Taking the leap and becoming a freelancer can be a scary thing. But if you are yearning for this lifestyle and the unrivaled sense of freedom that comes with it, don’t overthink it!
More than one in three working Americans are freelancers. In the EU, freelancers are the fastest-growing group in the labor market. It’s not rocket science. If these many people can do it, you can too.
But first, you need to learn how to become a successful freelancer so you can master this art gracefully.
7 Habits of Highly Successful Freelancers
#1 Revamp your thinking
Freelancing requires a lot of discipline, planning, and hard work. Most freelancers I know, I included, never pulled such long hours while having a conventional job.
As a freelancer, you are your own boss. You can finally take the bull by the horns. Be a digital nomad and live wherever you want. Wake up at noon. All in all, freelancing will give you great flexibility.
But being a freelancer doesn’t mean you are an employee without social benefits. Nor that you work for free. Nor are you lazy. Or a rebel. And your mom needs to stop asking ‘When are you going to get a real job?’.
Everything starts with your attitude. Take yourself seriously and others will too. Think about freelancing more in terms of having your own small business.
You are the CEO, the CMO, and all the interns. You are the lead generation and customer support. You are anything and everything.
You are the most important asset.
#2 Have a growth mindset
You have to set your targets far outside your comfort zone and then allow yourself to grow into the person who can achieve those goals and dreams.
Nobody was born with the know-how.
You might not be able to get that job as a book illustrator just yet, but with time and effort, you can learn and become better at it. Start by taking smaller jobs, gain experience and persevere. It’s not about who you are now but about who you can become.
That’s the problem many people face when setting objectives. They set them based on who they are in the present and this instantly limits their potential.
I’m always surprised by how far I’ve come. The girl I was a few years ago wouldn’t recognize me now. And I’m sure you are not the same person either.
If you don’t try, you automatically fail. So don’t give up before you even start!
One of the greatest quotes of all time states: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu). So taking the first step is crucial. You cannot start building a house from the roof down.
We are all superheroes in our own way, whether we acknowledge it or not. Many times the difference is so subtle, you actually have to turn the picture upside down to see it.
Stop blaming your parents, your teachers or life for where you are today. Start having a proactive attitude. Because the only person standing on your cape is you.
#3 Get organized
As a freelancer, you really need to be organized. Set up a daily schedule and stick to it. There is no boss to tell you what to do or when to do it. There is no pressure from being in competition with your co-workers.
I find this the most challenging part of being a freelancer. This is my bottleneck. My time management skills really suck. So I’m always on the lookout to learn better and improved strategies that can help me.
Even before becoming a freelancer, draft a solid business plan. Despite having all the information in your head, putting it on paper will force you to rethink certain aspects of your strategy. I always find this extremely helpful because I can easily come back to it later.
Just as having a long-term strategy is important, short term planning is also crucial. Allow yourself an hour or so every Friday to plan the upcoming week. Also, take a few minutes at the end of each workday to evaluate your progress and re-schedule if necessary.
I love lists and I can’t stress enough just how important they are. Prioritizing becomes so much easier when you have a to-do-list. Use colors to highlight each item according to its imperativeness. Shuffle tasks around and have it clear what needs to be done today and what can be done tomorrow. Don’t be shy to strike every job once you finish it. The feelings of accomplishment that come with it are tremendous and they will serve as a great incentive.
This will make it easier for you to reach the deadlines and plan how to spend your hours. Never ever make plans at the start of your workday. It will take too long and it will distract you from what’s important – getting new clients and getting the job done.
#4 Surround yourself with like-minded people
Just because you work from home, don’t isolate yourself. As a successful freelancer, you are an entrepreneur. You need to surround yourself with people that have a positive influence on you. People that can help stimulate your creativity. That will encourage you and help you get outside of your comfort zone.
Even if they might not understand all your challenges, friends and family will most likely support you. Talk to them. They might not be able to give you advice, but just putting your thoughts and worries into words can help you gain clarity.
As a freelancer, you are part of a global community. Look for freelancer meetup groups in your area. Or join a freelance online community. You can learn a lot from other people’s trials and errors. And you will feel motivated and encouraged listening to their success stories.
