I’ve learned a lot working in full-time companies, but I learned a whole different set of skills working for myself.
That’s because being an entrepreneur or freelance is more than being productive. It gives you a unique perspective that you can’t find in full-time employment.
I have many friends who tell me how “lucky” I am because I’m able to earn money that easily. Many also say, “I’m going to quit my stable 9:00 to 5:00 job with health care and benefits, and I’m going to build a kick-ass web app, and it’s going to be easy.”
But it doesn’t work that way. There is a lot going on behind the scenes with all of this — luck can play a role — but it’s also a lot of hard work.
You have to pitch yourself constantly to get work. You have to be good at business as well, or you need to learn how to become good at business.
For this reason, I’m going to tell you what helped me be a successful freelancer and the correct path for you to start.
Define your expertise and what you want to offer from the beginning.
Being a successful freelance has a lot to do with the setup.
When I started my life as a freelancer, I called myself a “software developer.” But that label was too general, and most of the people I was trying to sell my services didn’t know exactly what I was doing.
Calling myself a software developer only confused people. I had a lot of comments like “you can create a social network?” or “you can make software for my computer that analyzes the market for me?” or even “you can fix my computer?”
For this reason, I decided to specialize in a specific area, web development; I make web pages for GPS tracking. In this way, potential clients knew exactly what I do.
Specializing in something allows you to build trust with possible clients more quickly. You become more “sellable” to people looking for that exact service. The more specific you are, the better would be.
Be the big fish in the small pond, not the small fish in the big pond.
This isn’t just a matter of picking a specific market and saying, “I’m going to be an expert at this.” What’s it’s actually about is finding you “why” — that axis between what you’re really good at and your passion.
We’ve often heard people say, “I can only sell what I believe in.” So, what do you believe in yourself? Because the process of establishing yourself as an expert starts in believing you are so good at something, others will want the expertise you have to better themselves or their organization.
Building your expertise will help you attract and retain a growing following of people who trust you for your thinking and wisdom and who are open to sharing that thinking with their network.
You become known by the ideas you share. If you are recognized for having too many passions together or a very general niche, then people will not know why they should contact you.
Work out the logistics
There’s a handful of fairly ordinary but important things that you need to do when you freelance: Project tracking, pricing, invoicing, and contract and proposal writing. Work out the logistics ahead of time, so you’re not scrambling to do so on the spot.
It is true that you don’t have to worry about the 9-to-5 routine. However, freelancing can work only for self-disciplined and responsible people.
Just because you are going to work when you want, and as long as you want, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to work less. Very often, freelancers work more than eight hours a day.
In that regard, I decided to set a personal schedule: work from 5 am to 2 pm every day and respect the time of work and rest. Respecting my schedule and my rest allowed me to do more things in less time.
While most people try to be more productive by adding more things, I realize it is much easier to start by deleting what kills productivity. When you look at highly productive people, they always avoid useless tasks that everyone else does.
In fact, working more than necessary is basically pointless:
After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. Those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.
If working for a long period of time doesn’t make sense, the best way to be productive is by managing better our productive hours.
Remove self-imposed limitations from your freelance business.
Although I’m from the generation that preaches “you get what you work for,” I now believe you can also have what you ask for. What you receive is not limited to whether you worked for it.
When you ask for what you want, chances are as good that you will get it as they are that you will not get it. But you’re more likely to get what you want when you ask for it than if you just feel like you don’t deserve it.
If you don’t charge, you will never lack work, but you will always lack money.
Don’t be afraid to charge what you are worth or cost based on the value you are delivering. Clients usually have a harder time with a price before they work with you as you haven’t established trust yet. If you do great work and the client is happy, the price will be less of an issue.
While the specifics of what you offer and charge for it will always be unique, there are some guidelines you can use to come up with the “right price” for your products or services. Some of them are experience year, value, time, and the market.
Every customer buys more than your time. They are buying your years of experience, the investment you’ve made in developing your skills and talents, and your resulting expertise.
