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Being a freelancer, let alone a successful freelancer, requires more than just working from home and completing jobs for clients.
Just like any other job there are many, yet particular, requirements that will help you achieve your ultimate goal of becoming a successful freelancer.
Spending time preparing yourself, improving your skills, managing a business and learning how to sell your personal brand are all essential to building your desired freelance career goals.
While nothing is truly certain, having the right knowledge and guidance will help pave your journey to become the freelance you aspire to be.
This guide will take you through the important aspects you must keep in mind in when building your freelance career.
1. Know Where You Are Heading
If you want to have success, you must have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.
Do you want to be a half-time freelancer or you want to work exclusively that way? Besides, what exactly do you want to do?
You must take into account that thousands of people around the world seek to meet the requirements to be a successful freelancer and that working independently is an increasingly adopted model.
This among other conditions means more competition.
Source: Edelman Intelligence
As you can see, 35% of American workers are freelancers. How can you stand out? What will make you be the professional a client wants to pick?
Only those freelancers who are perseverant and consistent eventually will become more successful than their peers, having said that, working to improve your brand identity and work opportunities should be your priority.
Establish a Business Plan
Give your work the importance and rigor it deserves. Many freelancers hinder their ability to advance professionally because they do not take their work seriously enough.
‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ so cliche yet so true.
Think of a scenario where two people have to reach point A one has a map and one doesn’t. Who do you think would reach their destination?
If you want a business that will be your full-time income you will have to treat it as one.
Have a vision and direction for your business, some things you may want to consider:
- What: Analysing your current situation
- Where: where do you want to be in 12 months / 5 years
- How: Plan short and long term strategies
Use Your Time Wisely
Productivity plays a big role when it comes to ultimately achieving your goals. Anything that affects your productivity is something you should reconsider.
Failure of completing basic responsibilities such as scheduling to fulfill pending projects and leaving tasks to the last minute can dramatically affect your personal brand and future opportunities with clients.
The best thing you can do is to set schedules and stick to it, that goes without saying to take your well earned days off, being burned out will not benefit you or your business.
It is a well-known running joke that freelancers work in their pajamas and not leave home.
And although it may have some truth to it and it is indeed one of the perks of being a freelancer but if it causes you to procrastinate or fall asleep in the middle of your workday, it is time to fix this.
Some of the ways you can overcome distractions could be as simple as
- Using productivity tools
- Treating it as a job and blocking your calendar
- Work in a place that is not your room
- Put away your phone while you work and set specific times to check it
Small goals, big goals, short term, long term goals are all important to remind you where you are going.
Ultimately it will be the small goals that will help you achieve the big goals and the short-term goals that will help you achieve the long-term goals – it all adds up.
It starts with a simple action such as incorporating a to-do list for the day / week / month. At some point in life, everyone has forgotten a pending task but when it comes to your work, this could seriously affect you in the long run.
It is a practice that can be very helpful and that is the to-do lists. With to-do lists, you do not waste time overthinking or even worse forgetting. It is a vital practice to avoid losing direction.
Other goals you might want to set will be based on earning a certain amount of money at the end of the month or working with a certain number of clients.
It all depends on what your goal is and what you want to achieve. The point of this is to keep you motivated and realize that you can achieve your goals if you have the discipline.
2. Define Your Niche
You might already know that you want to work within graphic design but is that specific enough to say you know your niche?
Find out who your audience are? What skills are they looking for in a graphic designer? Target a niche and add value to it.
If you studied or are passionate about graphic design focus on that, specialize, train, innovate and improve.
The more unique a certain field or skill/profession, the more possibilities to deliver quality work and, therefore, more options to be hired which brings it to the next point of specializing.
3. Stand Out In Your Field
Choose a skill and avoid branching out unnecessarily, nobody knows everything. Covering areas outside of your abilities will only waste time, money, and quality.
Think of it this way: Would you work with someone who specializes in designing Instagram video ads or someone who is building WordPress websites, developing in Python, and making Powerpoint presentations? The key is to work with who is the specialist of your need.
The hard question here is, how do you find a good niche for freelance work activities?
Thanks to Google, you can use Google Trends to see what skills are needed most recently and if the demand for that service is increasing over time.
After finding your niche, try to build your freelance reputation on that service.
