When it comes to running your own freelance business, you probably already have a great understanding of the hard skills that you need to do so. If you are a graphic designer, then you know you need outstanding graphic design skills. If you are a translator, you know you need to master language and translation skills. Successful freelancers are great at knowing their hard skills and pitching them to potential clients for projects and jobs.
However, an aspect of successful freelance life that is too often forgotten is that of soft skills. Developing soft skills, or not, can be the difference between those who succeed in their freelance career and those who don't. Improving soft skills can be your missing ingredient in the formula for becoming the most successful freelancer possible.
So, what are soft skills? How do they work? And how can you get them?
Let's discuss the answers to all of these questions below.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are defined by the dictionary as "personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people." Soft skills are more to do with how we communicate, interact, negotiate, and relate with other people, rather than the specific work that we do for them.
Soft skills are harder to measure than something like task completion, but they are, on the contrary, very visible and very impactful. Without the required soft skills as a freelancer, you will find yourself struggling to get new clients, keep those clients, get the prices you want, complete projects, and so on. Every stage of a project life cycle will be disrupted without the right soft skills behind it.
So don't underestimate them, that's for sure.
You will see different lists of the most important soft skills from various outlets, and they, of course, depend on the type of career or line of work we are talking about. The soft skills needed for web development might be slightly different than those of experimental artists, for example. However, the main framework is largely the same, and if you follow some basic principles of soft skills, you will be prepared to bring your best performance to any project.
The following list outlines what we deem to be the 7 most important soft skills in any freelancing career. Let's discuss them one by one.
1. Problem-solving skills
Every project or piece of work that you are presented as a freelancer is a problem that you need to solve. But to solve this problem, you will need more than just the hard skills associated with the field of work you are in. Say, for example, you are a freelance writer. To successfully manage a freelance writing project, you will need more than simply your writing and language skills.
The important soft skill of problem-solving goes beyond the specific work you are doing. It describes needing to know:
- How you will complete the work by the deadline provided
- What tools and software you need
- How your work will answer a specific problem with accuracy and purpose
- How you can balance this work with your other projects and tasks
- Will this project be cost-effective for you
And so on.
Jumping into a project with only the key skills technically needed to achieve the end product isn't enough. A project is multifaceted, and so your approach to it needs to be the same. Working on your problem-solving skills can be hugely effective as you go through your freelance career, and it is often what separates those who succeed and stay in business and those who move back into a role working for someone else.
2. Communication skills
Communication skills are an integral part of being a freelancer. Even though you may technically work alone, your communication is still a vital soft skill in nearly everything you do as a freelancer.
Areas of communication that are typically involved in freelance work include:
- Sending pitches/proposals
- Negotiating with clients
- Receiving feedback
- Delivering work
- Collaborative planning
- Emails and written correspondence
- Building rapport and personal relations
- Discussing sickness, holidays, and changes to work
Despite the fact that you do technically work alone as a freelancer, your level of daily interactions with clients can be pretty high. On top of this, you may even work with other freelancers on a collaborative project, talk to subcontractors, deal with vendors, and communicate with any range of people in order to get your work done. Working freelance is significantly less "solo" than many people may think.
In order to maintain all of these connections in a sustainable way, your communication skills will need to be good. If they aren't, you will easily find failed proposal after failed proposal, and ended contract after ended contract. Even if you are the best in your field at the work that you do. You need to be able to talk, negotiate and mediate with other people in order to get steady work and have happy clients.
If you’re considering getting soft skills training, we would recommend prioritizing communication. To communicate effectively, even if it is only ever online, is a critical skill that shouldn't be overlooked. Spend some time fine-tuning your skills to your best ability.
3. Time management skills
One of the most important soft skills for a freelancer to have is effective time management. While many people move to a freelance life to escape the typical 9-5 working pattern, this can sometimes spell disaster too. Sometimes having too much freedom can be a bad thing and many new freelancers find themselves completely overwhelmed when it comes to managing their tasks in a timely way.
Most freelancers will be working on multiple projects at once with hard deadlines for each and every project. Missing deadlines is something that you definitely want to avoid as a freelancer, especially if you are only starting your career. Getting a reputation for being unreliable and slow is never a good thing.
So, time management is essential. Knowing how much time you have to do all of your work for a week or month and deciding how you will best use that time is critical. Leaving everything to chance, doing a few hours here and there, and hoping for the best never works.
That being said, different techniques and management styles will work for different people, so when it comes to working on the soft skill of time management, remember to do what works for you. Knowing yourself and your own work habits is the best starting point for developing a time management system that works for you and your freelance career.
And, if all else fails, practice makes perfect. Keep trying until you get it right.
4. Critical thinking
Critical thinking is something that we might assume we all naturally have as adults. However, it is an acquired soft skill that we can improve upon.
Critical thinking can be defined as, "the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment." It is a process much deeper and more refined than typical thinking, and it is something that requires both time and effort. If we aren't critically thinking about our freelance projects, chances are that we aren't producing the best possible work, and we aren't making the most optimal decisions within that work.
Critical thinking is one of the very best freelancing soft skills to take a short course in or read a book about. You would be surprised at how much more there is to know about the topic. There is a lot of value to be had in this soft skill for freelance life, so it is worth doing your research.
