When you freelance, success doesn't happen by accident. There are specific actions you must take to be successful. You can't just go with the flow and hope to end up happy.
With that in mind, here are seven steps you can take right now to supercharge your freelancing career:
Seek good mentors -- As a freelancer, you’re in business for yourself. But, you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, the importance of seeking good mentors as a freelancer can’t be overstated. You’ll reap so many benefits by finding someone to guide you who has preceded your path and knows the way. Especially if you’re trying to become a freelancer with no experience. Not only can an effective mentor serve as a sounding board, second opinion, and an accountability partner, but they can also share their insights and experiences to help you take your freelance career to the next level.Last but not least, mentors typically have strong relationships with other people in your field of work – you can tap into those connections and benefit from your mentor’s network.
In 2019, Olivet Nazarene University surveyed 3,000 people about professional mentor-mentee relationships. They found that while 76% of people think mentors are important, only 37% of people currently had one. When asked, respondents said 61% of their mentor/mentee relationships developed naturally while only 14% of mentor relationships started with asking someone to be their mentor.
Embrace continuous learning -- We’ve talked about how freelancing is on the rise and how more companies are turning to freelancers to help them get work done. What’s important to keep in mind is that as the number of freelance workers increases, the available pool of talent companies can choose from grows as well. In other words, it will be harder for “average” freelancers to get noticed. Combine that with changes brought on by tech advances — 55% of U.S. freelance workers are concerned about the impact of automation on their livelihood — and you’ll see why keeping your skills current is important. Professional development training is one of the best ways to earn more money as a freelancer. Data shows The majority of freelance workers in the United States report that professional development training increases profitability. A recent study found that freelancers invest in their own training and education more often than non-freelancers, with 65% of skilled freelancers completing business-related training in the past six months compared to just 40% of non-freelancers. If you want to stand out, consider adding a new skill to your repertoire this year.
Create your own opportunities -- Deciding to freelance is a big decision. And the elephant in the room which is also a double-edged sword (pardon the very mixed metaphor) is: you have options. And by options, I mean there’s nobody to tell you what to do, when to do it, or take you to task for slacking. And as much as most of us started freelancing for that very same freedom and flexibility, that also means depending on your personality, you may thrive or wilt in isolation. You need to be prepared for this. Build your own networks and communities. It’s your job to create situations in which it is possible for you to do something that you want to do. This will likely involve getting out of your comfort zone and surrounding yourself with the right people. In the meantime, here are 100+ tips for creating your own opportunities.
Get your business systems in place -- Efficient systems and processes can make your work more productive and profitable. You need a reliable way to handle marketing, client onboarding, project management, time tracking and invoicing… “A way to get work and do work,” says Daniel Espinoza. “What I mean by that is a system to consistently market themselves to their target customers to keep a stream of leads coming through the door. Then a consistent system for doing the work. If one of these gets out of balance then things devolve into a feast or famine type situation.” In addition to managing these administrative tasks, you’ll need a customer relationship management system (CRM) to keep track of your clients. A standard process for communication can help improve any project. An organized process also gives you a bird's eye view of the current and future tasks.
Network and partner with other freelancers -- Other freelancers are not necessarily your competition. Why? For starters, because there’s always more work than workers to do it. Secondly, freelancers often have to work alone, sometimes, spending entire days isolated in their home office, or only communicating with their clients and peers via emails and phone. There are plenty of opportunities to network with other freelancers. Join freelancer communities. You can also join local freelancer or Meetup groups. Attend seminars, workshops, lectures, and networking sessions in your vicinity. This way you’ll not only meet freelancers in your own niche but also come across more experienced people you can learn from or partner with. If this sounds counterintuitive, maybe it is. But consider this: An article titled What Successful Freelancers Do Differently in Harvard Business Review reports that the most successful freelancers hunt in packs. The article also asserts:
Be intentional when building your freelance business -- Your business requires your investment of time and energy. You don't just wake up one day with an established freelance business; this takes months or even years of planning, strategizing, and implementing. It's not just about working hard; there's more to building your freelance business than that. It's also about working smart and being intentional about every decision you make for your business so that you can build something sustainable for the long-term. Parkinson's law is the adage that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Remember, Parkinson’s Law is more than a fancy term for procrastination – it means that work expands to fill the allotted time. That’s the very definition of scope creep. During your project kickoff, you and your client should both clearly understand what’s in and out of scope.
Celebrate your successes -- When you win a project or complete a challenging part of your work, give yourself a pat on the back and perhaps treat yourself to something nice. It could be as simple as taking a long bath or going for lunch with friends — whatever makes you feel good.
Taking the time to celebrate your successes is important because it allows you to step back and reflect on what you’ve achieved. This means that you are more likely to experience positive emotions and to feel happy about your work.
A good approach is to make a note of anything that makes you feel proud or happy about being self-employed — whether it's a long-term goal (like landing a big client) or a short-term one (like snagging a few extra hours of sleep on a day when you wouldn't have been able to if you were working in an office).
Whether you’re commemorating something big like launching a new website or completing an exciting project — celebrating small wins such as a project nearing completion or a contract renewal — or because you’re just gonna get you some cold cuts, it’s a good practice to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished. This could be as simple as taking time for self-care or recognizing the effort that you put into something, even if it doesn't turn out the way that you wanted it to.
You also want to celebrate success by including your supporters. Satisfied client? Share a success story or case study showing how you helped. If you have a podcast, do an episode talking about how things are going or interviewing people who helped you achieve your goal.