By: Liz Carmack
Life as a freelancer might sound ideal since you set your own schedule, work from home, and do the work you love. But to succeed, you’ll need an extra set of skills beyond those you market to clients. Check out these skills to see if freelancing is for you.
“Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.”
Scott Adams, American author.
Life as a freelancer might sound ideal – the autonomy to set your own schedule, work from wherever, and do the work you love. But to succeed, you’ll need an extra set of skills beyond those you market to clients. Is the freelancing life for you? To help you decide, consider these important six skills.
Setting goals and staying focused to attain them is imperative for a successful freelancer. For instance, your simultaneous goals might be delivering four project assignments on deadline next week, expanding your client list by 50 percent in six months and ensuring your quarterly self-employment taxes are paid on time. You have to keep lots of balls in the air as a freelancer, including taking over many of the functions your employer once did. Focus is essential.
Work from a home office, a coffee shop or out of your Sprinter van as you visit the national parks. Sounds cool, right? But even after you’ve left the cube farm, you still have to focus on your work. If you don’t produce, you don’t get paid. If you’re easily distracted by that pile of laundry in the hall or the hiking trail outside your van door, it’s time to sharpen your ability to focus.
“Sustaining productivity is a constant struggle,” according to Thriving in the Gig Economy by Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski. “Distress and distractions can erode it, and both impediments abound in people’s working lives.”
Life doesn’t always go according to your plan, especially when you’re freelancing. Expect to make mid-course corrections to attain your goals or even change your goals entirely. That’s not failure, it’s flexibility, and it can allow you to learn, grow and make the most of new opportunities.
When I launched my freelance writing business, I hoped to land corporate clients who needed marketing content; however, I needed to hone my writing skills to write case studies, white papers and the like. I initially had trouble getting traction, but, with time, I built up my portfolio and client list.
I also stayed flexible and took unexpected projects – such as historical research – that landed in my lap. As a flexible freelancer, you can shift to offer clients services beyond those you initially envisioned. Stay ready to exploit all your strengths.
Staying organized is key. Establishing routines ensures you maximize your most productive periods, minimize time-wasting activities and fit self-care into your busy schedule.
In their study of 65 gig workers, Petriglieri, Ashford and Wrzesniewski found that establishing routines helped freelancers navigate the anxiety that comes from unpredictable schedules and finances. “Some routines improve people’s workflow: keeping a schedule; following a to-do list; beginning the day with the most challenging work or with a client call; leaving a sentence incomplete on an unfinished manuscript to make an easy start the next day; sweeping the studio floor while reflecting on a new piece. Other routines, usually involving sleep, meditation, nutrition or exercise, incorporate personal care into people’s working lives.”
You’ll also need basic organizational skills, often facilitated by online tools, to keep track of your client and project files, financial records, business development efforts, and to manage your marketing, social media presence and more.
A freelancer must be comfortable with risk-taking. Ideally, you’ll take only well-calculated risks, but sometimes you need to follow well-informed instincts, have a backup plan and then just jump in.
This can be scary, but fear shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your freelance dreams, writes Eric Karkovack in Freelancing: The Risks and Fears of Going it Alone. “The key in all of this is in managing your expectations and learning from your experiences. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, they can be pretty big ones. And there is always a chance that we’ll be stuck in a spot where we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. This is all part of the process. And it’s even okay to be scared, as long as you use it as motivation to keep improving.”
5. Effective communication
A successful freelancer has the communication skills to explain through a variety of media what they do and why clients should hire them, they listen closely to their clients to understand their needs and they use storytelling and data to engage and motivate others.
Jon Younger writes in Coursera Insights: Freelance Skill Needs are Evolving, “Good freelancers deliver the right technical solution. Great freelancers do more; they help their clients to tell the story behind the innovation, and connect the dots … A critical skill is building support through data sharing and storytelling.”
6. Realistic self-confidence
Self-confidence propels you and provides resilience as you make difficult decisions, experience self-doubt, make mistakes and face naysayers.
It’s good to be confident in your abilities and the services you offer, but also stay on top of new technology, industry trends and the evolving needs of your customers. Improving your marketable skills and truly understanding your clients’ problems are all good for business. Be open to constructive criticism.
“When you return a completed project to a client, ask them for feedback. Receiving feedback can help you better determine which skills you can improve,” writes the Indeed Editorial Team in 12 In-Demand Freelance Skills (And How to Learn Them.
Jumping from employee to freelancer is a big leap. In addition to honing your essential freelancing skills, consider taking on a freelance project while you keep your current job to see how it goes. Save to create a financial cushion that supports you until you become profitable. Explore contracting opportunities with your current employer. Talk with other freelancers in your field about their experiences. Build a support team. Find a mentor, accountant, graphic designer, marketing specialist, attorney, and if need be, a banker before you begin.
You won’t regret polishing your skills and taking these additional steps before you go solo. Good luck!
Liz Carmack is an award-winning writer, editor and author of two nonfiction books published by Texas A&M University Press. She has worked as a communications professional for almost four decades.
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