5. Teamwork skills
As we mentioned in our section detailing the importance of soft communication skills in freelance life, freelancers don't really work alone as much as we might imagine. Another soft skill that is underrated is teamwork. Teamwork skills are, in fact, essential to being as successful as you possibly can be as a freelancer.
The thing is, there are a lot of freelancers out there right now. The market is busy in 2022, and it doesn't show any signs of stopping anytime soon. Due to the pandemic and the rise of technology, it is more achievable and desirable to be a freelance worker. This means, simply, that more people are doing it, causing more competition for each job and each client.
In order to stand out from the crowd and beat your competitors, you need to have great soft skills. And teamwork is an essential soft skill.
The work that you do for a client is rarely something isolated. It is usually part of a much larger plan or project that is company-wide. Say you are creating a design for a website; it won't be as simple as receiving a brief and then completing the website alone. You will have to intertwine your work with copywriters, backend developers, project managers, and so on to complete a final product. If you are able to work efficiently within this team, you will find that you reach your project goals much quicker, and you will have a much happier client at the end of it all.
Working well in a team might seem like something you have entered freelance life to avoid, but it can, in fact, never be avoided. Make sure you improve this skill whenever you can for long-term success and good reviews. It will certainly help you stand a cut above the rest.
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6. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence in freelance life is something that has gained more awareness in the last couple of years. Right now, it is being flagged as one of the most important factors in a freelancer's success.
There are said to be 5 important elements of emotional intelligence:
- Basic social skills
These elements are what is currently being reported as the measure of freelance success. At the end of the day, while many or most of us conduct our business digitally, we still have a basic need to interact with humans.
When we are working with someone who connects with us on basic human levels, this feels good and makes everything easier. A company or client will always want to work with someone who doesn't seem like another chatbot or digitized service. Offering soft skills in the human side of things makes a big difference, and it makes sense that this would be attractive to clients.
Working on your emotional intelligence is quite a long-term mission. It will require self-reflection, reading, learning, and maybe even connecting with others to find out more about how you currently interact and communicate. It might not always be an easy learning curve, but it is one that can bring lots of sustainable and long-lasting success.
You might be the best developer in the world, but if you can't show empathy to the rest of your team, how likely are you to be hired again?
7. Organization skills
The final soft skill on our list is that of organization. Organizational skills are massively important in the freelancing world, and if you aren't on top of your own organization yet, you should be.
Freelancing means you don't work in an office with a team leader or supervisor looking over your shoulder. And while this is a good thing for many, it also means that there is less daily accountability for your organization. It is much easier to "get away" with being disorganized when you are your own boss.
However, failing to be organized is one of the worst ways to handle freelance work, and it can lead to a lot of stress further down the line. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by multiple projects with different tasks and deadlines hitting you all at once. It is easy to let clients down, lose money, and risk poor reviews on freelancing platforms.
Staying on top of things, knowing what needs to be done, and having a functional system for all of this is a much better approach.
Luckily, there is a wealth of technology and tools out there to help you as a freelancer in 2022. If organization isn't your strength, you can use third-party tools to help you maximize your productivity and keep track of everything you need to do.
Tools like Indy can simplify freelancing by giving you easy-to-use templates for creating proposals, contracts, and invoices, along with task management and time tracking tools to keep your project work organized.
This can take a lot of stress off your hands and allows you to focus on outputting the best possible work for your clients. The best part is that they don't need to know what you use to stay organized or why. All of this skillful work can take place behind the scenes, and they are none-the-wiser as they receive the work that they really want.
Everyone has a different way of working, thinking, and organizing, so it makes sense to work with something that fits you. Once you find the tool that fits, you will see the range of benefits that good organizational skills can bring you and your work. You will be forever grateful to yourself for finally taking the leap and getting yourself organized.
Showing your best possible self to the world is the way forward. Everyone wants an organized and reliable freelancer. No one wants to hire a person who loses invoices and forgets projects. Keep it organized; keep yourself booked for years to come.
A final note for freelancers
Having a successful freelance career isn't always easy. It requires many different skills, both hard and soft, to pull it off. Hopefully, this blog has been able to show you a little more about the essential soft skills of freelancing and why they matter. There are quite a few of them. However, the good thing is that we don't live in a world unfamiliar with the difficulties of freelance life, and this means that there are more tools than ever out there to help us with that journey.
When it comes to organization and maintaining the right work habits, look no further than Indy. Indy is an all-in-one management system specifically designed for freelance workers. It has many roles and functions, including time tracking, invoice building, client communication, contract creation, and task management. It has everything you need in one place to easily handle the complexities of freelance life.
Indy's task management tool is your best friend when it comes to freelance organization. You can arrange all of your tasks in a way that helps you stay on top of things in a way that works for you. Another soft skill ticked off your list.
You can use the “board view” style task manager to outline all the tasks you need to do, put them into categories, assign priority, and move them through a cohesive workflow as you make progress. You can see exactly what work you need to do laid out clearly in front of you.
Freelancers are often working on multiple projects at once with interweaving deadlines. This means that you have a lot to keep track of at any one time. Letting an efficient tool such as Indy give you a helping hand with this juggling act is something you will thank yourself for time and time again.
It takes a lot to be a freelancer. Why not let technology help?
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