Learn the Skills Your Clients Need
As a freelancer, you’ll encounter two schools of thought: you should either specialize and make your name as an expert in your niche or you should diversify and land as many different gigs as you can. No matter which approach you feel is correct, though, developing new skills is critical.
If you’re an expert in your particular brand of freelancing, certain skills can help you support your position as an expert. If, for instance, you’re a website designer who specializes in e-commerce sites, being able to set up a Google AdWords campaign that will bring traffic to that new site you just designed can help you endear yourself to your client (and charge higher rates). In some cases, you may not even need to make use of your skills — simply being able to guide a client through the process of finding the right help or being able to tell that help exactly what needs to be done.
If you’re taking a more diversified approach, the benefit of new skills may be more obvious. The more types of projects you can take on, the more work is available to you. Either way, every freelancer should keep learning, whether that means taking classes, buying informational products or simply experimenting with new technology.
The Obvious Skills
Depending on what type of freelance career you’re pursuing, the skills that will be useful to you are probably fairly obvious. A freelance translator can benefit by learning medical vocabulary, a freelance web designer can benefit by learning how to customize blogging software and so on. Exactly what skills can help you the most depends on the type of projects you’re interested in pursuing, but finding those skills is generally not difficult. You’re already continuing your education as a freelancer by reading blogs like this one. Even Twitter can be a great source of education!
It’s important to go a step beyond just reading about the skills that will help you out, of course. Invest time and money into practicing your skills. There’s nothing wrong with paying for a class or another resource (and you probably will get a tax deduction out of the purchase). It’s also important to practice those skills, even if it’s just on projects you assign yourself.
But a skill that makes that much sense to pick up can rapidly become something that most of your clients expect you to have — if it’s obvious, many freelancers will learn it. That means that not only is it important to pick up skills that obviously support the sort of work you’re doing, but it’s also important to go outside the box.
Less Evident Skills
If you’ve got average skills, you’ll get an average rate for your work. If you can offer something outside of the ordinary, you can increase your income, as well as attract more clients. A copy writer who is average probably has some SEO skills. That copy writer can make a respectable income, but will rarely knock the socks off of a client. In contrast, a copy writer who knows a wider variety of strategies for bringing traffic to a website can wow her clients. She can also upsell those same clients: maybe one of our hypothetical copy writer’s suggestions is to add a blog to the client’s website. She can add writing content for that blog to her invoice and, if she can actually install that blog and set it up, she can increase her invoice even more.
Deciding which skills to learn in this category is more difficult: you have to examine what other help a client is looking for when he brings you a project. Asking questions about what the client’s goal is after you finish your part of the project can provide some enlightenment, although there are other shortcuts. On job board sites, for instance, you can often tell if a client has posted multiple jobs. If that’s the case, you can see the progression of skills a client is looking for, giving you a path that may help you decide what skills to learn.