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January 29, 2020

5 Tips for Freelance Success

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It may not have been what Robert Frost was actually referring to, but freelancing is definitely the "road less traveled by." Why does anyone actively choose to shun a guaranteed salary and standard of living in favor of a risky and sometimes tortuous path that doesn't always reward hard work in the expected manner? The base answer is found in the root of the profession itself: freedom.

For some, the risk-reward relationship of being able to set your own hours, choose and reject assignments at will, and value your services at whatever fee you can negotiate, far outweighs the drudgery of a stable 9-5. Furthermore, as many people have discovered in the last four years, there is no such thing as a "stable" job outside of what you can produce yourself. If you've discovered this about yourself, it sort of makes sense that you would choose to work as an independent entity, for yourself and your benefit, doesn't it?

Almost 50 percent of adults have seriously thought about owning their own business. It takes a special person to be a successful freelancer, and ironically, though the moniker seems to suggest otherwise, that person has to exercise excessive self control to actually earn a living from independent contracting. I've identified five things that are absolutely essential to the success of ANY freelancer, no matter what their product or service is.

1. Clearly define your goals.
Devote at least 30 minutes to writing down your goals, and not just your income goals. Why are you choosing to be a freelancer? Is your goal to kick the 9-5 habit, spend afternoons at your children's baseball games, or take 4 day weekends every week? Write these down first, and then turn your thoughts to the goals you have for your business. If you want to make $100k a year, take the time to define how it would be possible to achieve that. That takes roughly $8,300/month, or $2,100/week. How many contracts do you need to solicit to make that? Breaking these large goals down into small measurable goals will give you a clear understanding of exactly what it will take to reach them.

2. Actively manage your time.
This is one of the most important aspects of independent contracting, and often the one that leads to the failure of those who attempt it. It is so tempting to take an order and procrastinate on it until the last minute, because you know exactly how long it takes you to finish that product. However, should you ever be fortunate enough to have many people calling you for services, the mystery of vanishing time will catch up to you.

3. Never undervalue yourself or your services.
It is better to overvalue yourself and receive fewer contracts in the short term, than it is to undervalue yourself and have too many obligations in the long run. It seems counterintuitive, but consider this: in apartment leasing, 100% occupancy is sometimes an indication of property mismanagement because rents or qualification standards were set too low. A property manager could have charged more for rent and didn't, thus having failed their duty to provide the owner with the largest return on their investment.

Additionally, if you undervalue yourself and get a ton of orders, you will find yourself working for a pittance. I sometimes write articles as a volunteer, I sometimes write articles for $5, but if I'm spending an hour writing an article for $5, there is a disconnect between the value of my work and the value that I've placed on it.

4. Develop your skills continually.
This is simple and vital. You wouldn't want to see a doctor who graduated from medical school 30 years ago and has never learned about any of the advancements in medicine since then, would you? Why on earth would your customers want to engage a person in employment if their skills were antiquated?

5. Operate under a personal mission statement.
This refers back to number one. Your personal mission statement is defined as the comprehensive reason you are in business. That includes all of your personal and business goals, as well as your ethical and quality standards. Finally, it also includes your market value proposition: what makes you unique, or the person to hire above others?



With interests in both business and creative enterprises, Allyson balances her passions for writing, music and photography with her endeavors as an independent contractor in Austin, TX. She holds a BA from Northeastern University and a Master's in Musicology from the University of Oxford and plans to pursue an MBA in a year or two.

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David N.
May 11, 2011 - 8:44 pm
Also, what would be a good price for writing freelance stories?
David N.
May 11, 2011 - 8:44 pm
I totally agree with not underestimating yourself
May 9, 2011 - 1:18 am
In this still bleak economy I think I would love to have the freedom described. Partly because I could make my own work and partly because I want to set my own times. I am surely not a morning person! I agree with the don't under estimate yourself, partly in the reason that your time is valuable on't get to much for to little. No point in giving your stuff away free!
May 1, 2011 - 1:29 am
In college i definitely had to learn to manage my time. It seemed like I had an unlimited amount of free time but then I'd look at my calendar and suddenly there would be so much work and not enough time. I recommended getting a calendar that is large enough to write in to clearly see what is coming up. This also cuts down on losing potential business because you don't complete the project or you forget you had a project because you over booked yourself.
May 1, 2011 - 1:26 am
Do you really think it would be possible to make that much money a year freelancing? I feel like to make 100 thousand you would have to have so much to do, when are you going to have time to do it all? Certainly keep working to better your skills, this website has plenty of links for places that would help you get a chance to brush up your skills. The diversity of the sites would give you plent y of opportunities to help you learn new things.
Dean Freelance Copywriter
April 30, 2011 - 12:51 pm
Allyson, thank you for those tips. I've been freelancing for 10 years, and most of what you say makes sense. However, I'm not sure about no.3: 'Never undervalue yourself or your services.' I'm working in an unpredictable market. If I hit a quiet spell, and a client offers me a job where my usual rate is too high for them, I would be mad not to accept their lower rate - especially if I haven't got any other work to do - wouldn't I?
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