Chances are you know someone who's left his/her job and gone freelance. It makes sense. Freelancing can offer independence, creativity, wealth, and empowerment.
Have you thought about taking the leap? If so, you've probably wondered if you're cut out for such a radical departure from traditional work. Regardless of what you do, there are five traits you'll need (or need to work on) to really succeed.
1. A Clear Vision
You know the cliche: Life is what you make it. Same goes for freelancing. As your own boss, you get to decide what to do, when, how, and for whom. But, with your possible success or failure in your own hands, you need a vision to keep you organized and motivated.
Why do you want to freelance? Pride? Independence? Money? Passive income? A business you can eventually sell ... or one you'll want to run for the rest of your life?
Get a notepad and scribble out your ideas and desires. Discuss with your loved ones. Go for a walk and reflect on what fulfills you. You can break it down into strategies and tactics later, but you need the big picture first.
2. A Taste for Adventure
When you tell someone you freelance, a common response is, "Sweet, you get to work in your pajamas!" It's true, there are some great perks. Working from home. Being your own boss. Charging whatever price you want.
But, freelancing is also loaded with risks. Preparing for wild fluctuations in cash flow. Draining your savings just to stay afloat. Chasing after slippery clients for an overdue project. Working all night because you have to, not because you want to.
Scary? Sure, but so are some elements of a traditional 9-to-5 job. There are practical steps you can take to curb these risks. Set aside emergency money. Cut living expenses. Diversify your services and clientele. Incorporate. Get your taxes done professionally. Ask loved ones to help you maintain a good work-life balance. Exercise. If you can endure the risks of freelancing, your chances of success skyrocket.
3. A Knack for Planning
Lori Greiner, Shark Tank judge and "Queen of QVC" has said, "Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week." Some freelancers do work 80 hours a week - and some don't. Some are night owls, some are early birds, and some work the usual 9-to-5. It doesn't matter how freelancers manage their time. What matters is that they manage it well.
Without the pressure of a team or a time clock, it's easy to get distracted by Netflix, Pinterest, your dog, or your kids. At the other extreme, it's insidiously easy (especially in lean times) to become obsessive and work all the time, shunning sleep, exercise, family, and fun.
Whether you're battling sluggish cash flow or Candy Crush, a good solution is to impose a fixed schedule, like a "real" job. A solid freelancer work day should have these notable features:
- Start work at the same time every day.
- Take scheduled breaks.
- Stop on time.
Some freelancers use software like Harvest or Asana to track hours. Some work in co-working spaces to separate their work time from their non-work time. However you do it, planning and managing your time is critical.
4. The Skills of Negotiation
Haggling is one of the oldest skills on the planet. More art than science, negotiating requires a shrewd balance of strength and flexibility. It can take years to master - and many freelancers don't realize they need the skill until they've been ripped off.
Negotiation and freelancing are inseparable. It can be intimidating to put a price tag on your work. Whether it's due to shyness, cluelessness, or both, many end up asking for fees that are either insultingly high or harmfully low.
Research appropriate rates, and when the time comes to haggle, be reasonable, and don't be afraid to push back. Whether you're selling art or airplanes, negotiation is a must.
5. The Spirit of Self Promotion
Blowing your own horn at a dinner party is obnoxious and frowned upon. But as a freelancer, it's critical.
Unless you notify the market that you're open for business, you're invisible. Many freelancers, especially those lacking a background in marketing, ignore self-promotion beyond opening a Facebook page - and then wonder where all the work is. There's a reason most companies have marketing departments.
If working on your primary services is a full-time job, then marketing is an additional one. How will you promote yourself? Print ads? Digital? Social media? Passing out business cards at events? It can feel wasteful to make time for marketing, but the most successful freelancers make it a priority.
No matter what your personality type is or what you want to do, if you can come to the freelancing world with these five attributes, you're off to a great start.
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About the Author: Brian Goff is a graphic designer and illustrator who is passionate about branding, creative strategy, and entrepreneurship. You can view his work at www.briangoff.com. Follow him on Twitter at @briangoff.