There are certain things in life that you can’t fully understand without experiencing them first-hand. Freelancing is one of them.
When I left my day job and became a freelance writer full-time, I had little to no idea what I should expect. How would my days look? Would I be able to find enough work? Could I keep myself motivated enough day after day?
Many of us have relatives or friends of friends who have tried freelancing in the past and wound up back at a 9-5, so it’s natural to wonder, what does it take to be a freelancer? Let’s be clear, anyone can make it if they truly want to, but here are the top qualities every freelancer must develop.
It sounds amazing to work without a boss standing over your shoulder, but it’s important to remember that this comes with some struggle. Holding ourselves accountable is something many people haven’t had to do before. If you don’t, though, you won’t get your freelancing jobs done. Eventually, making a living will become tough.
In fact, many freelancers say developing self-discipline was one of their hardest challenges when they started freelancing. Sometimes we find that internal motivation, but if that’s not working, try creating an accountability system. Get together with an accountability partner for example or set deadlines and reward yourself for hitting them.
Willingness to market yourself
Marketing oneself is also a skill most of us haven’t developed before, and for this midwestern-raised gal who was brought up on humility, that was a hard one to learn. Freelancer marketing takes an ongoing effort with a collection of strategies.
For example, build your personal brand by posting content online regularly. Use digital marketing strategies like social media marketing and email marketing. Have business cards ready at all times for impromptu networking. Over time, you’ll get comfortable with spreading the word about what you do.
Desire for continuous learning
The world of freelancing is constantly changing, and chances are that best practices in your industry are changing too. For successful freelancing, you need a zest for learning everything you can about business management and more.
Set aside time to read a blog post or two each day. Read up on things like freelancer marketing tips, enhancing a business plan, and other business strategies.
Comfort with irregular income
There’s no way around it: for freelancers, income will be up and down. You’re starting a business after all, and some months you could invoice twice as much as other months.
Eventually, aim for as many consistent clients as possible to maintain some sense of regularity. Still, there will always be ebbs and flows, so get comfortable with the idea of not knowing how much your next paycheck will be.
In that same vein, money-savers have an advantage in freelancing. Always have a hefty cushion of savings when the “feast or famine” dial turns to “famine.” If you’re more of a spender, start working on your saving skills and maintaining a conservative budget.
Organizational and communication skills
Few freelancers find success by having one project on their plates at a time. Chances are that you’ll have several projects to juggle at any given time, some short-term while others take months.
Keeping up with it all is crucial for making freelance clients happy and getting repeat business, not to mention making your life less stressful. That comes down to having strong organizational and communication skills.
You need a way of tracking each project, from its initial freelance proposal to completing, submitting, editing, and finalizing each deliverable along the way. This could look different for a freelance web developer versus writer versus consultant, but the need for organization still exists.
The same goes for communication skills. Every freelancer must stay in prompt contact with clients, both throughout and between projects. Learn to clearly communicate your ideas and be responsive to emails while juggling other tasks.
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Supportive loved ones
Real talk: freelance work can be an emotional journey. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, some rejection is inevitable, and the journey is sometimes stressful. Everyone needs a support system they can turn to in good times and bad.
I’m not saying everyone in your life must support your career path, because they may not. But you need a circle of people who understand what you’re going through and want to build you up.
The path to freelancing
Let’s be honest: a freelance isn’t for everyone. It’s great to work from home and have more freedom, but there are challenges around every turn too. From recruiting potential clients to making your own schedule, there are skills many of us have to learn for the first time.
All those skills are attainable, though. Ultimately, if you have enough desire to do what it takes to build your career, that dream is always within reach.