How to build a successful freelance career like a pro

Are you starting your freelance career and you're wondering how the pros make it work? Read this guide and go build the freelance career of your dreams!
How to build a successful freelance career like a pro

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Establishing a successful freelance career isn't easy, and it can't be done overnight. What you can do, however, is create a thorough plan in order to make your path easier to navigate. 

Not quite sure how you should go about it? We’ve got all the info that you'll need to keep in mind. Let's explore everything you should know before you start your freelance career.

1. Determine your niche

The first step toward establishing a successful freelance career is figuring out what type of niche you would like to focus on. For instance, those who specialize in visual arts will need to decide if they want to follow a path that includes graphic design, filming, a combination of both, etc.

The same principle is true for other disciplines, such as music production. Afterward, you'll be able to establish a set of short-term and long-term goals that you can work toward during your career.

If you're having trouble figuring out what kind of niche is best for you, consider what type of freelance work you could feasibly see yourself doing while working full-time. This is an important distinction to make, as it may not be worth pursuing a freelance career involving something that you wouldn't be happy doing for a living.

Once you make your decision, the next steps of beginning your freelance journey will become immediately apparent. 

2. Set your rates

It should come as no surprise that having established rates as a freelancer will drastically improve the experiences that your clients have with you. Otherwise, every interaction with a potential client becomes a negotiation with no context on where to start.

Since many professionals don't have time to go back-and-forth in this matter, it may even cause you to miss out on work that you could have otherwise secured. So, it's essential that you set your rates before you begin looking for projects.

It's also important to remember that your rates should include expenses associated with working as an independent contractor, such as health insurance, taxes, etc. Foregoing this obligation to cause you to have a far lower income than you anticipated.

Depending on your rates, this could completely outweigh the benefits of working as a freelancer. 

3. Have an airtight contract

This is another responsibility that every freelancer should take care of before they begin completing projects for their clients. Unfortunately, having an agreement with insufficient terms could result in you getting paid less than you expected, having your intellectual property repurposed, and a variety of other unfavorable scenarios.

In general, every freelance agreement should include the following:

  • The names of every party involved
  • How you'll be compensated
  • A timeline for the project
  • The expectations of every party involved

Of course, you may need to add additional terms depending on your situation. But, a freelance contract should be as detailed as possible in order to protect you from any wrongdoing on the client's behalf.

For example, a failure to properly define payment terms could allow your client to pay you whatever they feel is convenient for them. In most cases, this is something that many freelancers are able to accommodate.

For those who don't have experience with this type of work, use software that specializes in helping freelancers or work with a legal professional to help ensure that all of the necessary areas are covered. Although this adds an additional cost, it could potentially save you thousands of dollars in the long run. 

4. Set a schedule that works for you 

On the surface, many people picture becoming a freelancer as working wherever they want with their laptop and making more than enough money to support the lifestyle they have. Unfortunately, this is only possible for those who have a high level of self-discipline and who are willing to consistently set schedules for themselves as professionals.

To elaborate, freedom has a tendency to make people far less productive than they anticipate. This is particularly true for those who work on computers, as they have access to the entire Internet and every distraction that comes with it.

This is also a process that will take a bit of trial and error to optimize. For example, not everyone has a full understanding of how they work best on their own before they begin their freelance career.

Some people are most productive in the middle of the night, while others get the most work done during the 24-hour period by breaking their projects up into different segments of the day. As your career progresses, you'll be able to fine-tune your schedule until you find one that's ideal for you. 

5. Understand your tax obligations

Working for yourself means that you'll be responsible for different tax obligations compared to someone who works for a company in a traditional manner. For instance, many workers have their health insurance covered by their employer, have 401(k) contribution matching, etc.

As a freelancer, you are responsible for all of these expenses. Although this may sound overwhelming at first, there is a benefit to this type of taxation: you're able to write off any relevant business expenses in order to reduce your taxable income.

To elaborate, let's assume that you make $50,000 within a year as a freelance graphic designer. You'll be responsible for paying both income tax and self-employment tax, which can quickly add up to be a significant portion of your income.

But, let's say you were able to write off $30,000 in business expenses. Now, your taxable income is only $20,000 as opposed to $50,000. As you can tell, you'll be responsible for far less money in taxes than you would be without any writeoffs at all.

