December 4, 2018
How to be a good freelancer – 13 crucial traits to become succesful
With the advent of new technology, more and more of us are choosing to live our lives in different ways. For instance, we no longer do our grocery shopping solely by getting in the car and heading to the supermarket. We don’t tend to book our holidays on the High Street anymore.
Technology has changed the way we live, so it makes sense that it has changed the way we work too.
Whilst once upon a time the only option for working was to go into the office and do the set 9-5 hours, nowadays we have more choices than ever before. This is great news if you have other commitments, e.g. a family, many appointments, if you’re studying, etc. You can work part time, full time, you can work from home, you can do a bit of both, and you can also quit your regular job altogether and become a self-employed freelancer.
Sounds scary? Well, it is. But it could also be the best thing you ever do!
To give you an idea of just how prevalent freelancing is becoming, it is thought that by 2020, 40% of the workforce in the USA will be freelancing. That’s in excess of 60 million people! This is based on a 2014 study which found that 1/3 of Americans have freelanced at some point, as their sole method of income.
That’s a lot of people!
A quick guide to freelancing
What exactly is freelancing?
Well, as a freelancer you are working for yourself in a specific role, and you will complete projects for different clients, who you will invoice separately for your work. You will advertise your services, apply for projects via a freelancing platform online, and you are not tied to any particular company as a result.
Remember, if you choose to freelance you will need to register as a self-employed person and you will be responsible for paying your taxes. This is something which you must not forget to do, as you could run into huge problems otherwise!
On the whole, with advice and good record keeping, doing your own taxes isn’t a massive problem.
So, what are the pros and cons of freelancing?
- You get to pick your own working days and hours
- You can work from anywhere in the world
- You can arrange your work schedule according to other commitments in your life
- You are your own boss, and don’t have to answer to anyone!
- You can build up your business slowly, and branch out into other sub-sections if you want to in the future
- Freelancing gives you complete control and freedom
- You need to be very dedicated, as if you don’t do any work, you simply don’t get paid!
- It can be easy to be distracted, so discipline is vital
- If you end up working for a bad client, there isn’t a lot you can do if you don’t get paid
- Competition is fierce when it comes to bidding for projects
- Reputation is everything
- You have to be organized so you can complete your tax returns on time
The traits of a good freelancer
So, what exactly makes a good freelancer?
Remember, you are working for yourself here, and if you don’t do the work, you’re not going to have any cash to pay the bills at the end of the month. It can be very easy to put things off and procrastinate, but you have to be clear in your objectives, otherwise it’s simply never going to work for you.
2. The ability to say ‘no’ and not be distracted
Picture the scene, you’re tired, there’s no-one breathing down your neck to get work done, and your friend calls and asks if you want to go out for coffee. You really want to go for coffee, but you also have work to do.
You need to be strong and say ‘no’!
It can be very difficult. I know this from experience. It’s important to have a schedule that you stick to, and that you arrange your off-duty activities around work, and not the other way around. Flexibility doesn’t mean not working at all!
3. Organisation skills
If you want to hit your deadlines and be productive (productive means money), then you need to be organized. A good freelancer has a system which works for them, e.g. a calendar they tick things off, an app which helps them schedule their work or a project management tool.
It’s also a good idea work in sections, e.g. break down a larger project into smaller milestones. This helps with time management, and stops you putting things off because the job seems too large.
The freelancing world, whatever guise you’re in, is a very competitive one. You’re up against thousands, sometimes even millions, of other freelancers in the same field as you, and you need to prove that you’re the best one for the job.
You need to stand out, and that means coming up with creative ways and approaches to projects. You’ll probably be asked to pitch for the job, and when you do that, the more creative you can be, the better.
5. A great communicator
You will generally be communicating with clients over the Internet, whether that’s via messaging or video calls, such as Skype.
You need to be confident speaking to various different people from all over the world, and you need to have the correct equipment to allow you to do just that, e.g. a solid Internet connection.
Confidence is also key when it comes to effective communication, but you also need to ensure that you stay in regular contact, and you don’t allow time to pass and not give your client updates. This will certainly reflect badly on you.
Yes, freelancing gives you a sense of flexibility in your work, but you also need be flexible in how you deal with other people and their schedules. You might be on GMT time zone, but what if your client is in Australia?
