10 Essential Habits for Freelance Workers
One of the things about being a freelance worker is that it is so free.
This can be a tremendously liberating thing — but it can also be intimidating, and confusing, and difficult. Without someone forcing you to work, why should you? It’s much easier to find distractions instead. And if everything’s up to you, that also means you’re responsible for everything — from start to finish. And that can be tough, especially when you’re just starting out.
The key, I’ve found, is to develop certain habits that will keep you not only disciplined but successful. Simple habits, to be sure, but ones that can go a long way towards taking you from a broke freelancer to a happy and productive one.
Here they are — 10 essential habits for freelance workers:
Market yourself. When you first start out, no one knows you. You can hang your sign above your door, or on your website, but don’t expect people to knock down your door the first day. Instead, you’ll need to constantly market yourself — something that can seem distasteful to many of us, I know. But it’s the only way to survive and thrive. Email people (don’t spam), call potential clients, go to events where you might meet potential clients, advertise if you have the money, network. Make this a regular part of your day or work week. See the 10 essential marketing skills for freelancers for more.
Be persistent. It’s not enough to send out a single email or make a single call and then forget about it if you don’t get a response. Unless the person flat out says no, you need to follow up and remind them, set up a meeting, send a sample of your work. Again, don’t be spammy, and don’t be annoying, but learn to follow things up politely so that you’re not forgotten. It’s easy for a potential client to forget you in the rush of all the things they have to do. It’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t.
Be professional. No one likes a spammer, no one wants to hire a slacker, and no one is looking to give money to an amateur. In all communications with clients or potential clients, be as professional as possible. Be prompt, be responsible, be credible. Don’t come across as someone who is “just trying things out” or “would like a shot” — act confident, as if you sell this service every day, for years now, and are looking for just one more client (although don’t lie about it). If people think you are a professional, they are more likely to give you a shot.
Set and meet deadlines. If you are given work, be sure to get the scope of the work, any necessary details, and especially a deadline that you agree upon and that you can meet. If not, the client might expect it sooner than you think, or even worse, the client might not care, and you could drag the work on forever. Best to have a deadline, to give you the pressure of having to get the work done. And when you have a deadline, do your utmost best to meet it, even if it means staying up all night to do so. Constantly missing deadlines looks very unprofessional. If you start to miss deadlines, re-evaluate your workload, and your estimate for how long it takes to complete an assignment. And if you are going to miss a deadline, be sure to communicate with your client as often as possible, letting them know that you are running longer than you thought, apologizing and explaining why, and when you will have it. Then meet that new timeline.
Find focus. Being a freelancer means that you can work on whatever you want, whenever you want to. You don’t have a boss to push you. So you have to be your own boss. Concentrate on your current task or project, and eliminate distractions so that you can focus on this one task. Get everything else out of the way, and really focus. Otherwise, you’ll never get it done.
Find time. Again, you can work any time of the day. Which can mean that you don’t work at all, or as little as possible. Instead, have a set time when you work, or a couple of set periods, and stick to that schedule. If you don’t have a schedule, you’ll likely wander all over the place and get little done.
Awesome quality. This should probably go without saying, but you shouldn’t turn in shoddy work. Take pride in the quality of your work, and have the client respond with a “Wow!” There is no better way of generating future business than doing remarkable work with your current client. When you’re done with an assignment, go over it again, and look for mistakes, and ways you can improve.
Follow up. Don’t just turn in an assignment and forget about it. Make it a habit to do follow-up communication with the client, so that you are sure that they are happy with the service. Find out what they liked, what they’d like to see improved next time, if there are ways to improve the process and communication. And see if they have future assignments. Continue to build that relationship.
Billing. Many of us don’t really like to deal with billing issues, but it’s a necessity for freelancers. I’ve only recently learned the habit of tracking my work, along with dates, so that I can have an accurate invoice. It’s good to log your work as you go, or as soon as you’re done, so that you don’t forget later. And set up email or calendar reminders so that you send out invoices on time, and follow up on the invoices if they’re not paid immediately.
Building a rep. Actually, all of the above habits contribute to this one, but it’s so important that it deserves a little focus. It should be your long-term strategy to build a credible reputation as someone who is professional, gets work done on time, and does an awesome job on every assignment. If you do this, and follow up with clients, they will be highly impressed with you, and not only use you in the future, but recommend you to others. Over time, your reputation will increase, and so will your assignments, and revenues.