There’s a great deal that can be learned from others. And whenever the opportunity arises, pay it forward. Successful people help their peers and want them to succeed. They lend a hand whenever they can. And never burn their bridges.
#5 Remember to breathe
Once you become a freelancer, there’s nothing easier than slipping into having a hectic life. You might need to get it out of your system occasionally, but don’t make a habit out of it.
As mentioned before, you are both the greatest asset and the bottleneck of your small business. Staying fit and healthy is crucial because you will only get paid if you can deliver.
Remember to breathe. I know it sounds like a joke but think about it. When was the last time you simply stopped everything you were doing and took a deep, mindful breath? My point is, you need to take care of yourself. And breathing is vital. Start practicing yoga, learn a meditation technique. Allow yourself to relax. Enjoy the ride and don’t stress too much about money.
I often find myself so absorbed in my work that I forget to take five every now and then. But then it’s during those short breaks that the best ideas come to me. When you allow your brain to run rampant, more often than not your brain will end up surprising you.
As a freelancer, you will need to keep your creativity at a peak. Try to sleep at least 7 hours per night, eat a healthy diet and include exercise in your daily schedule. Stay hydrated and always have a bottle of water on your desk.
One of my favorite tips is to replace your office chair with a fit ball. This is such an inexpensive thing to do, it’s difficult to understand why it doesn’t become standard. The fit ball has a plethora of benefits, including improved posture and balance, it strengthens the muscle, and it activates the nervous system.
#6 Change your habits
Along with developing better organizational skills, changing your habits will help you not only to succeed but also to grow as a person.
Get rid of distractions while you are working. For starters, turn off the notifications. Never work with your email service opened in the browser or your eyes will run towards the little tab every few minutes to check if there are new messages. If you don’t have the peace and quiet you need at home, find an alternative, like going to the library and working from there.
Diversify your schedule. Unless you are in a race against time to beat a deadline, try to broaden the spectrum of activities you cover daily. Don’t get stuck performing the same task the whole day. Chances are your creativity will run thin after a while or you will get bored and perform poorly. Don’t fall into the same patterns over and over again.
Change the setting. Having a home-based office is wonderful. Being able to make money while comfortably seated on the sofa with your cat on your lap is even better. But freelancing is not all ponies and rainbows. There will be moments of despair. And writer’s blocks. You will feel stuck. Or unmotivated. Changing the setting can go a long way. Find yourself a nice coffee shop with a stimulating atmosphere and every now and then work from there. Or book some of your meetings outside of the house.
#7 Figure out why you do it
It’s not what you do but why you do it. Most people don’t get into freelancing because of the money, but because they love what they do and they are genuinely passionate about it. Freelancing is a lifestyle that comes with a lot of perks and plenty of freedom. But it also comes with worries and the need to continuously learn and improve yourself.
Build it and they will come is only half true nowadays. In this digital era, I can’t stress enough on the importance of having a blog. You need a corner of the internet that is yours. You need to have a letter of presentation. Your clients will want to see samples of your work before they hire you.
Start a blog even before you start freelancing. If you need to decide which platform suits your needs best, read this WordPress vs Blogger comparison I wrote not long ago. It highlights a comprehensive list of pros and cons and it will answer all your questions.
For many people, freelancing and making money with a blog go hand in hand. Make sure you write a compelling ‘about’ page where you describe in detail why you do what you do. Your blog is not only your letter of presentation but in many cases, it serves as an interview as well. In order to land a job, you’ll need to stand out from the crowd and be coherent. And a professional-looking blog can be your ticket to successful freelancing.
Never stop exploring your strengths, nor polish your weaknesses. Learn to stand on the shoulders of giants. There is so much literature that you can devour. Books that will help you think differently. Websites with fresh perspectives. This is the first time in the history of mankind when so many great ideas flow freely. Take advantage of them.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – A book from which anyone can benefit. The main idea is that it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset.
The 4-Hour Workweek – Learn how to escape the 9 to 5, live anywhere, join the new rich and outsource your work by hiring a virtual assistant.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – A business bestseller based on the premise that true success encompasses a balance of personal and professional effectiveness.
The Lean Startup – How today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives – Learn to harness the energy of habits to build a happier, stronger, more productive and more successful life.
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? A clear vision of what it truly takes to lead and inspire.