It’s not unusual for a freelancer to set their alarm and get up in the middle of the night for a Skype call!
How flexible you are will also help you stand out from the crowd, because clients want a freelancer who they can rely on, and who will go the extra mile for them. This doesn’t necessarily mean putting yourself out, but it does mean not being rigid in your working pattern.
7. Quality tech skills
You are going to be working solely on a computer, and that means you need to know your way around it! Again, the competition you’re up against will know their stuff, so you need to have the right tech skills for the field you’re in, and you also need to have a good level of general understanding, e.g. how Skype works, how WordPress works, how other software packages work.
This will all help you gain more work as you move along.
8. A desire to continue learning and improving
A good freelancer never stands still!
Always be on the lookout for new skills you can learn, and keep evolving in your field. For instance, if you’re working as a freelance writer, you should try and learn more about SEO, about how WordPress works, etc.
Never assume that the skills you have are enough; your competition will always be trying to branch out into other lucrative avenues, and you should do the same.
If you fail to continue developing and diversifying your skill-set, you’re going to be left far behind.
9. The ability to take disappointment on the chin
You might be the best one for the job by far, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. There will always be someone who will accept less money than you, and some clients unfortunately take rates over quality.
That’s not an issue, and you should never work for less than you deserve!
This means the ability to be able to take disappointment on the chin and not let it drag you down. You’re going to be criticized by people who don’t really know what they’re talking about, believe me, but sulking and stressing is no good. Accept it and see if you can learn anything from it, then move on.
10. Self-marketing skills
You have to be able to sell yourself with confidence in order to bag those jobs; if you don’t, someone else will!
Have a website, use social media, reach out and pitch for jobs blindly, and have a fantastic cover letter to convince clients that they should choose you over everyone else. This is not the time for modesty!
The number one pitfall for any freelancer, besides the ability to be distracted too easily, is taking on too much and having to let a client down. Reputation is key in this business, no matter what field you’re in, and if you let a client down, word will get around.
Whilst you might be trying to make as much cash that money as possible, you only have so many hours in a day. Do not spread yourself thin, take on too many jobs, and then realize that reality isn’t going to allow you to complete them all.
Reliability is everything.
12. The ability to prioritize
I mentioned organisation skills earlier, but the ability to be able to prioritize your work effectively is key.
This means you will hit deadlines every single time, you won’t feel stressed, you won’t constantly be putting clients off, and you will feel more in control of everything.
This also drastically reduces the chances of making mistakes, and keeps you completely on top of your workload.
The life of a freelancer might sound idyllic at first, but it’s important to realize that nothing in life is perfect. A good freelancer is determined to make it work, but they also know that it’s not going to work 100% of the time.
It might be easy to give up when things are going your way, and trust me, from time to time everything will seem to be going against you. But battling through these times and continuing to prove your quality to your clients will help you through the other side.
Start and make your business take off
A good freelancer will make their business work. An average freelancer might just scrape by. A poor freelancer will find themselves struggling to make ends meet even slightly.
If you are interested in freelancing, the most important thing you can do is start putting the wheels in motion slightly. This isn’t something you can jump into and expect it to work from the get-go. My own freelancing business took three years to build up, and I was working a full time job at the same time. Only when you reach a point where you feel confident that you’re not about to make a huge mistake, should you fly and see how far you can get.
A huge 16.1% of the workforce in the EU are freelancers. This shows that more people are placing importance on flexibility, quality of life and control, and that can’t be a bad thing. The danger is jumping in too quickly, and expecting it all to work out instantly.
Freelancing isn’t easy. Forget that picture you have in your mind of sipping a cocktail on a beach, laptop on your knee, listening to the waves whilst you work. Trust me, the reality is very different. Beaches and laptops aren’t a great combination, and it’s more likely that you’ll find yourself at home, in a coffee shop, or a co-working space, with your laptop and a coffee.
What you will find however is that the sense of achievement is extremely intoxicating. For me, the reality dawns on me occasionally that I have my own business and I’m making it work. That makes me proud, and within all of that I know that I have total control over my business, and my talent.
If freelancing is something you would like to try, my advice would be to go for it, but exercise caution in the early stages, to ensure that your jump is more of a calculated risk than a total risk.