Business development 20 October 2017

How to become a successful freelancer

Becoming a successful freelancer means continuously developing and investing in yourself
Becoming a successful freelancer means continuously developing and investing in yourself

Writing for Business Advice, Jason Powell, chief executive of mortgage advisor CMME, helps independent professionals to thrive by offering his expert tips for becoming a successful freelancer.

  1. Leaders learn

First and foremost, think like a leader. Leaders are continuously learning, evolving and adapting in the corporate world and I would urge any freelancer to do the same and think and behave like a leader.

When you first take the plunge to go freelance, you will have done so by recognising that you have the skills that will add value to your clients’ businesses. However, that will change over time – technologies change, people change and markets change so it is important to continue to develop yourself and your skills to keep abreast of any changes or you could risk losing clients.

Professional and personal development is a must to operate at the cutting edge of whatever job you do and will help to broaden your skills and your offering. Complacency is a no-no if you want a fruitful freelance career so it is vital that you continue to learn and invest in developing yourself. It will pay off.

  1. Planning is key

Developing a plan that has some specific goals will help you to prioritise your time. Ideally, put together a plan to help you focus on the short term, the medium term and the longer term. Having a “to do” list is important for everyday tasks and will give you a good steer on what you need to get done, particularly as many freelancers have to manage several projects at once.

It is also important to have a plan on where you see your business and freelance career in 12 months’ time. Apps that can help with planning include “Things”, “Trello” and “Elegantt”.

  1. Discipline is essential

Achieving a work-life balance is the holy grail for all freelancers and cannot be underestimated. However, if you work from home it might be difficult to establish a healthy work-life balance as both work and life happen in the same place and the boundaries can become blurred.

It is important that you develop good habits from the outset and having a structure to your day will help. Getting up early and establishing a routine will serve you well and help to focus the mind.

Daytime TV and Facebook can all work to distract you from getting on with the job so it is important to be disciplined. But just as self-discipline is important, it is also important to discipline your clients. You might want to consider setting contact hours. If a client gets used to you emailing back at midnight, they’re going to expect that as the norm. If you make it clear from the offset that you work between nine and five, you can set clear boundaries and really switch off from work.

It is vital to create structure when you haven’t got a boss breathing down your neck and it is all too easy to put things off. Working nine to five will help you to sync with your clients too. And putting in a bill at the end of the job should be enough to focus the mind – if you haven’t done the work you won’t be able to invoice.

  1. Knowing your market is vital

Without clients and customers, you have no business so it is vital that you know who you are selling your services or goods to from day one. Meeting people is fundamental to the success of any business.

In today’s era of social media and networking sites it is easy to think you are always connected at the push of a button. However, the personal touch is a key part of any networking strategy and meeting face-to-face and exchanging business cards will expand your network and open up your relationships. And that network will bring referrals.

  1. Managing your energy is crucial

One reason people opt to go freelancing is for the flexibility but managing that flexibility is hard when you are keen to make a success of working for yourself. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy they say and over-prioritising work with no social life is pointless and taking too much time off is equally as pointless if you want to establish a long and healthy freelance career.

Find a way to manage your energy so that quality time is spent at work and on work but you also enjoy a healthy amount of time not focusing on work – people often get their best ideas away from their desks.

In his TED Talk, Shawn Achor shares The happy secret to better work, which will help you find a way that works for you.

Author Tim Ferris’ book, Tools of Titans, looks at the habits and routines of highly effective people, whilst Simon Sinek, through his Start with Why book, helps any freelancer to be clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Jason Powell is CEO of CMME, a specialist mortgage broker for independent professionals

Read our five-step guide to starting as a freelancer

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