I’ve been freelancing full-time for the last 4 years. It worked, and then it stopped working, and then it worked some more, and then I almost lost my car. For the past years though I devoted 100% of my time to freelancing and things are now steadily good. I have a good and reliable income, I love what I do and I can see myself doing this for a long time.
The truth is, nobody teaches you how to get from $5 projects to a good income which allows you to pay rent, a car, dinners and travels. This is why I thought it would be a great idea to tell you about the 10 things that I’ve learned over the past 4 years which have improved my freelancing, from writing to finding clients and keeping them close.
These are all tried techniques, not jibber-jabber you find online. I didn’t get them for a book, a forum or one of those crazy expensive courses. They are my findings after tons and tons of failures, months of misery and panic and a lot of despair. I’m simply sharing them because I hope you’ll find some value in them and you won’t have to go through the stuff I went through.
1. Treat yourself as a business
“If people are not laughing at your goals, your goals are too small” — Paul Valery
This is the first mindset you’ll have to make friends with in order to take yourself seriously, and then to be taken seriously by your clients. If you don’t believe in yourself as the owner of your business, with all its ups and downs, you’ll never be able to take it to the next step. You’ll forever stay at the “gig” level of things.
Being your own boss might sound easy but it’s not because, most of the time, you won’t want to push yourself that extra mile in order to actually make it big. You’ll be too gentle with yourself and in the long run, it translates into a pseudo-business that will not even pay your bills. Treat yourself as a business and always aim for profit, productivity and reaching new goals.
2. Invest back into your business
“It’s not your salary that makes you rich, but your spending habits” – Unknown
Whenever you can, you have to invest back into your business. The more you do that, the more you will grow. Regardless if we’re talking ads, websites, content, anything that you might have to do, you have to invest at least 25% of your income back into the business. This is the only way you can grow your online brand and score on new clients.
I paid about 70 bucks to get my website on its feet. I also pay $20 a month for hosting services and maintenance, and thus far, I earned that money back in spades. I get at least two or three job proposals from the website every month, which is amazing considering I paid zero dollars on advertisement until now.
3. Build a brand around yourself
“Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room” — Jeff Bezos
Building a brand is not easy. Companies pay millions of dollars to have agencies build a brand around their products. But you are a freelancer, and you are short on money. If this is the case, building the brand around yourself must be done with few resources, but a lot of inspiration.
You build a brand around yourself by being nice to every single client you have or might have. By doing the best work you can possibly do, every single time a client agrees to pay you for a job. By delivering on time. By having an easy-to-read profile and website. And, most importantly, by being consistent. Pleasant. Relaxed and well-intended.
4. Manage your time seriously
“Either run the day, or the day runs you” — Jim Rohn
Time management is key when you are a freelancer. The “oh, I’m a freelancer, I can do work whenever I want” ideology doesn’t work. Trust me. I myself have a daily schedule that I follow to the minute. I wake up and after breakfast, I write a list of the tasks that I have to take on that day. When I’m away, I usually modify this schedule but, when at home/at the office… never!
First and foremost I start with the easiest 3 tasks and have to be done with them by lunch. Task 1, Task 2, Blog article, for example. After lunch, I take on one or two tasks that are harder. This might work for you the other way around, but I found it works better for me this way. Manage your time accordingly, scheduling tasks as you are more productive on them.
5. Learn upon your skills every day
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” — J.F. Kennedy
I’m a writer, which is an objective thing to do. This is not math or engineering, where you follow a set of specific calculations in order to create something. Writing changes every single day. Which is why, to stay on top of things, I always learn more and add value to my skills. I always read, then read some more. I always write, and then edit, and then review some more.
The truth is, if you’re just an average writer, you’ll never be able to earn enough money to be comfortable with your income. You can do just fine, but people will never come back for more. You have to be great at what you do, and you can only be great by learning more and more, every day. The more you learn about your craft, the more people will see your value.
