There are a lot of reasons being a freelancer is a flexible, fun, and creative way to make a living. From choosing your own clients and projects to setting your own schedule and time off, freelance life offers professional freedom that is nearly impossible to find in a normal corporate setting.
However, freelancing is only beneficial and secure as a professional choice if you approach it the right way. From finding clients and potential contracts to successfully completing the work on a particular job, the most successful freelancers follow some common best practices and principles in order to keep busy and continue to drum up future work.
So what are the best tips for being a successful freelancer? Now that you have developed your own programming skills, how can you find clients, get yourself hired, and ensure that more clients are waiting in the wings? Here are some of the best tips for being a successful freelancer to follow:
Establish Your Own “Brand” Before Searching for Work
While freelancers are usually self-employed or an “office of one”, that doesn’t mean that branding and a professional image aren’t important. In fact, the reverse is true - with so many freelancers looking for work, companies will often gravitate toward freelancers with polished digital resumes, trustworthy references, and ideally an established work history and positive reviews.
However, even if you are beginning your freelance career with no prior experience, there are a few easy ways to create a professional presence or personal brand before you start looking for work. You should:
- Review your own online presence (both social media platforms and what a Google search of your name returns). You will want to scrub any public profiles of unprofessional or casual images or posts. A better idea may be to keep all social media accounts private.
- Create a “digital resume”, either through LinkedIn or the tools of specific freelance networking sites like Upwork. Treat this the same way you would a paper resume - you should include all relevant education and work history, skills, and updated communication information.
- Consider creating a personal freelancer website, which can give you more space to feature previous projects (or a portfolio)
Be Smart About the Projects You Apply For
Once you’ve established your presence, it’s time to go find work! While there are a variety of sites that can connect freelancers and clients, a common new freelancer mistake is to apply for everything, without considering whether the jobs are actually a good fit.
While freelancing relies on getting hired, one of the best methods for establishing a successful freelance career is to use each job as a stepping stone toward better opportunities in the future.
So what should you look for in your initial jobs? What kinds of opportunities are good for a new freelancer?
- While clients specifically seeking new freelancers often pay low rates, these types of clients are also the most willing to be patient with a newbie and help them learn. While you may be a little disappointed with the return for your work, the opportunity to learn how to collaborate with clients, receive feedback, and deliver good work is important for your longer-term career.
- Resist the urge to take on massive projects as a new freelancer - a single giant project with one client may pay well, but you won’t build up a work history and references from a variety of clients that may pay off better later in your career.
- Keep an eye out for clients who offer the opportunity for recurring work or consistent project needs. Developing a few reliable clients who have consistent needs for your work is a great way to ensure a monthly baseline of work and add stability to your freelancing career.
Always Be Professional
This sounds like common sense, but sometimes freelancers working from home lapse too much into the comfort of being outside an office and professionalism can suffer. This is not a good method for keeping clients satisfied with your work and willing to recommend you in the future. Consider these basic ground rules for “digital professionalism” as you communicate and collaborate with clients:
- Establish clear guidelines for communication and follow them consistently. Choose a preferred communication platform, method for delivering or submitting work, and clear daily or weekly “schedules” so clients can reliably know when you are on the clock or off the clock at home.
- Make sure to listen to and incorporate client feedback whenever it is given to you. While clients may at times misunderstand the work you’ve done or give you feedback that is unexpected or confusing to you, they are the reason you have work to do. Respect their wishes and opinions and do your best to meet those expectations with revisions.
- Always lean towards being overly formal when communicating with clients, no matter how casual they may seem. While web companies may pride themselves on avoiding the restrictive environments of brick-and-mortar offices, you don’t want to come off as too casual or informal or misread a client’s expectations of their freelancers.
Constantly Expand Your Skill Set
Early in your freelancing career, you’ll experience a lot of rejection, no matter how much you’ve learned about coding and how well you follow these steps above. The simple fact is that many clients will prefer trusted backgrounds and clear experience, so you’ll be in a tough spot when many clients choose their freelancers.
But don’t get frustrated or discouraged by these rejections - instead, examine what the clients were looking for and what different skills you could add to your “coding toolkit” to make yourself a more attractive hire.
Build, Maintain, and Nurture Relationships Throughout Your Career
While many freelancers think of a career as a way to work alone and avoid traditional office settings, being an effective networker is perhaps even more important for a freelancer than it would be a traditional corporation. While platforms exist for finding clients and bidding on freelance projects, the best method for getting future work is still through referrals and recommendations.
So how can you build your own network of clients ready to recommend you to their peers or connections?
- If you use a platform for connecting with clients, make sure to leave reviews (and politely ask clients to leave you reviews) to ensure that every job you complete, big or small, is added to your work history and helps establish your credentials.
- Connect with clients through LinkedIn or other professional outlets, to stay in touch and be notified if they switch companies (and thus, may have new project needs)
- If clients tell you to reach out in the future about content needs, do so but do so logically. You don’t want to pester clients every week for any new projects, but instead contact them seasonally to ensure they still keep you in mind but you don’t drive them crazy.
- If you choose to create your own developer website, ask clients after successful projects if you can feature their reviews of your work or even the work itself as part of a professional portfolio.