weasel out of a deal, help you write out a substantial contract, and get you familiar with your rights as a businessperson.
The legal language should be another thing to learn, for when you deal with client-written contracts or other matters.
Lastly, it is a sign of professionalism and dedication to your work.
8 – Personality
Yes, your personality plays a significant factor in whether or not you will have work.
A professional, successful freelancer is someone who loves their job and shows it.
There is an optimistic, pleasant tone to them that clients cannot resist.
Forget the idea of a moody, lone-wolf introvert who deals only with emails.
The best way to show your dedication to the job (not to mention build trust with your clients), is to work on how you present yourself.
In freelancing, you are the company AND its face, and more often than not, deals will be made based on how this business of yours is perceived.
9 – Keep learning
Never stop learning.
It might already be imperative for you, but it is never a bad thing to repeat: never stop learning.
Once the workflow starts and clients come flooding in, it can become easy to just slip into monotony.
You bury yourself in work and stay isolated from the latest trends and happenings.
If you are chasing success, that scenario is unacceptable in the digital age.
The best and the brightest are born of curiosity.
The more significant your skillset, the more successful freelancer you are.
Stay on top of the latest news in disciplines that interest you and you understand, expand your vocabulary and understanding of new ideas.
It will help your job immensely.
10 – Get out there
Networking is a huge part of getting clients, collaborators and contacts that will come in handy one day.
It is not only there to help you catch a bigger fish, but to find other successful freelancers from different fields, exchange ideas and experiences, and all in a casual setting.
It will also help in forming your brand identity in the flesh.
Also, although it is an excellent opportunity to grow and be social, don't put your expectations too high.
Always have a batch of cards with your information on you, and bring your best smile.
Oh, and stick to the bar, even if you are not drinking – people tend to be more casual and relaxed there.
11 – Make a brand of yourself
In a sea of successful freelancers, what helps professional ones stand out is their ability to turn themselves into a brand.
Visually, personality-wise, professionally.
As mentioned by some of the most prolific digital marketing companies, a sleek website, full social media presence and a recognisable style of presentation will make clients more likely to work with you.
Building an online presence makes the newly forged brand stick and survive in the turbulent waters of freelancing, so keep checking on your website, looking for new clients and updating your prices and other info whenever you can.
12 – “Wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off.”
Find a mentor.
Find someone who will be Mr Miyagi to your Karate Kid.
Networking can help a lot with this if done right.
An experienced freelancer will show you the ropes, shortcuts, tips and tricks much faster than if you'd figured them out for yourself.
Moreover, if the mentor-mentee bond grows, some mentors like to share a part of their network with their protégées.
It is similar to “keeping the business in the family”, and means you are trusted and valued as a fellow freelancer.
Having a mentor means working less in isolation, someone nudging you in the right direction when you are feeling stuck, and learning from the best.
13 – Whatever you do, don't panic
Dry spells are inevitable in this business.
So what you learn through the years is that if you play it smart during your highs, the lows will not be as bad.
Always save up money on the side for the days when it is scarce.
Better yet, when you are overbooked with work, you can check your network for another successful freelancer who could take some work off your hands.
That way, when you are out of work, and they are not, they can send some projects your way.
A mutual support group for the rainy days could be a lifesaver both for your finances and work habits.
Last bit of advice
Despite popular belief, freelancing is far from sitting around at your computer all day in your slippers and PJs.
It can be highly active, doing several jobs at once, creating a brand of yourself and representing yourself as a company and an employee almost 24/7.
Becoming a successful freelancer requires dedication, time, effort, and the proverbial blood, sweat and tears.
However, after you push through those first few months, it is the most fun job you could have.
For more information, check out how to become a freelance graphic designer.