As previously mentioned, this is something that is worth hiring a professional handle if you don't have experience doing it. But, if you have free time to take care of your tax obligations on your own, it will give you a more comprehensive understanding of how and why are you're taxed as a freelancer

6. Realize that you're a business owner

In order to succeed as a freelancer, you'll need to understand that you're also a business owner. Even if you are the sole employee, you still technically operate a business that provides a service to the clients that you work with.

As such, you need to keep certain things in mind that normally only apply to entrepreneurs. One of the most significant is your professional reputation.

As a conventional employee, it's often relatively difficult to get blacklisted in most industries, allowing you to find a new job if your current one isn't working out. As a freelancer, though, news of a poor client experience can spread quickly and is also immortalized when posted online.

For example, negative reviews can have an impact on a freelancer's ability to secure new projects years after they are posted. So, you'll need to take this into consideration the second you decide to move forward with this career choice.

Additionally, you need to consider factors like how you deal with dissatisfied clients, your policy regarding the protection of your clients and actual property, etc. Although this can easily seem overwhelming to newer freelancers, these obligations will become second nature as time goes on.

In fact, non-freelance work will begin to feel unfamiliar altogether. 

7. Establish a strong online presence

The Internet is one of the most powerful tools that freelancers can take advantage of. In fact, the vast majority of freelance work will be impossible without the utility of the area provides.

It's also a great way to help freelancers find new clients while also allowing other entrepreneurs to locate freelancers. As such,
 it's imperative that you strive to establish a strong online presence for yourself as a freelance professional.

This means taking advantage of online platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and anything else that you can use to help get your name out there. Above all else, though, you need to have a website that is dedicated to you as a professional.

This will be a place for you to provide a bit of insight into who you are as a person while simultaneously showcasing the type of work that you are capable of. It's important to consider the user experience on your site, as well.

After all, it is realistic to expect someone to wait 10 or 15 seconds for each page of your site to load. Instead, your website should provide a brief but thorough look at your professional career while also being pleasant to navigate.

Although it can seem pointless to start a website when you haven't had a large number of clients yet, it can play a large role in helping secure early work that will give you a foothold in your niche.

8. Constantly work on your portfolio

You should devote time on multiple occasions throughout the year to review the pieces in your current portfolio and replace your weakest projects with stronger ones. Once again, this is something that newer freelancers often stress over due to not having an extensive list of past work.

Fortunately, striving to always provide the best level of service possible will ensure that you consistently have quality additions to make to your portfolio. If you'd like to improve your portfolio at a faster pace, it's often worth it to create mockups on your own in order to convey your level of skill.

For those unfamiliar with this process, you will choose a particular brand to use as your fictional client and then create work that you would if you were actually working with them. Be sure, though, to clearly define your mockup projects. You wouldn't want your audience to think you are falsely claiming to have worked for a particular company. 

9. Don't neglect your branding

In order to stand out from the competition, you'll need to effectively brand yourself as a professional freelancer. This means that all of your work as well as the way you communicate on your social platforms should be tied to a cohesive thing or set of principles.

A common scenario would be a graphic designer/photographer who specializes in dark, ambient, moody content. It wouldn't make sense for this person to have a website full of sunshine, flowers, etc.

It also wouldn't make sense for them to constantly post inspirational photos or quotes on their professional social media accounts. When done correctly, you will immediately be top-of-mind when your audience thinks of freelancers in your industry.

After all, there's a reason that most people think of Nike when they think of athletic apparel. 

10. Consider searching for a mentor

Navigating the early stages of your freelance career can be an intimidating process for many people. In fact, some freelancers simply give up and go back to a traditional style of work due to a lack of guidance.

A mentor, however, can offer you a unique perspective that you won't be able to find anywhere else. Not only will they be able to help you recognize your weaknesses, but they can point you in the right direction when it comes to advancing your career.

Additionally, many mentors openly advertise their willingness to work with mentees. So, it's often not overly difficult to find one that's suitable for you.

Pursuing a successful freelance career can seem intimidating

But the above information will ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. From here, you’ll be able to pave the way toward your future freelance success and reach goes you never thought possible. 

Want to learn more about what we have to offer? Feel free to reach out to us today and see how we can help.

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Geoffrey Mina
Geoffrey Mina
Geoff has always focused on building technology solutions that solve real-world problems for real people. Over the years he’s developed a reputation for optimizing strategy for efficiency and high-performance outputs. In other words, he’s skilled at selecting the right strategic paths for organizations but can also mobilize workforces to execute action plans and critical initiatives. He’s passionate about building high-performance teams, inspiring them to push beyond their limits and perform at levels not thought possible.
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