Tips for Becoming a Successful Freelancer

I think I’ve been a freelance graphic designer for around 5 years now. I say “I think” because there was no set start date, things just progressed naturally in that direction. Not having to work for someone else was probably the real decision in terms of freelancing, but I’ve never regretted the decision to go it alone.

I have picked up a few things on the way, which may help you if you’re starting out freelancing, applicable to freelance web designers, graphic designers, photographers and really anyone that runs their own business.

Plan Your Days

We have come to think of time as infinite. Relying on the thought that there will always be more hours, more days, more months, more years. On the path to becoming a successful freelancer, let me tell you one thing, never underestimate the value of having a plan of action.

Becoming a successful freelancer means you are in control of everything and therefore it’s up to you to make sure you keep on track. As you begin to acquire more work, the more essential timekeeping and planning your days will become. We’ve all experienced that looming-deadline-hanging-over-our-head feeling. You know exactly the one I mean. A feeling that is easily preventable when we have a structure to the way we work. Know what you’re working on and when you should be doing it. Set aside a point during your week to make your to-do list, outlining your objectives for the next few days — and stick to it!

Maintain a Focus

It is crucial to know what direction you want your career or business to head in, and continue to remind yourself of that direction. There is no point in working aimlessly for the sake of it. To help you maintain this focus, work on developing a business plan. Understand the services you can offer your clients, who your target market is and how you can best reach them. Within your business plan, make sure to include your goals, financial requirements and an estimate of how you plan to reach these goals.

A former higher-education administrator who became a freelance entertainment manager, Thomas Ingrassia, said,

“I know the work I’m doing now is important to me, and I’m the one in control and in charge and calling the shots — and for me, that’s what helps keep the focus and motivation going, so I can continue to do that.”

Create a website or blog

Want a way to instantly look more professional? Create your own website or blog. Your website should act as a gateway between yourself and new clients, as many take to surfing the net in search of people to work alongside. But be sure to keep your website or blog updated regularly. It is important to show prospective clients that you’re an active freelancer, to prevent them from taking their work elsewhere.

Brand Yourself

Alongside creating your own site, create your own brand. If you want your work to stand out in front of potential clients and employers, look professional. Developing a brand takes place after you have a clear vision of where you want to take your freelance work and therefore it’s important to keep in mind the quality that you expect your target market to respond to. As you continue to create and evolve your brand, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and market your work.

“I always felt weird networking and selling myself, but I’ve found it’s a necessity. When I first started in this business, the rule was ‘let your work speak for itself.’ To a point, it’s still true. But the chances are, even if you think you’re top of people’s mind, you’re not. You just have to promote yourself and point to your track record,” said former agency creative executive and now a global nomad, Tim Geoghegan.

As a freelancer, branding is essential to get right as you are your brand. However, don’t be discouraged when clients don’t come knocking on your door as soon as your branding goes live. Stay focused, continue making those connections, and remember, quality over quantity.

Manage Your Money

As a freelancer, you will quickly realise that your paycheque won’t arrive each month like clockwork. No matter how small the business you are running, it is vitally important to keep an eye on your finances. It’s a good idea to set up some kind of accounting program to keep good records. Start separating your incomes and save, as one thing is for sure, it may be tempting to spend, spend, spend when you land that one high-paying client, but don’t be fooled, there is a high chance your income will plummet the next month. So save!

Attempt to look for work that will provide recurring revenue. It is worth working hard to land clients who are willing to give you ongoing work even if you have to charge a bit less. However, digital creative director, Sheena Matheiken, views rates strategically, stating,

“Always say yes to gigs you feel excited about, even if they can’t meet your standard rate. If you choose those gigs wisely, working for less money can actually put you in a position of power. I make it a point to negotiate this by buying myself more flexibility and time in return for a lower rate. It almost always works. The clients are appreciative of the deal you are cutting them because you are excited about their business, product or whatever it may be. And that eventually leads to more work, at your standard rate.”

