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?