How to Become a Successful Freelancer: 8 Important Steps to Help You Get It Right the First Time
Bored of your 9-5 office job and thinking of going out on your own? It’s a bold move and one that can be liberating. Most people who have left their desk jobs and started working freelance discovered it can be the most satisfying and fulfilling job. However, becoming a freelancer can also be terrifying. Where do you start? How do you find clients? How much should you charge?
Regardless of your reasons, becoming a professional freelancer is a lot harder than people imagine. It's not uncommon to hear some people tried this route only to end up returning to the 9-5 cubicle after a few months. For the most part, this is because they didn’t learn the tricks and hacks of how to work as a freelancer.
However, what about the others who made it and are still growing their businesses? How are they thriving in the gig economy?
How to Discover Whether You’re Suited to Be a Professional Freelancer
For starters, you have to determine whether a freelancing career is suited for you. You see, not everyone can succeed at freelancing. Carrying all these responsibilities on your shoulder can be overwhelming. You'll need to possess several character traits and natural tendencies to succeed.
Here are some crucial questions to ask yourself before you hand in that resignation letter and turn to freelance:
- Do I mind working alone? A freelancing career is a solitary one. Most of the time, you’ll be working alone from a home office for many hours. If you're content with working alone, then that’s a good sign.
- Can I excel in a distracting environment? One of the top challenges of working as a freelancer is distractions. You’ll have to deal with the noise from your kids, pets, neighbors, or café, and so on. Can you focus in such a distracting environment? Apparently, not everyone can.
- Am I good at time management? Becoming a successful freelancer will depend on how well you can organize and manage your time. While your time will be more flexible, if not properly managed, you won't be able to accomplish much. To be successful, you will need to micromanage your time with the help of free time tracking software for freelancers. This way, you’ll be able to check most of the items on your to-do list, every single day
- Am I a self-starter? Being a freelancer means working alone, without the camaraderie of office life. While you may be excited and motivated when starting out your new venture, it may soon become hard, especially when you don’t get clients. Will you be able to motivate yourself to keep pushing? Most successful freelancers have learned that self-motivation is a necessity for reaching targets and achieving goals.
- Do I possess proper communication skills? A large part of being a freelancer requires you to communicate a lot. You’ll need to conquer nervousness and exude confidence in your phone conversations or face-to-face meetings. You also must be someone who pays attention to detail to ensure you catch all the information said to you. Otherwise, you risk losing the prospect.
How to Be a Successful Freelancer
Did you answer yes to all of the above questions? Are you certain you want to take the leap? These tips and tricks will guide you on how to become a successful freelancer.
1. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Yet
Have you figured out your niche yet? If not, it's crucial that you do. You want to have a clear path of what it is you want to do after you quit your 9-5 job. Start by asking yourself what you're really good at and if someone will pay you for it. Most importantly, it should be something you enjoy doing.
Don’t quit your day job before giving freelancing a test run. You must first learn what it takes to become a fully independent contractor and feel if becoming your own boss is satisfying. This will help you weigh if working as a freelancer is for you.
Keep in mind that going freelance will mean taking responsibility for all your actions. You have to find your own clients, track your income, file your taxes, and so on. It can be a lot to take in if you don’t take the time to prepare well and understand what it all entails.
2. Reach Out to Existing Network
Okay, let's say you've already chosen a niche, you have the right skills, and are eager to get started. Where do you begin? We’d say, by building a network. Start by reaching out to everyone you know, literally everyone, and update them on your new venture.
These are mostly people who care about you and are ready to support you along the way. Don’t just let them know what you're doing or planning to do. Ask for referrals or available projects that you can take on.
Starting out as a freelancer takes time, and building a strong foundation will be monumental when looking for clients. What your close network gives you is experience, contacts, and references. These are the top three things that clients look for when hiring a freelancer. Plus, someone in your network may just turn to be your first client or link you to your first customer(s).
3. Make New Connections
On the same note, work on expanding your network. Look for professional freelancers in your field, attend events and conferences in your area of expertise, and build relationships. Your fellow freelancers may be your competition, but they are also a source of information.
A good place to start is LinkedIn or other social media platforms where you can find people in the same business. Use these connections to learn how to do freelancing.
