Here is a question I get all the time: “What are your best tips for becoming a full-time successful professional freelancer?”
Many people ask me to provide them with a recipe for freelancing success.
At the risk of disappointing you, I’ll preface this by saying there is no “one size fits all” approach to building a successful freelance business.
However, there are certain field-tested principles that should serve as exemplars for how to do freelance work.
Regardless of whether you do graphic design, web development, or freelance writing. I’m here today to share some of them with you.
I hope that they serve as timely reminders or welcome improvements to your current business processes.
So, without further ado, here are some of my best tips for becoming a successful freelancer.
You can also read: The Most Common Freelancer Scams
Best Tips for Becoming Successful Freelancer (2020)
Use a contract on every project
If you’re just beginning to learn how to freelance, let me help you avoid making one of the most common mistakes I see.
Use a contract for EVERY client project.
But don’t get bogged down in finding the perfect contract. Starting off with a template is okay, as long as you remember to keep making improvements along the way. Too many freelancers get caught up in the details of contracts, and it’s ultimately wasting a lot of time that should be spent making money. All you need for the time being is a general agreement that covers some basic, yet important terms that both you and the client need to agree upon.
Always get a down payment
One of the biggest issues you hear about freelancing is not getting paid on time or getting stiffed by the client.I’ve luckily never experienced this, but that’s because I follow a simple process when starting. Guarantee payment 100% of the time, you must require a down payment. For all projects I take on, I require 50% upfront before I start any official design work, and I make this clear to the client in our preliminary discussions and in my contracts. If the client has an issue with this, then that should raise a red flag. There is a chance that they have never contracted for freelance services before, but it should still raise your guard. Explain that this arrangement is a protection for both parties and that the project can’t move forward without it.
If they refuse again:
They probably aren’t someone you should work with, anyway. Once I’ve received the contract signed and down payment, I’m good to go on starting the work. Then before I deliver any workable files, I require the final 50% payment. I do this so the client doesn’t take what I’ve created, cancel the project, and run. So before you’ve fully been paid, don’t send any master files or designs in full resolution.
Don’t be afraid to say “no”
Saying no is hard, especially if you’re like. Generous and want people to feel happy working with you. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, so you offer to help any way you can, not really considering the strenuous load it’ll put. No matter what you do, you’ll disappoint someone. Whether it be the client because you’re unable to deliver halfway through projects, your family because you’re working long hours, or yourself because you’re so stressed with the work you’ve chosen to take on. So you must get comfortable turning down work if it’s ultimately not for you or your availability.
Focus your freelance business
If you’ve followed my writing for a while now, you’ll know I share frequently about focusing your freelance business and the importance of it. I continue to share this tip because I regularly get message after message from freelancers who seem to be stuck. They can’t find enough work and they struggle to get their name out there. By focusing your brand identity and the type of projects you take on, it’ll make everything much easier for you: From marketing to charging higher rates to delivering the work.
Pick one or two services to specialize in and only take on work that falls into those categories. Then turn down the rest. Once you’ve decided on the services you now specialize in, be sure to translate that into your personal brand. Reword everything on your website for those keywords and phrases, only showcase that type of work in your freelance portfolio, and start producing content around those services to prove your expertise. All of this is a byproduct of marketing, which in turn will drive traffic and new freelance projects your way.
Showcase the work you want to take on
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous tip of focusing your freelance business, but I think is a topic worth elaborating on. Many freelancers make the mistake of filling their portfolio with work just to show that they have some sort of skill in design. But most often, the work just appears all over the place, and will only do your portfolio a disservice. There’s a difference between a freelance business portfolio and a school portfolio: Your freelance portfolio should only contain the work you specialize in and want to continue accepting via client work. The work can comprise past client work or even personal work.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have?” Well, when it comes to your portfolio, you want to present work that aligns with the freelance jobs you want, not necessarily the projects you currently have.
Let’s say you specialize in logo design:
If that’s what you want to be known for then you should only showcase logo projects in your freelance portfolio. That’ll be what attracts and helps potential clients decide to go with you over another freelance designer whose portfolio might be all over the place.
So, there you have it:
My best tips for freelancers who want to lay the foundation for a thriving, sustainable freelance business.
You don’t have to take these as gospel, but if you bumped into me in a coffee shop and asked me to give you my best freelancing advice, this collection captures everything I would tell you.
Since I’ve put these tips into my work process, I’ve seen some major growth, and I hope you could extract some value from them.
Did you find any of these tips for becoming a full-time successful professional freelancer useful? Do you have your own variation of one of these tips?