While freelancing has held appeal for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed it onto the center stage. With the workforce becoming more remote across industries, freelancing has become the answer for many. The independent workforce brought in $1.2 trillion in 2020, with 1 in 3 people in the U.S. workforce engaging in some type of freelance work.
A growing percentage of these independent professionals are also electing to leave their day jobs and freelance full time. Nearly 4 in 10 put their skills to work as exclusively independent professionals, an 8% increase over the rate of freelancers in 2019.
While the draw of becoming an independent professional can certainly be clear, a complete career change can feel intimidating. Many emerging independent professionals find themselves wondering how they can start a successful freelance career so that they can leave behind their full-time job for good.
Regardless of whether someone is interested in supplementing their traditional job or they want to run a freelance business full time, we’ve compiled seven tips to help guide independent professionals to achieve the freelance success they desire.
Employment independence: Advantages and anxieties of freelance work
Independent professionals are drawn to the freelance world for a variety of reasons. The lifestyle offers immense benefits, starting with independence. Those working for themselves and on their own schedule can work at the times that work best for them. Night owls can work into the late-night hours and let themselves sleep in the next day. Similarly, early risers can get major projects done over their first cup of coffee.
As a growing number of professionals face an increase of competing responsibilities during the pandemic—such as supervising distance learning for children attending school from home—this level of flexibility can make it much easier to maintain a critical work-life balance. For many professionals, the ability to work from home or anywhere else they feel comfortable can provide a strong draw.
Other professionals appreciate the potential to build stability for themselves. With many businesses forced to change their workforces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of stability has never been so clear. With a freelance career, professionals can accept projects for a variety of clients. This can enhance stability for many, as the loss of one client doesn’t equate to the loss of their entire income.
Of course, building a freelance career can present many challenges that make some professionals feel uncertain. After all, they have to find their own clients. They must also compete with other professionals for projects and make themselves stand out from the competition on every project they want to win.
Fortunately, there are strategies that independent professionals can use to find clients and build their workstream so that they can confidently move forward and seize the benefits of this career choice.
7 tips to achieve freelance success
With the growing number of independent professionals interested in building their client lists, we’ve compiled a list of seven tips. These ideas will help freelancers with all levels of experience to build their careers and carve out a niche where they can thrive.
1. Define your expertise and what you want to offer
When clients seek a professional to hire, they want a freelancer who has experience working in their specific industry. Although any freelance writer might be able to write about plumbing, for example, one who has written extensively on the topic will have the background needed to produce a higher-quality piece, and thus, someone businesses want to hire for their marketing campaigns.
Consider the type of freelance business you want to run. Know where you have completed work in the past. Consider the experiences and expertise you have and how that can help shape and mold your freelance career. Background knowledge or expertise in particular subjects, experience working with clients or companies in particular industries, or even certifications can make you an appealing professional.
If there are specific areas where you’d like to work, but you don’t have any formal experience or training, looking for certifications or learning experiences to add to your resume can also be beneficial.
2. Set your prices competitively and adjust as needed
It can be tempting for many new freelancers to undersell themselves when they first start, thinking it’ll help them build their client base. In actuality, you want to price yourself competitively based on your qualifications.
Remember that clients want to work with professionals that they can trust to manage the project confidently and with a high level of skill. Pricing yourself too low can hinder the confidence of potential clients in your skills. It can also set a low bar for professional rates with your clients.
Instead, look at your professional experience and expertise in the industry. Consider the types of similar jobs you’ve completed, the results you’ve produced, and the typical rates in your industry. Price yourself honestly when you bid on jobs or reach out to clients for work. When considering an hourly rate, look at what others make in your industry. If you need to set a rate for the overall project, calculate how many hours it will likely take you, including some time for revisions or communication with the client about the project.
As you move through your freelance career, remember that your experience will continue to improve. Therefore, you want to adjust your rates accordingly. As you build your portfolio and continue to prove yourself to clients, you can use this confidence in your skills to adjust your prices and ensure that you’re compensated fairly for your work.
