What Does It Take To Be A Successful Freelancer?

By Alyssa Gregory
We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now

laptopMaking the move to working for yourself isn’t always easy, regardless of how prepared you are. And if you’ve become self-employed as a result of circumstances beyond your control, it can be even more difficult. Being successful at freelancing takes a combination of freelance-friendly personality characteristics and an ability to face and conquer challenges. Here’s a look at the benefits, challenges and some must-have characteristics and traits that make a freelancer successful.

The Benefits

Being self-employed comes with a great set of benefits. Not only can you get rid of a long and unproductive commute and wear whatever you want, but you are the boss. Now, that’s a benefit. Here are a few more:

  • You set your own hours.
  • You choose the work you do.
  • You have unlimited earning potential.
  • You can work from anywhere.
  • You get to reap the rewards from your hard work.
  • You can take time off without clearing it with anyone.
  • You can tend to family, house, and other non-work issues.

One of the biggest plusses I’ve found from being self-employed is that your career is what you make of it. You can get rid of all of the limitations and definitions — such as being a “Web Designer” or a “Programmer” — and create your own perfect career that’s a combination of everything you love without the things you don’t love. You have control of your future. It’s an exciting prospect.

The Challenges

While they can be vastly different from your office-working counterparts, freelancing has it’s own set of challenges. One part of being a successful freelancer is being able to handle whatever comes your way. Things like:

  • Not getting paid
  • Having difficulty finding work
  • Not having a marketing budget
  • Being unable to get health insurance
  • Having difficulty networking
  • Feeling isolated
  • Dealing with difficult clients without any support
  • Facing burnout

Unfortunately, all of these things are common freelancer challenges. But the challenges themselves are not a reason to ditch your freelancing dreams. You just need to be prepared to deal with them if and when they happen.

The Must-Have’s

Most freelancers, business owners and others who are self-employed have similar personality traits, lifestyles and other characteristics that support their success. You will need at least some of the must-have items on this list in order to be successful at freelancing:

  • Drive
  • Passion for what you do
  • Practicality
  • Networking ability
  • Hard work
  • Discipline
  • Thirst for knowledge
  • Time management skills
  • Support from family and friends
  • Risk-taking mindset
  • Patience
  • Thick skin
  • Good communication skills

The most important traits you can have as a freelancer, I think, are drive and passion. Many of these other items can be learned and improved with time, but you are either driven to succeed or you’re not. And you need to love what you’re doing to sustain that kind of drive on a long-term basis. Those two traits are a powerful combo, and I don’t think I have ever met a successful freelancer who made it the distance without having both.

What do you think makes a successful freelancer?

Image credit: layoff

We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now
  • bslorence

    Being unable to get health insurance

    This is definitely a concern if you are ineligible for self-paid health insurance because of a medical condition.

    But if you’re in the US and your difficulty is not medical but financial, you might look at HSA-compatible health-insurance plans for individuals and families. Don’t know if other countries have similar arrangements.

    With an HSA you pay a low premium in exchange for a high deductible. The theory is that individuals and families will use the money more efficiently than insurance companies. In my personal experience it works brilliantly.

  • Mark

    im just starting out doing freelance work. Unemployed right now and have a few projects setup already. Im going to bookmark this page for inspiration! Thanks

  • Allison

    This article TOTALLY hit the nail on the head! I am happy that there are others who find the same things challenging, yet rewarding, that I do.

  • amin7b5

    Thanks for writing this article! As a new freelancer this really provides some food for thought.

  • Joefriday

    I have been freelancing for several months now, I got my very best advice from from 6 Figure Freelancing, it has helped me no end ,I am just about to give up my JOB and do this fulltime.

  • I think the drive needs a bit of direction. Improving business skills is important. This includes sales, accounting, networking, and more. Being able to step out of your comfort zone will really help you improve these skills, whether it is cold calling or knowing when a deal is no longer profitable enough to be worth your while.

    When it comes to health care, many (most?) other countries don’t have much of a problem. They have “free” health care. Really it is subsidized by higher taxes, but at least we don’t get scorched by insurance companies. (I live in Canada)

    The movie Sicko takes this to a bit of an extreme, but it makes some valid points.

    Great article overall. I agree that drive an passion are most important, it is what will keep you from giving up too early.

    For the long term you should also consider that you probably won’t have a pension to retire on. Hopefully you can be an internet billionaire. If not, “The Wealthy Barber” is a great book by David Chilton that explains a realistic way to ensure long term financial health.

  • Joefriday:
    I would be weary of those gimmicky websites. People like David Drake make money selling books about how to make money, not by actually following their own advice.

    “Get Smarter” by Schulich has some great tips. This book is written by a self made billionaire who has one of the worlds leading business faculties named after him. The lesson that applies here is “Be the promoter, not the promotee”.
    I would trust his advice over David Drake any day. Unless David Drake was selling a book online about selling books online and he had a reputation for making millions or billions by selling books online.

    That’s my two cents.

    There are many great books for people that want to run their own business. Just note that you will have a hard time finding books written by successful people have a “get rich quick” scheme. Successful people usually write about solid advice for long term growth.

  • Anonymous

    The net costs of good health insurance are about 80 euro per month (here), if you’re not expecting to be able to spare at least a couple hundred a month for necessities of life you shouldn’t be looking into freelancing in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    “I have been freelancing for several months now, I got my very best advice from from 6 Figure Freelancing, it has helped me no end ,I am just about to give up my JOB and do this fulltime.”

    I guess spamming isn’t for everyone, lol. If you were doing “6 figure” freelancing you would be giving jobs not having one right?

  • George Susini

    You must be ready to work and live outside of your comfort zone in terms of a steady job. Although I don’t know if it is comfortable as it used to be with a steady job either.

  • jsh11

    @Anonymous (#1),

    Unfortunately, if one is based in the United States, the cost of purchasing health insurance on one’s own is considerably more than the U.S. dollar equivalent of 80 euros a month. It’s a significant challenge to any self-employed American, especially if one does not have a spouse or partner whose employment provides the needed coverage.

  • George Susini

    You need to learn how to get out of the house or office, be sociable so you are able to sell. craig’s list cant be your only source of job leads