The Two Ingredients of Successful Freelancing

A year after leaping into the full-time freelancing void, I’ve come to the conclusion that successful freelancing takes two things (all others being equal).

While there are plenty of nice-to-haves — a snazzy folio, the right skills, a business plan, a financial buffer, some marketing ideas — I think there are really only two must-haves: discipline and faith. Do you have them?

Ingredient #1: Discipline

Discipline covers a lot of bases — it’s what gets us out of bed in the mornings when we have no motivation; it’s what keeps us at a task rather  than taking a break; it’s what keeps us producing when the creative inspiration runs dry. The freelancer who has discipline has something, even when there’s nothing else.

Discipline is what pays the bills, gets food on the table, and satisfies the urge to carve our own paths. It’s discipline that allows us to sever the bindings of permanent employment and take a chance. It’s discipline that follows through on spur-of-the-moment ideas, and it’s discipline that effects change.

Discipline is doing. Having discipline doesn’t mean you never take it easy, waste time, or muck around. It just means that when you need to, you can flick a switch that prompts you to knuckle down and get things done.

Don’t be fooled by the common misconceptions surrounding discipline. The fact that you enjoy the entertaining frivolity of daily workplace antics, often more than you do your work, doesn’t mean you lack discipline. Trying to find more efficient ways to do things so that you get more time off doesn’t mean you lack discipline, either.

If you can consistently turn work out to a high standard when you coworkers need it, regardless of what else might be going on, you have discipline.

Ingredient #2: Faith

The freelancer’s path has many twists and turns, hills and hollows. Often, the future is unclear: Will that contract be signed? Will I have enough cash to take a holiday in eight months? Will that client get their feedback to me on Tuesday so I can get the revisions back to them before the weekend?

But freelancers need more than faith in their market or their client base. Above all, freelancers need to have faith in themselves. We need to believe in what we’re doing, and our ability to do it.

When we miss out on lucrative contracts, are knocked back by organizations we respect, face extremely challenging projects, or simply struggle to make ends meet, faith can be the only thing that justifies the disciplined continuation of the freelance life we’ve started.

Conversely, our discipline can help to feed that faith: the knowledge that, given a chance, we can deliver the goods, keeps many freelancers looking for opportunities — with success — while others head back to the comparatively safe haven of permanent work.

Faith is difficult to identify, let alone to quantify. Questioning what you’re doing, where you’re headed, and who you really are isn’t a sign that you have little faith. But if, each time you’re knocked back, you find yourself thinking less about the loss and more about where you’ll offer your unique services next, you may well have the faith you need to succeed.

I think faith and discipline are the two crucial ingredients to freelance success. But what keeps you freelancing every day?

Image by stock.xchng user jmtorres.

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  • Rohan

    This also applies to become successful man. Nice one one should do this to improve is success rate.

  • KC

    A few other things that any company desires out of their freelancer is someone who delivers on time and on budget. Bidding one thing and then giving them sticker shock at the end without updating your client as to the fact costs are skyrocketing is a great way to never be hired by that company again. And then always deliver when the deadline is or give the client lots of heads up that the deadline is not possible for a very, very good reason.
    Oh, and one other thing I may add is having a million friends that make hiring decisions in places where you would like to get business. In other words, networking.

  • AK

    what keeps me going?

    money, money, money…
    I don’t depend on freelance as my sole income. I’m doing that part time. However, I am thinking about it more and more. Articles like this one are making me ask the question of whether a job is better than self employment?

    Great article by the way.

    • Chris

      My advice is to stick with part time, steady employment until your freelance work on the side starts to feel overwhelming. When you don’t think you can handle both jobs might be an indicator that you should quit one or the other.

  • RACNicole

    Hi, this is Nicole from vWorker (formerly known as Rentacoder).

    I’d add that working through a service that has your best interests at heart is important also. Before I worked for vWorker, I freelanced through the site as a writer and programmer. I looked at some of the other services, but quickly realized vWorker was the best choice mostly because of its protections (guaranteed payment, arbitration rights, etc.).

    I realize some of the commenters here may work without a service and prefer it that way, but when I began, I didn’t have enough experience to do so. vWorker was just what I needed to not only work in the freelancing industry, but learn from it also.

    Nicole
    vWorker.com

  • Faixan

    So much motivating !!! Thankyou Georgina Laidlaw .

  • Barnrat

    Chris: I understand why you would say to AK to hang on to the job and keep working until the freelance picks up to the point you feel safe to leap, except that as long as he/she keeps the job, there is one thing missing: the “need factor”. Yes, discipline and faith are the main ingredients to successful freelancing, except that they are not primary, but merely the proper responses to the primary drive of necessity: if you’re not disciplined, if you don’t have faith, if you don’t produce, you’re not going to eat. This is why we often describe jobs as “cushy”, because in most cases, the job you have working for someone else does not have the same pressures or require the same level of commitment, persistence, dedication, etc., that the same job as a freelancer or independent business owner would. It’s a lot easier to have a slack off day or week or month or even year where you’re not really being all you can be in a job where you can fade into the woodwork among dozens or even hundreds of other employees. Sure, you might not get promoted or get raises, and you may be slowly working yourself towards a firing or at least be on the top of the list when cutbacks occur. But when you’re on your own, you feel the backlash from your slacking much more immediately.

    IN any case, my point is, taking the leap into being an independent worker is like getting married or having children: if you wait until the time is right, until you’re ready, until you’re fully prepared, then you’ll never do it because those are impossible requirements: you’re NEVER fully ready or prepared for anything beforehand in life that you’ve never done before. So you’ll never build up that freelance business enough to this mythical point at which you’re “ready” because you don’t really have to because you’ve got that job.

    At some point a leap of both faith and discipline is required, and it will not be secure either financially or emotionally, and you won’t be totally ready for everything that’s coming except that you’ll be armed with the faith and discipline to see it through, and you’ll be driven to succeed because failure is not option.

  • Callie Newburn

    I think you’ve got it right, pretty much. I would use the words diligence and patience instead of discipline and faith–but the principle is the same. You have to just keep working hard and putting out good content (diligence or discipline) and hang in there and know you’ll hook the big projects eventually (patience or faith).