Be your own boss. Make your own schedule. Eliminate your commute. Improve your work-life balance. The dream of remote, virtual self-employment is taking hold, and most successful freelancers agree that the rewards can be great.
The freelance landscape
According to a recent Freelancing in America survey, the number of freelancers in the U.S. reached 55 million in 2016, a number that represented 35% of all U.S. workers and earnings of $1 trillion in a single year.
More businesses are becoming comfortable with the idea of hiring freelancers. Some, in fact, are deciding that freelancers are a better, more cost-effective way to conduct certain aspects of their business. As more employers adopt this perspective, the volume of freelance work is bound to increase.
What distinguishes an average freelancer from a freelance superstar
Pursue your passion
Often, when individuals strike out as freelancers, they waver in direction. Like anything in life, though, success comes from a singular focus. Keep your vision in sight, and stay true to your skill set.
Respect yourself as the expert
Remember, clients hire you to fill the gaps they have within their own organization. You become an extension of their company, and you contribute to their success. Respect the skills you bring to the table, and have confidence in your ability to deliver results.
Hone your skill set
Be willing to learn on a continuous basis to sharpen your competitive advantage and make yourself indispensable to your clients. This includes learning the soft skills so necessary to a freelancer’s success.
The two golden rules of freelancing
They include effective communication and well-managed expectations. These two skills are true indicators of a freelance superstar.
Effective communication is paramount to relationship building and client satisfaction. View yourself as much more than a task-completer. Take time to forge a client relationship by extending communications beyond email. Suggest a phone call or a video conference. If your client prefers a particular method of communication, honor that request.
Create structured touchpoints to communicate project milestones and to clarify expectations. Both of these practices are an investment in trust and client retention. If for any reason your milestones are interrupted, let the client know and provide new milestone dates. Ensure that the change will not put the client’s own outcomes at risk. Above all, do not allow communications to cease. Nothing spells lost business like lost communication.
Restate expectations from the start, or be willing to manage the fallout of client dissatisfaction. Consider this amusing but accurate analogy:
Two different individuals received the same instructions to create a mode of transportation with four wheels. One came back with an automobile, the other with a skateboard. Both thought they were meeting client expectations, but because neither went to the trouble of asking questions and clarifying expectations, both of them lost a client.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations by over-delivering at the start of a client relationship. Otherwise, clients might become dissatisfied when you complete projects at a more realistic but slower pace. Develop a workflow, establish a cadence, and be consistent.
Develop habits that will help you become productive and profitable
Create your own workspace
The dining room table or living room sofa works great – for a day or two. The most organized freelancers have a designated space, however small, to keep their work files secure and to provide quick access to necessary office supplies. (If you play your cards right, your designated office space could be a great tax deduction.)
Research indicates that changing tasks results in a lack of concentration that can cost you anywhere from one to twenty-five minutes every time you need to refocus on your initial task. Given the fact that most employees experience as many as 90 interruptions in an eight-hour workday, it’s easy to see why some days feel so unproductive.
Divide and conquer
“Chunking” is the practice of breaking your day into blocks of time to be used for specific tasks. For example, in the course of four hours, you might assign the first 1.25 hours to Client A, the second 0.25 hours to answer emails, the next 0.5 hours to complete invoicing, and the final two hours to Client B. Chunking, when implemented properly, is an effective way to minimize distractions that would otherwise result in lost time.
Technology changes rapidly, and you might stumble across new software or apps that are intimidating. The truth is, though, that many new technologies drive efficiencies, which in turn drive increased revenue. Seek ways to engage technology to complete your daily tasks, maintain a calendar, manage your time, secure your data, and manage business communications. Your capabilities will build your confidence and the confidence of your clients.
Other tools for your freelance toolkit
Managing a freelance workload is not something you will master overnight, so use your startup phase to build best practices before your client load becomes heavy.
- Improve your organizational skills
- Track your work as you go, so that your time tracking remains current
- Research self-employment tax considerations to stay on top of quarterly tax payments and tax deductions
- Never mingle personal and business finances
- Read material to stay current on freelancer best practices
If you decide you have been born to freelance, go for it! You have as much potential as the next professional. Just remember that skill is only a foundation for success; you must be committed to building the soft skills and best practices that differentiate the average from the superstar!