Globally, more than a quarter of the workforce is doing freelance work. Whether it’s as a writer, designer, career coach, delivery driver, or something else, there are many freelance or contract-work opportunities. Yet, what makes a successful freelancer? We’ve talked about actions you can take already, but this article is going to look more closely at 10 attributes of a great freelancer.
The Harvard Business Review notes that the majority of freelancers are based in Europe (35 percent) and Asia (28 percent). Still, “by 2028, more than 90 million Americans, or one out of every two workers, are expected to hold a freelance position, and many believe that the industry has a bright future.”
With the sector growing, it’s time to consider what characteristics can help a person have a brighter future in freelance. This article focuses on the main attributes a successful freelancer needs to thrive.
You’ll only see success as a freelancer if you can motivate yourself. Freelance workers don’t typically have a supervisor keeping them accountable. Sure, you’ll have a deadline or a client you have to answer to, but you’ll have more freedom than the typical employee. Someone who can’t rally to get things done without being told what to do, when to do it, or how, will struggle.
Being financially motivated isn’t such a bad thing for a freelancer, either. After all, the main reason small businesses fail is due to lack of cash flow. You’ll need to motivate to pitch customers and put in good work to be able to sustain yourself, let alone be successful.
Pitching your services requires confidence. Freelancers have to get out there and find clients. A boss is not going to step out of the corner office, snap your name, and hand you a file to work on. Building up your clientele takes leg work, and persisting in the face of rejection requires resilience.
It can also help to have a social media presence and a business website. The HBR’s 2021 survey of freelancers found that “92 percent of freelancers are active on Instagram, 85 percent on Twitter, 73 percent on Facebook, and 16 percent on TikTok.”
Confidence also means knowing what you are worth. You don’t want to undervalue the services you are offering. Yes, that may get you a longer client list, but you could be working a lot harder than you need to.
#3 Strong communication
“Don’t just focus on the results; build your relationships,” recommend the writers of the HBR article. Freelancers need to build a rapport with clients to develop a loyal client list. A little emotional intelligence won’t hurt, either.
If you’re personable and able to get to know clients as people, you’re also more likely to uncover new opportunities for you to offer your services. You’ll know what their goals are, so you’ll be better positioned to point out new ways that you can help.
At the same time, your strong communication skills should extend to keeping clients apprised of progress and giving them advance notice of any challenges. You don’t need to email or call the client about every little thing. They are not going to appreciate that. But you want to communicate well so clients see you as reliable and proactive.
Freelancer platform Upwork even recommends, “when you turn in the project, continue to nurture open communication regarding their satisfaction.”
#4 Time management
One of the reasons businesses use freelancers is to get work done quickly, when it is urgent for them. So, you’re going to need the time management skills to juggle many projects at once, and well. It will help if you track your time, especially when starting out, so that you have a real idea of how long tasks take and can budget accordingly.
Also, since you are solely responsible for your time, you’ll need to develop the self-discipline to balance your personal life with your professional work. There’s no one else to blame for burnout but you.
When you aren’t being asked to get something done for a client in the next 24-48 hours, you might be left twiddling your thumbs. Freelancers are seldom in a position to unstop a bottleneck in a project. You have to wait patiently for the client to get that approval on their end or finish up that report you need.
It can be annoying, as you may not want to take on another client in the midst of this project, yet you’ve got nothing to do right now. Your time management can come in handy. As you get used to juggling client projects, you’ll have a better idea of what you can do during downtime to keep busy and continue earning.
A freelancer gets to call more of the shots. You can often work from home, alone, without morning meetings or water cooler chatter. The dog’s water bowl may be nearby, but Fifi isn’t so blabby. Nevertheless, you’re still going to need to be a team player as a freelancer.
You will simply be coming in off the bench to work with the client. You have specific skills you’re bringing, but you need to work well with others. There may also be times that you need to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to do so. It’s better to collaborate than to provide sub-par work.
#7 Attention to detail
As a freelancer, you don’t have a trusted colleague in the next cubicle you can ask to look something over. You can’t put a document or design in a Teams or Slack channel and have everyone on the team weigh in. So, you need to take special care with your assignments.
Customers also hire you to make their lives easier. So, they expect you to pay attention to their request for services and do it correctly the first time. If you’re doing sloppy work you’re not going to get hired repeatedly by that client.
No, not every freelance role is in a creative field. Yet, no matter what you do, you’re going to need to be creative about marketing your talents, identifying possible markets, and finding new approaches to meet the challenges put before you.
As a sole proprietor of your own business, you’re also going to need creativity to craft a career that suits your skills and talents, all while feeding your passions (and providing the income you need to feed yourself, too).
We’d love to tell you that freelancing is easy. Yet it requires consistent effort on your part. You can’t take a “Field of Dreams” approach, expecting people to just “come to you.” You’re going to need to get out there and sell yourself to potential employers.
It’s not all going to come together at once. The first year of freelancing, like the first year of starting any new business, is tough. You’ll need to hone your ability to both complete work and pitch new clients at the same time.
Successful freelancers are always on the lookout for fresh opportunities. You have to be willing to take risks. So keep your standards high, set ambitious goals, and stretch in new directions.
Of course, you don’t want to overpromise. That can lead to disaster. But be willing to reach and take risks. This can lead to new ideas, fresh insights, and the kind of innovation and creative problem solving that employers (even freelance ones) want to see.
You’re not going to get professional development opportunities handed to you as a freelancer. So, it’s also up to you to research what your audience needs and where you can enhance your offerings to continue to grow your business.
Sogolytics supports its customers in their efforts to create exceptional experiences, whether for employees, customers, or freelancers. Check out our recent article on the advantages of using freelancers. Next, we’ll share how to engage freelancers and contractors and also how to attract top quality freelancers.