I consider myself very fortunate to have found success in my career as a freelance writer. Over the course of the last eleven years, I’ve experienced my fair share of ups and downs. And I’m still here to talk about it. Freelancing isn’t for everyone and even if you think you have all the right pieces in place, it still might not work out for whatever reason. But you should stack the odds in your favor by having the right pieces in the first place.
In my journeys, I’ve come to recognize several common characteristics of successful freelancers. Do you have these qualities?
It’s a wholly different kind of experience when you are a company of one, completely reliant on only yourself for everything. This also means that you don’t have a manager or supervisor breathing down your neck, nor do you have the passive peer pressure of coworkers leering over your computer. It’s just you. It’s all on you.
And this means that you need to be a very disciplined person and exercise a significant amount of self control. This notion spans across the entirety of your professional existence. You need to fend off the temptation for procrastination. You need to be organized, punctual, and determined to get the job done when there are other “fun” things you could be doing. It also means you need to know when to step away for your own sake.
2. Steadfast Determination
Perseverance. The hard truth that all successful freelancers have to come accept is that you are bound to fail. You will fail. Again and again and again. The road to success is paved by all sorts of failures. Some might be small, whereas others can feel like they are catastrophic. You might fail to land the project you wanted or to achieve your revenue goal for the month or year. You might disappoint a client or destroy a relationship. It’s going to happen.
As a result, it is absolutely paramount that you have the resources — financial, emotional, or otherwise — to ride out the tough times. Freelancers can be a stubborn bunch. When everyone else is saying no, you need to find a way to say yes.
3. Jack of All Trades
Want to build up your brand and reputation in your particular niche or industry? Guess what? You’re the marketing and PR department. Want to drum up some lucrative contracts with the perfect clients? You are the sales department too. Need to send out some documents and parcels? Shipping and logistics is you too. And let’s not forget about customer service, administration, social media management, accounting, IT support… the list goes on and on.
And this is all above and beyond the actual work you get paid to do. Be prepared to wear many hats and to wear them all proudly.
4. A Knack for Tact
As much as I would like to say that I positively loved working with each and every client that I’ve had in the last decade, it simply is not the truth. It gets even worse when you consider how much time is wasted with “prospective” or “potential” clients who have no real interest in hiring me or paying a reasonable rate for my work.
While the vast majority of my clients have been terrific, there are times when I need to take a more diplomatic approach. If you go around yelling at and upsetting everyone around you, you’re not going to survive long as a freelancer unless your skills are undeniably out of this world. Even when you want to say no, you need to exercise some restraint. Be tactful and polite, even if you have to grit your teeth.
5. Propensity for Flow
This is perhaps one of the more elusive qualities of successful freelancers. I’m coming primarily from the perspective of writing, which only makes sense, but this is equally applicable to other disciplines like audio, video and graphic design too. It’s a sense of flow.
It’s when you’re able to achieve such a mindset that the work just comes naturally to you. This unique sense of focus is even more difficult to summon on command. You can not rely on inspiration to strike. You need to call to it and harness all of its power in remarkably productive sessions.
6. A Desire to Connect
Freelancing can be a very isolating and lonely existence. You might think that natural introverts would excel best in such an environment, but successful freelancers still need to connect with other people. And they should want to connect with other people, whether they’re other freelancers, industry professionals, colleagues, clients or friends.
As great as the Internet and social media have been for shrinking our world, forming real human connections where you meet face to face and shake hands can really solidify your business prospects.
7. Willingness to Learn
If you approach freelancing with the perspective that you can master your craft and settle into a routine, you can only hope to reach a certain level of mediocrity. Times change. People change. And if you want to succeed, you need to change with it and this means having an insatiable hunger to learn new things, to expand your horizons, knowledge base and skill set.
A good place to start, if you’ll pardon the shameless plug, is to read my book, Beyond the Margins. It contains all sorts of helpful tips and advice for anyone thinking about starting their own freelance business. There is no one magic bullet. Instead, success is the culmination of several things. With a little luck on your side, you’ll get there if you’re willing to work for it.