Specialize In A Skill
Offering so many services without any specialization can make you become one more freelancer without differentiating yourself from the great mass of other freelancers who do the same as you.
This can cause those interested in your services to usually seek you out simply because you are a cheaper option and that you as a freelancer become easily substitutable.
If you want to have visibility as a freelancer you will have to show that you are an expert in something specific, otherwise, you will be another one of the bunch that “does everything”.
If you become a specialized designer, you position yourself as a benchmark in the field, you can have higher prices, clients will look for you for the quality of your work and not for your price.
If you still have not decided in which area you would like to specialize, here is a chart made by Upwork and Freelancers Union where you can see some of the trending and popular industries.
Source: Edelman Intelligence
If you see that the area that you would like to choose is one of the most occupied, do not worry!
That means that there is a lot of demand and job opportunities for you. While if you are looking to choose a less popular industry that is also fine because that means that the industry may need more freelancers.
Specializing in a specific skill will create the opportunity and room for visibility in your niche.
Advancing and proving your worth as a freelancer within your niche will increase your chances of standing out and becoming a point of reference to your clients within that niche.
Remember that you can hardly be the best at everything but surely you can become the best at something specific.
Become An Expert In Your Field
Now that you have chosen a specific skill set, it is time to invest effort and dedication into standing out in your niche.
How do you do that?
Knowing what you want to specialize in will give you a better direction. If you are a writer, you can specialize even more if you choose a particular area such as copywriting.
The more specific you can be, the more success you will have.
Keep in mind that you should not stop learning and acquiring more skills and knowledge in other related areas within your niche, but to find your ideal service and complement it by offering other parallel services.
You may create a content piece for a client and during the process identify another need of your client, this is your opportunity to show your expertise in the area.
Here is an example of a portfolio by Ian Paget dedicated completely to logo design.
When a potential client sees his portfolio and the fact that is exclusively dedicated to making logos, it creates a sense of professionalism and confidence in his work due to his extensive knowledge within the area.
Having a portfolio exclusively dedicated to an area will let clients explore all the experience you have and it will guarantee you more success when it comes to reaching agreements with new clients.
Here is another example of a freelancer, Amy Booker, who focuses on couples photography.
By specializing in a specific type of photography her target audience are clear and by accumulating years of experience in this area, clients will be inclined to choose her rather than a general photographer.
Source: Amy Booker
4. Always Strive To Learn
Never settle with the knowledge you have. One of the requirements to become a successful freelancer is to never stop learning.
Ambitious freelancers like this always are catching up with the latest trends of their niche and trying new techniques. Every time you have the opportunity to take a course or class that expands your knowledge of your area, take it.
Especially if you learned your skills empirically, try to support that knowledge with a course or class that gives you a certificate.
For example, Adobe offers courses that certify you as officially qualified to use their programs and this will add points to you when a client must choose between you and another freelancer.
Some platforms where you will find useful courses:
Learn How To Sell
It does not matter if you are the most knowledgeable freelance writer or design the best logos in a short amount of time, your most valuable skill will be how to sell yourself as a freelancer.
If you are great in what you do but you do not know how to sell your services, you will hardly get proposals that match your qualities and the effort you have put to become a professional.
The Importance Of Self-Marketing
This consists of finding what makes you special and making the client understand that this is what they need for their brand.
If you are a freelancer, working on your personal marketing has become a real necessity. In today’s market, competition is brutal in any sector and differentiation is vital.
But how do you get to show your full potential and worth to your clients?
When you work in an agency, you do not need to worry about getting job opportunities since there is a team that takes care of that.
But when you work alone, if you are not in charge of getting new clients, who is going to do it?
If you self-promote yourself, you will get new clients and projects as a result, which translates into generating profits and as a result, achieving success in your freelance career.
As you can see self-marketing is extremely important to be a successful freelancer.
Being Able to Sell – Comes with Time and Experience
At first, nothing is simple but little by little you will discover what is the best way to promote yourself.
Remember that just as no commercial brand has been built overnight, you too must work hard and be patient to get results.
The key is to be consistent and keep striving every day to find better clients and projects that are more suited to the type of work you want to do.
Over time, you will discover what works best for you and what are those things that you should and should not do.
