How to Succeed as a Freelancer
Perhaps this article has caught your attention for one of two reasons. You might be on the verge of a big life change – ready to quit your full-time job and strike out on your own. Or maybe you’re already a freelancer who is struggling to make ends meet.
If you are new to this business, there is something you need to understand right away: freelancing isn’t always easy. It requires quite a bit of flexibility, creativity, patience and motivation.
However, if done properly, freelancing can be a huge success. Your job satisfaction and earning potential could me more than you ever hoped for.
Why Freelancers Struggle with Success
Sometimes, we find ourselves in an unsuccessful rut. Instead of looking for alternatives, we continue along as we always have been. We hope that a different, more successful outcome will magically cross out path. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
One of the greatest advantages of freelancing is the freedom we have – freedom to choose where, when and who we work for; the freedom to say yes or no to a project; and the freedom to abandon a strategy that isn’t producing results.
Take Mr. Einstein’s advice to heart. If your current strategy isn’t working, try a different one. Here are four dichotomies to consider.
Dichotomy #1: Being Super Selective of Your Clients or Accepting Any Job that Comes Your Way
Freedom is definitely a hallmark of freelancing. Unfortunately, so is uncertainty. As a freelancer, you should expect a fair amount of downtime – at least in the beginning. Constantly staring into the unknown is hard to deal with. You probably feel like you should be busy all the time.
This urge leads to a difficult decision. Should you be selective of the jobs you accept, only working for the best clients? Or, should you accept any job that comes your way?
Some freelancers feel it is best to be selective about who they work for. They only accept the best clients with the best projects and the best budgets. These freelancers focus on long-term success, not short-term survival.
Every freelance job comes with an opportunity cost – what do you miss out on by accepting this client? If there is a chance of missing a great client while working for a sub-par client, a selective freelancer will pass.
If you go this route, you’ll have to break a very difficult habit – saying yes to everything that comes your way. However, you’ll eventually learn how to separate the good jobs from the bad – the ones that will or won’t advance your career.
You’ll also learn to use your down time more efficiently. Instead of spending that time stressing about why you don’t have any clients to work for, you can go out and knock on doors – try to find the big clients you long to have.
This strategy will set you up for long-term success with valuable clients. You might, however, have lengthy periods between paying jobs.
If you give this method a shot and it doesn’t work out, try the alternative.
This strategy will no doubt bring you an endless supply of paying clients. You may not be earning much money, but you’ll be earning something. And the more contacts you make, the bigger your portfolio will be and the more potential clients you’ll meet.
You’ll probably always have one or two projects in the works. However, you’ll probably find yourself, on occasion, doing a lot of work for very little pay.
You also run the risk of missing out on really great clients because you are too overwhelmed with trivial, meaningless tasks. You’ll miss the big fish while reeling in the little fish.
Dichotomy #2: Playing By-the-Book or Playing it Cool
Freelancers tend to have a very personal, face-to-face relationship with their clients. This is due primarily to the fact that the freelancer is the only point of contact. This will make you feel more like a friend and less like an employee.
This unique relationship will force you to proceed in one of two ways: enforce all the rules or provide some favors.
Enforcing the Rules
Handing out unbilled favors – no matter how inexpensive or trivial – could set a bad precedent. Most importantly, these freebies will belittle the fact you claim your time is valuable.
Freelancers tend to shy away from this strategy because the invoicing is more hassle than it’s worth – the time it takes to draw up the invoice is more than the amount you bill the client. However, proponents of this strategy think it’s worth the effort.
If you choose to go this route, consider addressing the terms for add-on and ongoing work in your initial contract. Then, you don’t need to have uncomfortable conversations about fees every time the issue arises.
If you don’t feel comfortable being the stickler for rules, considering bending them a bit.
Provide Some Favors
Some freelancers think it is valuable – in the long run – to dole out the occasional favor to the client. Building a long-lasting relationship is more valuable than strict adherence to the contract.
Think long and hard before going this route though. The very first time you do a task for free, you have set a precedent. From that point on, the client will forever be able to say, “But last time you did it for free.”
Dichotomy #3: Being a Specialist or a Jack-of-All-Trades
As a freelancer, you will constantly be asked to complete additional projects for a client. Often times, these tasks are not within your core competencies.
Turning down a client who asks for work outside your field of expertise is dangerous. First, you are saying no to an extra paycheck. Second, you are encouraging the client to do business with the competition.
However, some freelancers suggest you do just that. Why?
Knowing Your Strengths
The client may not see a difference between logo design and print design or web development and web design. You, however, know these tasks are vastly different. And each similar, yet unique, task requires an entirely different skill set.
Proponents of this method think trying to be adept at too many things will reduce your effectiveness. You’ll spend too much time trying to master the learning curve. Plus, you are in danger of producing sub-par work and letting down the client.
Most people who only work in their specialty choose to pass on work that does not fall within their primary sphere of competence.
If you find this limited skill set serves up more closed doors than open ones, try the Jack-of-all-Trades strategy.
Doing it All
Often times, a client will ask for additional help – maybe putting together a logo or designing a landing page. In these instances, it is nice to have additional skills to offer. This is especially true if you are going through a rough patch financially; completing additional tasks will bring in additional money.
Therefore, some freelancers find it beneficial to venture outside their scope of knowledge. If you choose to go this route, look for prime learning opportunities. For example, you could sign up for some courses at Learnable.
At the very least, subscribe to the most popular blogs on the topic of each skill set you hope to master.
Dichotomy #4: Actively Looking for Work or Relying on Referrals
All freelancers – regardless of specialty – have a difficult time finding ideal clients. And all freelancers ask the same question: what is the best way to get the good paying clients who are a pleasure to work with?
Once you’re established, referrals can be enough for you to keep you afloat. In the beginning, though, you’ll need to do the heavy lifting and go in search of clients.
For the most part, you are just going to have to get out there and hunt. Hit every freelance job board you can find.
You don’t need to focus on development job boards only. It sometimes helps to think outside the box. For example, I was on a job board that specialized in connecting overseas freelancers with clients. As it turns out, I was able to land a gig with an internationally known client who wanted to open a hair restoration clinic in Tampa, Florida. By helping this client start from scratch in a new, international venue, I was able to take my freelancing career to the next level.
Establishing a Network
Online job boards can definitely produce desirable results. But often times, freelancers rely more on networking and referrals than anything else. They find more success with a personal approach.
Proponents of this strategy spend more time shaking hands than anything else. They boast about the amazing opportunities they’ve unearthed simply by walking into a business and saying hi.
Many business owners prefer face to face interactions – and a freelancer who is proficient at networking will really excel here. It won’t take long for you to find someone interested in working with you.
These freelancers also rely heavily on referrals. They spend the bulk of their career forming valuable relationships with clients – by implementing many of the less aggressive methods listed above – and reap the rewards in terms of recommendations.
This approach is much more personal. Only go this route if you are comfortable with rejection. Also, it tends to take longer to find paying clients and get the money rolling in.
By definition, a dichotomy is splitting the whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts. It is mutually exclusive, meaning nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts. Don’t try to implement both sides of the dichotomy at the same time. Pick one and give it a whirl. Then, give the strategy time to develop before jumping ship and trying the alternative.
Freelancing is a unique and rewarding career path. There are opportunities for great earning potential and substantial personal growth. However, these perks of employment won’t come easy. Keep trying new things until you find the strategy that works for you.