If you base your price solely on the time it takes to complete a creative or technical task, develop a product, or deliver a program, you will turn what you sell into a commodity. Don’t define your value simply by the hours required to accomplish something.
No matter what you sell, you must be confident the price you charge for it accurately reflects the value, utility, and benefits provided to your customers. Otherwise, you will be too easily pressured into lowering your prices.
Marketing is a word that most people are never prepared to hear but is the most important.
You need to understand sales and how to convince people to buy from you. Most people also have an established community of followers and fans that promote their business or work with them.
If you want potential customers to start reaching out to you, then you have to start promoting yourself to make that happen (inbound marketing). Alternatively, you have to take the initiative yourself and go out and contact the prospects yourself (outbound marketing). You can also do both, which I think is ideal.
Whichever Marketing Strategy you choose, one of the best advice I’ve ever had on freelancing is to market more actively when you are busiest. This is the key to avoiding the all too common lack or banquet cycle of freelance work.
You won’t survive as a freelance treating your business like a hobby.
The top freelancers I know share one thing in common: They don’t see themselves as freelancers but as entrepreneurs. And the truth is a true freelancer is also a real entrepreneur.
Just like any business owner, a freelancer has to find and maintain a steady stream of income through the services he provides. He must look for potential buyers, negotiate with them, and then deliver on his promise. But it doesn’t end there.
A great freelancer like a business owner knows it’s easier to keep current clients than to find new ones. That is why he’ll try his best to over-deliver on his initial promise and keep the process of onboarding and delivering as smooth as possible.
A successful freelancer is really someone who treats his business the way it should be: As a real business.
In my article “You Won’t Survive as an Entrepreneur Treating Your Business Like a Hobby,” I talk about why freelancing and startups are not a free-time dream:
Turning a hobby into a job often requires sacrifices that you might not enjoy making. It means taking something that you enjoy doing for yourself and using it for someone else to turn a profit. Selling your hobby for profit often comes at the cost of creative control. You make what other people want for those people, or you don’t get paid.
I’m a software programmer. Right now, I’m working for a company creating their own software to sell it to clients. I absolutely love what I do. But, at the end of the day, I’m not programming something for me; I’m helping my client to make their dream.
That’s not something that I’d want to do as a hobbyist.
If I were still programming as a hobby, like when I was in college, I’d still making games and social media pages and doing it for me — not for anyone else.
Investing in Training is the best investment you can make.
According to Freelancing in America: 2019, 73% of skilled freelancers believe that skills training is essential to their work, and 71% update their skills to ensure they stay marketable as ways of working evolve. What’s more, 65% of skilled freelancers have done some kind of skills training in the last six months.
And I realized that it was one of the best investments when I started writing. Although I had 6 months of experience and learning the best techniques, it wasn’t until I started investing in my professional development that I began to see an increase in my views.
The more you invest in your knowledge, the more you will have to offer.
This is something that you will not learn in an office in a full-time job. In a company, the owner pays you for the knowledge that you already know according to an interview, and that’s it.
When you are a freelancer or entrepreneur, you must continue training yourself to reach better opportunities.
My favorite part about freelancing is the flexibility. I worked in a traditional office setting for a year before deciding to freelance full time, and it was the best decision I made.
I realized that I didn’t like my life revolves around my work hours, and I didn’t like someone else dictating when I could come and go.
Working freelance has given me the flexibility I was looking for. It does require a lot of discipline but at my own rhythm. I can set my own schedule and work when I’m most productive. If I have an appointment, I can take time off in the middle of the day and make up for it later.
Freelancing can be the perfect choice during one period of your life, but it can also be the wrong turn under different circumstances. You don’t have to be born a freelancer, but rest assured, you have to feel comfortable with the specific freelance lifestyle.
At some point, you may realize that you weren’t as good as you thought you were. At that time, do not get demotivated and quit, but rather work on your skill and try to rise to your own impression of yourself.
You will meet people who will treat you as if they own you. Develop skills to recognize these people beforehand and do not work for them. Fire these clients.
It is not always meant to replace your job. Sometimes it’s only meant to complement it. Try to take both things forward side by side.