Social Media is Key

Networking is vital. The online world has become the birth place of many relationships in recent years. No matter where you are, sites, such as Twitter, can connect you to clients all across the globe. Creating a name for yourself can take time, but your presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can help speed up the process. Always be on the lookout for contacts who can point you in the right direction or even towards potential clients.

Artist, Moose Allain, said, “I started tweeting as an experiment, I tried to be original and entertaining and occasionally posted pictures. My following increased when one or two people with good followings began recommending me. Before long people were asking if they could buy the work I was putting online. Its [Twitter] an incredibly useful vehicle for trialling ideas and products. For me it has become a creative medium as well as a social networking tool.”

Build a Portfolio

Linked into your presence on various social media sites and branding, be sure to establish an offline portfolio also. An impressive, tangible portfolio is essential to produce when potential employers wish to see your work in person. After developing your own brand, begin to produce business cards, stationary, anything with your logo on it, to work alongside your portfolio.

Your freelance portfolio should contain the work you want to specialise in. It can consist of past work you’ve done for clients, along with your own personal work. Self-created samples are often better than nothing.

Looking professional also applies to you personally. Being your own boss doesn’t mean you can act and talk in any way to your clients and expect them to continue working with you. Remember to meet them with respect, politely and look presentable.

Co-operate with Competitors

There will always be competition. So get to know your competitors. Successful freelancer, Leif Kendall, stated that you should aim to “deliver work that is better than anything your competitors are doing.” Differentiate yourself from these people through an active digital presence with an attractive personality to match.

Establish connections with those who are in the same boat as you. They may be able to help you out with jobs that are too big for you alone and perhaps send you work when they themselves become too busy. Bonus. It could be a good idea to collaborate with those who work with your target customers. For example, photographers could team up with wedding planners, while graphic designers may collaborate with marketing consultants.

As a freelancer, you probably work mostly at home on your own, which is why it is also important to develop these relationships. It is key to avoid isolation, mainly for your own health, as you may become lonely and burn yourself out. It may even be worth considering renting desk space at a local networking or business centre, to ensure you are working in the company of others for even a short while. A lot of out there are just like you, and are more than happy to have someone they can relate to, and even share a bit of knowledge and experience.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No!

The last thing you want as a freelancer is for your work to suffer. Learn when one more client is one too many. Look at how much work you have on and assess the situation realistically. If you take on this extra client, will your work be up to your highest standards? Your priority should always be to provide your client or employer with the best possible work you can produce.

If you have a gut feeling that you won’t be able to work with a certain client, don’t be scared to trust your instincts and say no. I guarantee you will not regret it.

Enhance Your Awareness

This is a must for anyone in the creative world. Keep your eyes open. The world is your inspiration. You never know what will come your way as a freelancer. As cliche as it sounds, carry a notebook and pen with you everywhere. Jot down how that advertising poster or building worked well and why, how did it make you feel? Pay attention to changing trends and even collect design pieces in restaurants, coffee shops, anywhere, that you deem to be successful and innovative.

Becoming a successful freelancer means looking for creative inspiration in everything and everywhere.

Do What You Love

Amongst the threatening deadlines and the long periods of unpaid work, it’s easy to begin to resent your journey into the world of freelance. Whether it’s writing or designing, freelancers choose this path because they want to do what they love. Don’t forget why you started in the first place. Even if you have no paying clients, continue practising your craft and pursuing your passion everyday.

You are all you need to create a personal, thriving business. So don’t be afraid to dive into the deep end and begin a career as a freelancer. However, be sure to think it through, create your plan of action, and do your research!

Do you agree with these tips? Got any advice for becoming a successful freelancer? Then continue this conversation in the comments below!

Originally published at on May 25, 2015.

Inkbot Design a Creative Graphic Design Agency in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Experts in Logo Design and Branding.

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