10 Steps to Becoming a Better Freelancer


Millions of designers, writers, and web specialists choose the freelancer path, many of whom compete with one another for work. Office employees envy the freelancer lifestyle, but the truth of the matter is that a freelancer must exert extreme dedication, innovation, and hustle if they want any chance at making a living. It’s a job that demands great work on a steady basis, and that’s no easy feat.

So how do you make yourself a better freelancer, especially one that stands out among the competition?

Know your limits

As a freelancer, it’s imperative that you understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. You want to play to your strengths as much as you can and work on improving your weaknesses whenever you have the spare time. A freelance writer shouldn’t take web design gigs if they aren’t adept at it, just as a freelance designer shouldn’t try to write an article if they hate writing.

Update your portfolio

A freelancer’s portfolio is often a more valuable selling point than their resume. The portfolio provides the means for you to boast your previous work to potential clients, so take advantage of the opportunity to strut your stuff. Only your best, most craftily thought out pieces should go in your portfolio. To include any “standard” work would just be a waste of time.

Branch out

To be a freelancer you have to be assertive—even pushy—if you want to survive. You won’t magically get a new assignment every day as you would in a typical office environment; you have to work for it. On the web, that means gaining visibility among potential clients through various social networks. In my experience, Twitter and Pinterest have been a great resource for freelancers looking to expand their clientele and share their work with the public.

Sell your skills

It’s not enough to follow people on Twitter or pin screenshots of your work on someone’s pin board. You have to really sell your skills if you want potential clients to take notice. I find that it’s best to target companies and services that are looking for outside work rather than sending messages to any business that fits your niche. Personalize your pitches to these potential clients, and make them feel that their business will be better off with your work. Have confidence in yourself!

Give yourself a refresher course

Occasionally you’ll have clients that ask for seemingly archaic services (outdated programming, late 90’s website interface, the use of MS clipart), or they might ask you for work that puts you out of your depth. To prevent either scenario, I recommend taking a refresher course in the basics of your craft in order to stay sharp. It could be as easy as reviewing a style guide, or as in depth as taking some free online classes on design. All that matters is that you stay fresh and ready to face obstacles.

Make each project stand out

Sometimes you’re working on so many similar projects that it’s hard to remember what distinguishes one from the other. When you’re swamped with work, it’s tempting to write every article in the same style or design every page with the same color scheme. But adopting a middle of the road aesthetic won’t do you any favors; you’d be much better off treating each project as if it were the last one you’ll ever work on. After all, each fantastic project you complete is just another chance to get more business.

Cut ties with toxic clients

Some people just don’t have the right professional chemistry to have a healthy work relationship. If you have a client that constantly harasses you with questioning emails, or one that constantly doubts your billing methods, for example, you might want to reconsider whether or not it’s worth working for them. Work is work, but there’s a limit to the nonsense that a professional freelancer should tolerate from their clients. If a client is keeping you up at night with their aggressive behavior, you might be better off without them.

Consider all new work requests

In this economy, you can’t be picky about who you work for. That advice might sound like it contradicts what I said before, but I’m talking about passing up work because you don’t want to do it for professional reasons. You might not want to do work for a certain website because it supports a political party you oppose, or because you don’t see yourself ever using a client’s product. But the fact of the matter is that you need new projects in order to put food on your table, so you might want to reconsider turning your nose up at those projects you think to be beneath you.

Streamline your financials

There are safer and more effective ways to keep track of your billing and invoicing than by using a rudimentary Excel spreadsheet. There are tons of (free) apps and reasonably priced software tools that are designed specifically with a freelancer in mind.Look into expense and invoice management software for tools that make invoicing easy and expense tracking effortless.An invoicing service can help you cut loads of time usually spent figuring out which client owes you money and which doesn’t.

Have the next few projects planned

Above all, you need to make sure that you always have new work on the horizon. Do your best to keep a few projects in the pipeline at all times so you never find yourself twiddling your thumbs wondering what to do next. There should always been some work to be done—that’s the beauty of freelancing. Your work is never done, but you get to tackle it at your own pace.