Maybe you’re an expert in your field, with a huge portfolio of work to share with prospective clients. But do you have what it takes to start a freelance career?
Freelancers are more than just experts in their industry. They’re self-motivated, talented project managers, and expert communicators. As a freelancer, you do it all.
Obviously, the hard skills that you need vary by industry. The skills that a freelance writer needs are going to be quite different than the skills you need as a freelance coder. But to be a successful freelancer in general, there are a few soft skills you can’t live without.
1. Time Management
Everyone dreams of being their own boss. When a deadline is approaching and you haven’t started a project yet, you’re going to realize that being externally motivated has some perks. Being able to effectively manage your time means leaving enough room in your schedule to get a project done well, and then using that time wisely each day.
Time management also means not taking on more than you can handle. Especially as your freelance business grows, it can be tempting to say yes to everything. But if you find yourself missing deadlines because you've bitten off more than you can chew, you're not doing your freelance career any favors.
2. Setting Boundaries
Learning how to set boundaries is an important part of any person’s career development, but it’s especially important for freelancers. When you work on a contract basis, time is money, and clients that don’t respect your time are a huge liability. Learning how to set boundaries is a soft skill that will save you headaches for years to come, and you’ll need to handle changes in:
- Phone calls
- Pay rates
- Turnaround time
To meet your brief, you need to listen to your clients – not just during the initial meeting, but at every phase in your project. Practicing active listening will save you time and ensure that your clients feel appreciated. Listening is also important when it comes time for constructive criticism. Addressing the areas where you need to improve, rather than shutting out the critique, will only help you grow your freelance career over time.
If you currently freelance, you already know that your email inbox gets flooded with messages, work-related or not. Freelancers are constantly communicating with clients about projects, pitching new work, talking to people in their network, and making referrals. Embracing this soft skill is vital because it will keep you from navigating miscommunications that could have been solved with a well-written email.
Creativity doesn’t just mean being artistic. It means being a creative problem solver. The most successful freelancers can come up with creative solutions in their niche, and even create new work with current and prospective clients by sharing those solutions. Creativity can also help you develop innovative solutions to boost your own freelance business.
It should come as no surprise that freelance work requires flexibility. When you do contract work, your days don’t look the same. Some days you may work longer hours, while other days might be shorter. Be flexible as clients change their needs mid-project and prepare to lose or gain clients at unexpected moments.
7. Growth Mindset
If you want your freelance business to grow, you need to be able to look ahead, find the gaps in your current skill set, and invest in your professional development. Professional development looks a bit different for a freelancer because it’s not built into a pre-set job description. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Cultivating a growth mindset and investing time and energy into your own learning is a vital part of becoming a successful freelancer.