There are many talented freelancers but not all of them are disciplined. If you manage to mix both, you will strengthen your personal brand and that will make you stand out.
Recommended courses teaching how to sell
- Seth Godin’s Freelancer Course
- Marketing For Freelancers: Get Clients With No Budget
- Six-Figure Freelance – Build a Profitable Freelance Business
- Freelancing 101: Social Media Marketing for Freelancers
- Guerilla Marketing Tactics for Freelancers
- Sales and Marketing For Freelancers Part 1 – Preparation
5. Build an Online Presence
The more accessible you are, the more likely clients will find you. You make yourself accessible when you build an online presence.
By being present in different media means such as web pages, social networks, Facebook groups and any other relevant platform.
Currently, there are so many ways to establish an online presence, that you will surely find more than at least two options that suit you.
A portfolio website is a place where you can showcase all the work you have done, how much experience you have, your style and personality and anything else a client will need to know before hiring you. It is your business card online.
When you start your portfolio website, you may not be very clear about which work you want to present and how. The important thing is to make a start and little by little you will define the image you want to give it.
One of the best options to start your website is using WordPress, which is a content management system that allows you to manage websites without having to program or know any kind of code.
There are other similar websites like Wix or Squarespace where you can build your portfolio website in a very easy way. Wix even offers you a series of templates that you can choose depending on your type of work.
Check out our guide to build a portfolio website with Wix.
A blog is another great way to promote yourself. Blogging gives you the opportunity to write about things related to your niche and that will provide valuable knowledge to all those who visit it.
Writing your own blog will also strengthen your professional image as you will be showing that you have extensive knowledge about your industry.
It will also earn the trust of your audience and will attract potential new clients if being optimized to being found on the web (SEO).
A guest post is a piece of content that someone publishes on a blog as a guest author. In general, there is an exchange of content between the collaborators – that is, each one sends a post to be published on the other’s blog.
This is a great idea to create connections with other freelancers or colleagues in your niche, so their audience will get to know you and your audience will know them.
Podcasts are currently one of the most popular and trending tools.
With a podcast, you will have a creative and original way of sharing your knowledge with your audience and expand your reach further.
That way you are more likely to find potential clients among the people who listen to you.
Use Your Social Networks
Social media is the easiest way to reach people. You might be surprised but many clients do not know where to find the freelancer they need.
By being present on social networks you become much more accessible and anyone who follows you will take you into account in case they need a service like the one you offer.
Likewise, in your social networks, you can create a lot of valuable content that will highlight your qualities and expertise as a freelancer.
6. Manage Your Clients Well
Clients are your greatest asset as a freelancer.
You must have a good vision when you are handed a project, if you want to produce incredible work, you need to be able to identify the potential of the project and have the conviction to communicate it to your clients.
From the very first meeting, invest time and effort in establishing a strong professional relationship with each client. The more you work together, the better your understanding of their needs, and the stronger their loyalty to you.
Clients Are The Core Of The Freelance Business
Clients are an essential component of the freelancing industry, so master how to develop mature working relationships and success will follow.
The hardest job you will do for a new client will be the first. After that your job will be to maintain the employment relationship with the same standards.
Keeping your regular clients is not only good because it makes it easier to work with them but according to a study carried out by Bain and Company, keeping a client even represents an economic saving, reaching 5 to 25 times cheaper than starting a project with a new client.
7. Be Aware That Mindset Plays A Big Role
You have made your decision into becoming a freelancer and now it is driving you to take certain actions. The same goes to becoming a successful freelancer, it all starts with having the right mindset and determination.
A freelancer is basically an optimist as they see opportunities and try to take advantage of them and when there are no opportunities, they create them.
When you are mentally prepared and have the right mindset to conquer your goals, you are much more likely succeeding them.
Prepare To Work Hard
Being a freelancer is the same as any other job, and even more complicated at times.
While being a freelancer offers you a much more flexible schedule and you are your own boss, the reality is that if you do not work, you stop making money.
This occasional instability, the uncertainty of not finding new projects and the competition may end up making many freelancers give up.
Here lies the difference between freelancers and successful freelancers.
Building a reputation and a good track of record work takes time, many freelancers give up before they even give it a fair true shot.