3. Build your digital presence
In the modern world, so much is done online. Businesses post jobs online, and clients look for independent professionals online. Various digital platforms also make it easy to create a portfolio that demonstrates your skills and expertise for those interested in hiring freelancers in your niche. For example, on Upwork, professionals can create personal pages that highlight their past work and allow clients to browse available professionals and find those with the skills matching their needs.
You can create a strong digital presence on multiple platforms. In addition to building a portfolio on Upwork, you can also use social media to let people know about your freelance business. Build your LinkedIn presence and use it as an opportunity to connect with everyone, from your best friend to past professional connections.
Nurturing a strong network can provide you with leads for prospective clients and opportunities to let your professional experience shine. On LinkedIn, you can highlight your experience and expertise while also cultivating reviews that help you present a strong professional face.
4. Use online platforms to help you find clients
With an increase in freelancing across industries, web-based platforms help connect freelancers and clients. At the forefront of this sector is Upwork, which offers a work marketplace for thousands of independent professionals to showcase their skills.
Clients who require freelancers also know they can create accounts on these platforms to find the independent professionals they need. This gives them the convenience of easily collecting bids from different independent professionals in the right niche and easily viewing their portfolios and examples of past work.
However, for freelancers, the ability to access different clients looking for workers in their chosen areas and immediately bid on several jobs from a single site is invaluable. Professionals can build their client base and begin to experience the far-reaching benefits of the freelancing lifestyle.
5. Use contracts to clarify expectations
When you win bids or get assigned projects from a new client, the contract you put together can iron out expectations and help the job go as smoothly as possible. Communication plays a big role in the satisfaction of both the freelancer and the client.
In the contract, consider including language that details the precise expectations of both sides. For example, if you’re a freelance writer, consider how many revisions you’re willing to do before you add to your project rate. If the project will be paid hourly, make sure to outline guidelines for how time will be tracked and reported to the client.
Details, such as how the two sides will coordinate and communicate, should also be noted and agreed on. If you don’t like getting your workday interrupted by phone calls but do well answering emails rapidly, requests for email communication can be included in the contract. Other stipulations, such as whether the work can be used in a portfolio, should also be discussed defined. You can use a contract template to help you create an optimal contract. Make sure the final contract fits the needs of both parties before being signed.
6. Update clients regularly
Once you begin a project, update your clients regularly on your progress. Pay attention to the guidelines outlined in your contract so that you know if and when they expect key updates. For example, you may have written in the agreement that you would inform them when you reach important milestones.
Immediately let them know if anything changes with the project. If you find that you have to adjust the deadline or if other circumstances force you to reevaluate what you had previously agreed to, keep the lines of communication open. Share the reasoning behind the change and how you can manage it for them.
When you turn in the project, continue to nurture open communication regarding their satisfaction. As a freelance professional, you want to use all the opportunities available to build your client base and network. Knowing how well you met their expectations can demonstrate that you care about the client’s experience. This helps to build your brand and reputation.
7. Don’t be shy in requesting referrals
As you begin to acquire satisfied clients, be sure to request referrals upon completion of a project. Let your clients know that you want to build an outstanding business and that if they know anyone else looking for an independent professional to help them with work, you’re available. Since these referrals come from customers who have demonstrated that they appreciate your work, the recommendation will also carry more weight.
You can also ask your clients for reviews. These reviews can go on your portfolio, a personal business website, or even social media sites like LinkedIn. Like any small business, demonstrating that your brand is trusted can help you catch the eye of others looking for the same services.
A platform to empower your freelance success
As a freelance professional, securing your first client can be very exciting. Knowing what freelance clients want to see and delivering accordingly can help you take those first steps toward building a successful business plan and freelance career.
It can feel a bit overwhelming or intimidating to take those first steps toward a freelance career and away from a traditional job setup. Whether you want to be a marketer, copywriter, programmer, or anything in between, knowing how to build your startup and nurture a steady stream of clients will help you hit the ground running.
To get started, consider setting up your profile on Upwork and see how you can establish your portfolio and credentials, and immediately start bidding on jobs that will kick-start your path as an independent professional. Keep these seven tips in mind and secure your reputation as a successful, reliable freelancer.