6. Use whatever professional tools you can
“First we build the tools, then they build us” — Marshall McLuhan
I use Grammarly to make sure every single text that I send to my clients is spotless. This is just one of the amazing tools that are free and available on the web for writers, for example. Sure, you might be a designer or a web developer, but each domain comes with its fair share of professional tools that will help you towards a better than expected product. Use them wisely.
7. Never take more work than you can handle
“Don’t be busy, be productive” – Unknown
This rule, if applied correctly, is the money maker. Less is always more, especially in the freelancing world. I myself now have only 3 main projects that I work on. These 3 projects count for 91,5% (yes, I’m very strict with numbers) of my income, which is more than enough to live a great life and afford the occasional vacation anywhere in Europe and beyond.
If I were to take more than one other big project, I’d be unable to do my job. Not right away. I’d slowly overwhelm myself and then, you guessed it, I’d start delivering mediocre products for my clients. And those clients would notice and immediately break the bonds with me.
You don’t have to take in a lot of work at one time. You just have to take the appropriate amount based on your time management skills, just as much as you feel comfortable with. Don’t worry if the offer is too good for you to turn it down. Be brave, turn it down! Say “no” to it, if you know you can’t do a proper job on it.
8. Always talk nicely to your clients
“Talk is cheap. Words are plentiful. Deeds are precious” — H. Ross Perot
The client is not always right. That’s universally true. I had one client that knew squat about English, wrote back to me with more grammatical errors than I can handle at one time, and left me a 3/5 review for my work on Upwork. And still, I talked nicely to him because that’s what you do. In order to thrive in the freelancing world, you need to keep the disputes rate at zero.
The reviews come and go. People who hire you will only do so if they feel like you and them “click” on some level. They’ll briefly look at your review score but if they don’t like you as a person, they will look for somebody else. The most important thing to do is to talk nicely with every client. It’s your only rule that you cannot change for anyone’s benefit
That client that gave me a 3/5 rating rehired me for a project 10 times larger than the original one. I went through with it, he left a 5/5 stars rating and we are now on our way to a third project together. It’s the same guy. He probably was under the weather that day. Things happen.
9. Search for new clients regularly
“Having great clients is the key to investment success” – Unknown
The most important thing in freelancing is to not panic when you see that you don’t get any returns on your pitches. Maybe they’re not that good, and you need to work on them. Maybe the clients simply look for someone else, and that’s fine. Maybe that wasn’t the project for you.
In freelancing, the hardest part is to find the right clients. This is why you need to search for new clients regularly. You can do it on one of the freelancing platforms, or by cold emailing, direct pitches and so on. Regardless of how you do it, never give up.
If you send out 10 pitches, and only 2 clients reply back, that’s a good 20% response rate and you have 2 real chances of scoring two new clients. That’s amazing in any business giving that you’ve paid zero bucks for these valuable leads. From there one, it’s all up to you to show your best marketing skills and convince the client that you’re the right fit for his project.
10. Always leave them wanting more
“Be so good they can’t ignore you” — Steve Martin
Clients come and go. It’s up to you to make them want to stay a little longer. I myself always ask my clients if there’s anything I can do to add some more value to their work or project. In roughly 50% of the time, this turns into more work from that particular client. That’s a great margin for 2 sentences, right?
This is how I managed to keep two of my very first clients with me for years. If you present yourself not as just another freelancer but as an addition that’s indispensable to the client’s business, then that’s how you’re going to be perceived. It’s like in show business, you always want to leave them wanting more. And guess what? They’ll come back for more!
Hi! My name is Gabriel, nice to meet you.
I run Gabriel Iosa Writing Services, my online dream business that’s now 4 years in the making. I’ve also worked as a journalist for 9 years and counting. My job is to come up with the best content for you regardless if it’s for your blog, website, book, social media posts or anything else. I can also help you with organic or paid reach so that you can put your products or services right in front of your future clients.
If you enjoyed this article, shoot me an email with a few details about your project. We’ll take it from there.