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The skills you need for a successful career in freelancing

The remote work boom induced — or at least accelerated — by Covid-19 has brought more interest to the world of freelancing. Freelance jobs are now considered a stable form of employment with an increasing number of opportunities for employees wanting to work from home. Freelancing also covers a wide range of industries, making room for just about everyone interested in making the switch.

Freelancing isn’t always easy, however. While anyone can certainly do it, a particular skill set is required to excel. The following list contains six of the must-have skills you should add to your repertoire to succeed at freelancing:

1. Time management

This will always be the No. 1 skill for freelancers. The beauty of freelance work is that you often get to work on your own timetable. You have deadlines to meet, true, but when you work on projects and assignments is up to you. Unfortunately, procrastination gets the best of everyone.

Good time management ensures that projects are approached in a timely manner and not left for the last minute. Pushing projects off in favor of video games will harm the quality of your work, making it more difficult to land jobs in the future. Manage your time well, and you’ll also be able to take on more assignments each week, leading to fatter paychecks.

Time management is also crucial for your mental health. You’re more likely to experience stress and dread when chasing tight deadlines and making up for lost time. Do yourself a favor, and start working on your time management skills today. This skill will help you even outside of freelance work.

2. Quick learning

As a freelancer, you’ll often be on your own. This means you have to be both the teacher and the student when there’s something that needs to be learned. A desire to learn is the first step toward expanding your freelancing boundaries.

You don’t have to have an IQ of 140 to be a successful freelancer. What you do need are good study habits and research skills. Being able to seek and digest information quickly will help you break down difficult tasks no matter your current skill level.

Look for ways to continue your learning. Online courses are readily available on nearly any subject on websites such as LinkedIn and Udemy. Even watching some professionally made YouTube videos can help you develop skills and acquire new knowledge.

3. Clear communication

You’ll have to keep track of a lot of names as a freelancer. You’ll work with numerous clients, each with their own requirements and their own timetable. Being able to communicate clearly with each of them will help ensure that the expectations of both parties are met.

Good verbal and written communication are crucial for effective freelancing. You need to be able to interpret messages and directions sent by clients over email. In response, any questions or comments you may have must be written clearly and eloquently. Being able to speak with a client over the phone in a professional manner will help you build a stronger relationship with them. That will lead to a successful first job and, hopefully, many more to come.

How can you work on your communication skills? Use every opportunity you can to practice. Have a wordsmith friend critique a few of your emails. Make sure you can transition from friendly banter with college roommates to a more professional tone with customers. Soon enough, effective communication skills will be second nature to you.

4. Sales and marketing

Unless you have a relationship with a single company, you’ll have to market yourself to the world in order to land jobs. This is perhaps the most difficult part of being a freelancer. When jobs are hard to come by, freelancers can get worried and panic. Good sales and marketing skills will make that less of a problem.

Marketing as a freelancer is simply a matter of getting your name out there. Social media and local advertising are also generally safe bets.

Next, work on your sales pitch. You need to be able to convince clients to pay for your services. Work on your elevator pitch; that is, a sales pitch you can give in the span of a minute. Oftentimes, this is all the time you’ll have to make an impression on the phone or during a networking event.

5. Accounting

You’re the boss when it comes to freelancing. You pick the hours, how many jobs you take, and — in many cases — how much you get paid. As the boss you have some responsibilities as well, such as personal accounting.

In order to make money, you’ll have to send out invoices and follow up if they aren’t paid promptly. Since you’re not an employee on a salary, you must keep track of your own income in order to submit your annual taxes. You’ll also have to budget for any materials and equipment you need to do your job.

Fortunately, you shouldn’t have to do any heavy calculating as a freelancer unless you plan to do your own taxes. Today, you can find a software solution for everything from invoicing to expense tracking. Put them to work, and you’ll be able to focus on producing top-notch work for your clients.

6. Goal Setting

Setting goals is a bona fide skill, one that the most successful people in the world rely on. Goals give you something to focus on and work toward. Whether it’s honing one of the skills mentioned previously or growing your business, you’ll get a lot further with goals than without them.

Most freelancers will start with money-related goals, such as landing X number of jobs in order to generate X amount of revenue. These goals are worth pursuing, as you need to work for a living. However, your goals can cover a whole lot more than that.

The best goal-setting strategy boils down to a common formula known as SMART. Your goals should be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-based. Apply this to the goal of getting X number of jobs. A set number will make it specific and measurable (e.g., three more than last month). Adding how you plan to get each job will make it actionable (e.g., reaching out to five former colleagues). It’s inherently relevant, so just set a deadline (e.g., the 1st of next month), and you’re all set for your first goal.

You don’t need to be an expert in all these skills to be a successful freelancer. You just need to put an honest effort at improving them each day. Whether you dive deep into freelancing or do some as a side gig, you’ll go a lot further by keeping your skills sharp.