4. Build a Portfolio
Building a strong personal brand will have a high level of impact on your growth as a freelancer. When you choose this path, the services you offer become synonymous with your personality. You and your career will become your personal brand.
You'll need to create a bio that outlines your background, work experience, and best skills. If you already have work to show, include a brief explanation of how you tackled the projects. Give clients a picture of how working with you looks like.
Additionally, include testimonials to let others do the talking for you. That’s where your network comes in. Testimonials help validate your services as a freelancer and builds client confidence.
Take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to advertise your work. Your goal should be to build a brand with a reputation and community behind it.
5. Make Yourself Findable
When working as a freelancer, your online presence matters a lot. You need to create a website where you’ll showcase your expertise and build trust with your clients. Use your website to post relevant articles about your brand, your latest work, or yourself.
Your online presence also helps to build and grow your network. Participate in forums or websites specific to your niche and comment or offer advice. This will show that you're knowledgeable in your field and will help attract potential clients.
6. Create a Plan of Action
Running a freelance business entails a lot of things. Before anything else, you’ll need to land your first client(s). That’s why drawing a feasible action plan will help set you up in the right direction. A plan will help you answer critical questions like:
- How do you plan to get clients?
- Which sites will you start looking for clients?
- Will attending events be more productive?
The most difficult task will be to build a steady clientele. You’ll also need to learn how to manage your clients and payments. Among other things, you’ll need to determine:
- How much money you will need to survive or live comfortably
- Your business expenses
- How you’ll afford the same—or better—benefits from your office job, like health insurance
- How you will track your income
Luckily, working as a freelancer allows you to learn, improve, and perfect the necessary skills required to find and close deals. Just remember to plan accordingly, anticipate problems and find ways to prevent them.
7. Set Your Rates
Knowing how much to charge a client is one of the biggest dilemmas many freelancers face. That’s something your network can help you with. Ask your fellow freelancers what the current rates for your skills are in the market.
When starting out, you can quote a lower rate while still trying to figure how to win clients and know how much you're worth. Over time, as your experience grows, you can start to gradually raise your rates.
8. Make Communication a Priority
Even as you grow, never stop reaching out to your network, including friends and family. They can still be a source of great referrals and job opportunities. On the other side of the coin are your clients. To set yourself out as a professional freelancer, always respond in a timely manner.
Be proactive and suggest in-person meetings with clients whenever necessary. Ask questions about their business, learn the client’s role within the company, and suggest new ways to help them reach their goals.
9. Work with a Schedule
When clients start rolling in, it can be an exciting moment for any business owner. However, be careful not to take on too much work and get overbooked. Your productivity may suffer, and your reputation may be at risk.
That’s why you need to set your schedule from the word go. Plan your week so that you're busy four days a week and leave the fifth to determine your next steps. Don’t say yes to every project because you want many clients. Being honest about what you can and can't do is a virtue that clients will appreciate.
As a freelancer, proper resource management should be your priority, and time is your most important resource. Most successful freelancers take advantage of a Windows or Mac time tracking app like Traqq to help them stay focused on the tasks at hand. Traqq is free tracking software that lets you measure and analyze your activity levels to help you determine your best-performing weeks or months. The data can help you examine your business growth journey, determine your strengths and weaknesses, and plan future projects. Apart from recording all the hours it took to complete a project, Traqq can also help you manage your projects more effectively.
For instance, when you are ready to take on additional client work, you can compare the allotted time and the actual time you’ll spend working on the project. This will help you determine if, at the end of it all, the project will be profitable.
What’s more, Traqq’s smart time tracking ensures that you never miss a single minute of your work time. You’ll get alerted when you forget to turn on the tracker. To be fair to clients, you will also get notified if you’ve been idle while the tracker is on. They can use it to track employees’ computer usage. If no activity is detected, the tracker will be turned off automatically to avoid overtime. Apart from ensuring you don’t miss deadlines, Traqq’s records are accurate and will prove useful when requesting payment.
To be a successful freelancer, always go the extra mile. Don’t just do the work you were hired to do. Go beyond and make the client glad that you're on board. Remember, you're competing with lots of professional freelancers who are just as talented as you. You want to make a lasting impression that will motivate clients to retain you.