Freelancing is on the rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the freelance (contract, temp worker and freelancer — in all industries) economy has a healthy population of 15.5 million and is growing.
Creatives are seeking and establishing alternatives to traditional career paths. Freelancing – self-employment – beckons with the sense of freedom, no boundaries, no time clocks. That’s perfect for the creative mindset, right? A downside is that a freelance income is not guaranteed, and the independent creative is constantly looking for new clients and projects. As I put it, I am always marketing.
Freelancers choose independence for a variety of reasons. The ability to work when we want to, to create significant work, to have a variety of work, to choose who we work with, and to have the flexibility of mobility are common reasons. As independents, we have to create our own success. As many creative businesses fail at that as succeed.
You need more than talent
Successful soloists need not only talent, a solid portfolio of work and sensible business practices, they need particular intangible qualities as well. If you want to freelance, these are some vital attributes that you should develop:
#1 The ability to be self-disciplined and self-directed.
When you freelance there is no one supervising you. There is no place you need to clock in at any particular time. No one is looking over your shoulder. You are wholly responsible for your success or failure with a client, a project and your career.
#2 The ability to ask for help.
Recognize when you need counsel, and seek advice from successful people. Who do you know who is good in business? Who is good at sales? Who has strong people skills? What freelancing blogs and books are you reading regularly? There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. Connect with people who teach you how to be self-disciplined and self-directed.
#3 The ability to set realistic goals and follow-through on them.
Goals are not resolutions or dreams. They need to be specific, appropriate, scheduled, and measurable. Starting out, freelancers have dreams, and the current cultural mandate is to follow your dreams. But until you write them down, schedule them and start taking action, they remain dreams and you will not achieve them. Successful freelancers turn their dreams into goals, put them on their calendars, and get to work.
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#4 The ability to organize and strategize.
This is necessary when working with clients, but it’s also required for sustaining your business. The freelancer who develops systems and seeks to improve how they conduct business is the one who will be in business years from now. Did you get stiffed by a client? What policy and system will you establish in order to avoid that in the future? Did you miss a deadline? How will you manage your time and build in margin for the next project?
#5 The ability to work in solitude as well as with a team.
Freelancers need to collaborate with clients and with sub-contractors, and be able to work alone. The self-directed and self-determined qualities that entice us into freelance freedom need the third leg of self-discipline. We need to get as much done in solitude as in cooperation.
#6 A willingness to work hard.
Freelancing is a business which needs to be supported. In addition to the creative aspects, there is the bill-paying, insurance, taxes, licenses, copyright, contracts, client relations, marketing, estimating, planning, and scheduling. Although your time and how you work are up to you, you will be working more than 40 hours a week much of the time, especially early in your career. It takes a lot of effort to establish your freelance practice. Be willing to commit the time, but also balance work with home life. Look at how successful freelancers do this, and learn from them.
We learn more from our failures than from our successes. Don’t be afraid to fail.
#7 A willingness to fail.
We all fall down at some point. Starting a freelance business is a risk. If we are willing to risk it, we may fail. The idea is to fail forward, and use the failure as opportunity to regroup and reinvent. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. Do not be afraid to fail, and do not take it personally when you do.
#8 A willingness to put business decisions first.
When income is on the line, the quality of your business policies is more important than your creative freedom. If you make a priority of doing what is best for your business, you will position yourself to support your creative work. Balance creative development with common business sense, and put the emphasis on maintaining your business. Taking a day off for a plein-air painting session with your local art group is good, but if it impacts a project deadline, it’s a poor decision.
Balance creative development with common business sense.
You can develop all of these qualities. If you lack in one or more areas, don’t despair. An excellent way to develop these attributes is to work with a mentor for a season or two. A mentor can help you start out well, and also help you recover and regroup when you falter along the way.
Ultimately, freelancing is about choice, both in exercising the freedom to choose for yourself and in the ability to make right choices. It is not for a person who gives up easily or sees failure as permanent. We who freelance understand that no job is secure. We face the fear of insecurity every day and push past it. In doing so, we determine our own destinies. That’s where our efforts pay off.
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What has attributed to your success? What did you learn from a failure? Share your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you!