8 tips on how to become a successful freelancer

Written by Xolo
on May 26, 2021 4 minute read

The gig economy is more robust than ever, and U.S. workers are leaving the traditional workplace in droves. According to Upwork’s 2020 report on freelancing, 59 million Americans had done some type of freelance work in the past year.

It’s true that COVID-19 accelerated the mass exodus from classic employment, but no one seems in any rush to return to pre-pandemic ways of working.

If you’re considering a deep dive into freelancing, here are eight hard-fought lessons from freelancers who learned the hard way. Use them to ease the learning curve on your own freelance journey! 

1. Make some freelancing goals

When you’re talented, confident and independent, it’s tempting to leap before you look. Many would-be solopreneurs forget that they’re losing the safety net.

This is a significant change that requires a carefully thought-out strategy. Start by setting short- and long-term goals on a timeline. Include financial, career and lifestyle goals. Make them specific and time-bound: “I want to own a home by age 30." "I want to retire in Maui when I’m 60.”

Create a detailed business plan. Do extensive research on various industries. You may be the hottest commodity at your company, but find out if employers are hiring freelancers with your skills. You might need more education or training to land the best jobs.

Consider all the things that your boss and people in human resources do for you: issue regular pay, withhold the correct taxes, reimburse expenses, handle insurance and manage your 401(k). If you’re not up to all that, you’ll have to find someone who is.

Speaking of health insurance and your 401(k), it’s vital that you come up with replacement plans for those as soon as possible!

Finally, assume that business might be slow until you’ve built a reputation and gotten referrals. Start saving for the first few months. Figure in costs like marketing, technology, office supplies, and your usual monthly expenses. Calculate how much you need to survive until the pace starts to pick up.

That may sound like a depressing exercise, but knowing how much money you need could mean the difference between success and failure. It never hurts to research grants for entrepreneurs. Many corporations and nonprofits are very generous with funding. So what's the harm in checking?

2. Build a portfolio that impresses

A dynamite portfolio is one of the most useful tools in every freelancer’s kit. Here’s what it should include:

  • Examples of your best work that highlight your skills.
  • Links to work published online.
  • Photos or videos of yourself working.
  • References to or from successful or prestigious companies or entrepreneurs you’ve worked for.

Make sure your portfolio is well organised, eye-catching, and professional. Make a point to keep it up to date, so you can weed out work that's old and/or mediocre and replace with with the new and extraordinary! 

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3. Prioritise finding freelance work

For now, at least, your new full-time job is finding work. Here’s your plan of action:

  • Design a quality website that showcases your skills and accomplishments. Start out with an “About Me” page, a page showcasing your work, and a page for testimonials. Make sure that your contact information is prominently displayed. 
  • Reach out to former colleagues, family members, friends, and neighbours. Old-fashioned word-of-mouth still travels a long way, even in today's digital age!
  • Ask to meet with professionals in your targeted industry, or introduce yourself online.
  • Join industry and trade associations. Attend events and conferences, and take plenty of business cards.
  • Leverage social media. Search LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms using keywords that are relevant to the roles you’re looking for. On LinkedIn, post a concise, attention-grabbing summary and see if you get any bites. 
  • Target decision makers on company websites or LinkedIn. Cold pitch your services via email, and make each email personal. The skills and experience you describe should be highly specific to each company and the industry it falls under.

Never assume that because you have steady work for a time you will always have steady work. Spend some time each week looking for leads and opportunities you might need in the future. In other words, maintain your freelance pipeline to ensure a prosperous future!

Learn more about how to easily find clients for your freelance business

4. Strike the right balance between passion and pay

Don’t hesitate to take jobs that you’re not especially passionate about. Sometimes, mundane but steady work keeps the lights on until your dreams start becoming reality. It's also a great stepping stone in terms of gaining experience!

Also, don’t put all your eggs — or in this case, all your energy and passion — into one basket. All kinds of businesses need photographers. Writers of all specialties are needed across a range of diverse industries.

Don't be afraid to leave your comfort zone. Exploring new fields will expand your skill set and open up a world of possibilities in the form of new clients!

5. Don’t undervalue what you bring to the table

Not everyone makes a great client. And if you haven't been freelancing for long, you'll learn it soon enough. But it's also important to remember that you never have to accept less than your knowledge, talent, and experience are worth in the interest of gaining a new client!

Demonstrate your value. Show potential clients how you can solve their problem and help their business succeed. If you build a reputation of integrity, professionalism, quality of work, and punctuality, you can command what you’re worth. The kind of clients you really want will know you're worth it — and be willing to pay accordingly!

6. Don’t take rejection personally

By the time Doubleday agreed to publish “Carrie” in 1974, Stephen King’s writing space was wallpapered with rejection slips. King just nailed each one to the wall and kept writing!

The lesson here is don’t take rejection personally. Think of yourself as a vacuum cleaner or a set of encyclopaedias. If you’re courteous and professional, then it’s not you that potential clients don’t like; the product you're selling just isn't the right fit for them.

There’s no shame in asking for feedback after you’ve been turned down. Maybe you’ll learn that your vacuum cleaner lacks popular attachments and features. Seize that opportunity to improve your product. Constructive criticism can be a freelancers best friend!

7. Clarify and solidify expectations

Being vague about your services and schedule rarely has a good outcome.

Outline in detail when you can start, what resources you will need, what you will do, how long it will take and other specifics. Approach every job determined to give clients exactly what they want — indeed, to exceed their expectations — in the agreed-upon time frame.

Clear communication should work both ways. Many freelancers provide clients with a detailed, comprehensive form for stating expectations. This prevents unpleasant surprises down the road. Freelancing is just another one of those things where communication is key!

8. Outsource your freelancer admin

It’s tough to get clients, build a name for yourself, and chart your own career path when you’re buried in paperwork. That’s why Xolo's here to put it all on autopilot!

Xolo has the admin tools and solutions to free up your time for what’s most important. We make invoicing cross-border clients easy, help you handle business expenses, and make tax time a whole lot less painful. Focus on what you're good at — and let us take care of the rest!