8 tips on how to become a successful freelancer

Are you ready to ditch your 9 to 5 to start your own freelancing business? Here are 8 tips to help you become a successful freelancer.
8 tips on how to become a successful freelancer

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In 2016, there were 9.6 million self-employed Americans. That number is projected to increase to 10.3 million by the year 2026.

Have you always wanted to work for yourself and own business but haven't taken the leap? There's never been a better time to be your own boss.

Keep reading for 8 tips to help you get started on the path to becoming a successful freelancer.

1. Always have a safety net

When you first start freelancing, it's critical to have a reliable source of income to help you ease in. For this reason, most freelancers start taking on small projects and testing out the freelancing business while they're still employed at least part-time.

This ensures you have money to stay afloat while you find your footing. Being a successful freelancer requires you to be picky about which projects you take on. You have to learn how to choose clients who pay well and on time.

In case things don't go as planned, you have to have a backup plan in place. When you're first starting out, you should either still be employed or have several months of savings that you can live off.

Even once you're an established freelancer, you should have a safety net. This might mean having a substantial savings account or a second household income that is more stable. For some, these options aren't feasible.

One of the golden rules of freelancing is to "never put all of your eggs in one basket." Put more simply, diversify your income from various sources and clients. Having a variety of opportunities at any given time means that you always have an option if something falls through.

You never know when your clients might drop you, even if you're on good terms. It's just the nature of the freelance life and the economy in general. Never count on a single client to provide enough income to support you. 

2. Find your niche

Once you've researched your competition, created an action plan, and developed your brand, you should have a pretty good idea of where you fall in the marketplace.

Because being a freelancer is so appealing, the marketplace is generally saturated. This doesn't mean you won't find work, though. The best way to find gigs that fit your skillset is to discover your niche.

What do you do best?

What is it that sets you apart from your competition?

Identify your target audience and focus your marketing efforts there. Set yourself apart from other freelancers vying for clients by communicating to potential clients why you deserve their business. 

3. Set your rates

One of the hardest things to do when you start freelancing is deciding how to charge and bill clients. This is understandable because most people coming from the 9 to 5 world have never had much say in how or even how much they get paid.

At the same time, one of the biggest benefits of being in the freelancing business is setting your own pay rates. This can seem overwhelming at first, but it doesn't have to be. It's best to charge clients based on the value of the work you provide rather than charging a flat rate or charging by the hour.

The value of the work you provide to the client says more than the number of hours it took you to complete the work. If you're a fast worker, you might short yourself on income. If you're a slower worker, you might overcharge the client.

You can determine the value of your work to the client by asking the right questions. Find out the client's goals through a client discovery process and how your work will be helping them achieve those goals.

Over time, as you build on your skills and experience, you can raise your rates. When you have healthy relationships with your clients, they will be happy to continue to work with you. 

4. Learn to say no

As a new freelancer, it can be tempting to say "Yes!" to every opportunity you're given. However, learning to say no is a skill in and of itself.

Not every project will be worth your time or be the right fit for you. While it's certainly important to take advantage of every opportunity that is a good fit for you, it's equally as important to know when to walk away.

It's better to decline an opportunity than to be unable to deliver the results the client is looking for.

And it's not all about money. If something doesn't interest you or isn't going to provide you any intrinsic value, it's okay to move along. After all, one of the biggest benefits of freelancing is being able to choose what kind of work you take on and which clients you work with.

Focus on doing what you enjoy and working for clients that value your contributions. 

5. Stay accountable

The abilities to work in the comfort of your own home and on your own schedule are some of the main reasons people choose to become a freelancer. While it can seem almost too good to be true to be your own boss, it's not as easy as it seems.

Many freelancers struggle with accountability when they are introduced to a world of freedom unlike anything they have experienced working in a 9 to 5 world. The problem with being responsible for getting your work done on your own time is that if you don't get it done, you don't get paid.

You're also solely responsible for maintaining good relationships with your clients, and this means getting work done on time. Everyone is different and each person will have their own idea of the perfect work-life balance. Finding that perfect balance for you may take some experimenting.

For some people, working outside of the home will keep them most productive. If this sounds like you, consider working in a co-op space or in a coffee shop. Unfortunately, this might not be an option during COVID-19.

If you'd rather stay at home, set up a working area separate from your main living space. While it may seem tempting to work from your bed, chances are you won't be as productive as you would working at a desk.

Maintaining some semblance of a schedule will help you ease into the freelance lifestyle. Set an alarm for a time each day for a time to get your work done. If your circumstances require additional flexibility, develop a system to ensure your work gets on time, no matter what. 

6. Stay focused

As you can imagine, it can be challenging to stay focused when working outside of an office. With this freedom comes great responsibility. Being a successful freelancer means learning to embrace the freedom of working remotely without letting it affect the quality of your work.

Fortunately, there are a ton of resources on staying productive when working from home due to the fact that more people are working from home than ever before. 

7. Be transparent

Communicating clearly with clients is the key to being a successful freelancer. While your lifestyle might require flexibility, it's important to find a way to keep in touch with clients.

Set up best practices for yourself like always respond to clients within a 24 hour period.

If you say you are going to call or turn work in at a certain time, do so. If something comes up, communication can make the difference between losing a client and developing an even stronger relationship.

Be as transparent as possible with clients about their expectations regarding your work and your timetable. Make yourself as available as possible without sacrificing personal time

8. Network with other freelancers

One of the best things you can do to expand your network of clients and resources is to communicate with other freelancers.

You can start networking with the contacts you already have before leaving your regular job. If you work in an industry that regularly uses freelancers, you'll have a head start.

If you're diving into freelancing with no existing connections, that's okay. The internet is a great place to learn more about how to start freelancing and to network with others in the same situation.

Networking with other freelancers can get you referrals to other clients and help you iron out the kinks as you transition to the freelance lifestyle. 

Do you have what it takes to become a successful freelancer?

Are you thinking of starting your own freelance business? If you want to become a successful freelancer, you need a network of support.

We are a platform where like-minded freelancers can connect and manage the business side of their freelance business. We can also help you manage the day-to-day operations of your freelance business as you learn the ropes.

Ready to make your freelance business more sane and satisfying? Freelance smarter with Moxie. Or, subscribe to the newsletter to get access to Moxie’s workshops and private community. They’re so good you’ll wonder how we can give them away for free.

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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