All beginnings are hard but with hard work and determination, you will be able to attract clients and jobs that are feasible for you.
As you progress through your freelance career journey you will gain experience and knowledge that will make finding new projects and completing them better and faster.
How hungry are you to make it happen?
Be Consistent & Patience
You will have to be constant and patient not only to grow professionally but to deal with new clients and many other new experiences as a freelancer.
Some clients are easier to deal with than others, there are clients of all kinds but with patience and kindness, you can deal with all of them.
Determination is essential if you want to be successful as a freelancer. This consists of proposing to fulfill from small goals to more ambitious projects.
With each new challenge you take on, you will realize that you are capable of greater things and that will encourage you to accept new jobs that challenge your abilities.
You Will Make Mistakes – Learn From Them
In your freelance career, you will inevitably make mistakes.
Some of them could be accepting a job that pays less than it should just because at the moment you have no other jobs, working for free, accepting more projects than you can handle, in short, many could be mentioned.
The important thing is what you do with the mistakes you make and the only option is to learn from them so as not to make them again. E
very time you get over a mistake congratulate yourself because that means you are growing professionally.
8. Stay Proactive
As a freelancer, you are your own boss, if you don’t get the job done guess what? There is a very good chance it won’t be done.
A go-getter winning attitude will make you a winning freelancer, being proactive is one of those attitudes that will catapult you to success.
Staying proactive in managing your freelance businesses will ensure efficiency and progress as you are leaving fewer chances of you coming across hurdles off the table.
Being a freelancer means having the perks of having total independence with your work life and therefore your attitude must be consistent especially when it comes to managing finances and clients.
Stay On Top Of Your Taxes
Edelman Intelligence stated that freelancers contribute a trillion dollars each year to the U.S. economy and like any other income-generating activity, you must pay taxes.
Taking into account that if you are a freelancer your incomes can always fluctuate, estimating your income can be a bit tricky. You might consider hiring a professional to help you in this area.
However, if you are organized enough, you could do it yourself by calculating tax for each job and putting it aside.
Source: Edelman Intelligence
Procrastination can be the enemy number of every freelancer and the only way to combat this is to be organized and stay on top of your projects and admin.
Set deadlines to your projects and establish daily work hours where rest hours are included. Create processes and procedures to your work as well as checking mechanisms before sending out projects and anything that you think is worth it for your business.
By staying organized and preventative of any challenges that might hinder your freelancing progression you are avoiding working at extreme hours and unnecessary fatigue and stress.
Every small step and effort you take will be shown in the long run, it starts with the small things. If you expect for others to respect your work schedule, you must do it first.
Here are some other helpful pieces of advice that will help you to become a successful freelancer.
1. Have a Safety Net to Fall Back On
The harsh reality of working as a freelancer is that what may be generating income for you today, you may lose it tomorrow. That is why it is not advisable to start freelance work if you find yourself with very little money, because you are not sure when you will start generating incomes. A recommended safety net is to have saved for 6 months of expenses. If you spend $ 1000 on rent, food, and other expenses each month, your safety net should be $ 6000.
2. Attend Meetups
Doing this according to your interests and your local area, connects you with other people, and opens a space to share knowledge and new experiences. Through these meetings, you can chat with others and listen to their presentations, which can bring creative ideas or helpful tips.
Also, when you are starting your freelance career, a strong professional network will sometimes go a long way toward closing jobs without too much effort.
3. Join Freelance Platforms
They are a great place to find jobs, meet potential clients, and start growing your experience and confidence. Here are some you can try:
Success is There, Now Go Get It!
So what can you take out from here?
- Know where you are heading – it will keep you focused
- Specialize and stand within your niche
- Learn how to sell yourself
- Increase your online presence
- Manage your clients well – they are your business
- Have the right mindset
- Be proactive
There is no doubt that if you attempt to meet all the requirements to become a successful freelancer, you will start getting better results. It might be hard in the beginning but all good things take time and will be rewarding in the long run.
Discipline and perseverance will be your great allies, and when you manage to establish yourself as a freelancer you will be able to enjoy your professional successes and the flexibility that this job offers.
Remember that your attitude is one of the most important factors in achieving success. Many have the talent but lack the character, but now that you know all the key points to be a successful freelancer, you will surely have both!