I’ve been in publishing since 1987, have been a freelancer since 1993 and ran an editorial staffing agency in New York City from 1996 through 2004.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that successful freelancers, eg, those who make their living entirely from freelancing (writing, editing, copywriting, web design, etc.), have the following seven traits in common.
1. Write/design every day: Many freelancers are drawn to their particular career because they love it. They love to write, design, draw – whatever it is, they would do it for free.
Once they decide to freelance full time, most work at it every day. They write articles, design sites, doodle illustrations, etc. In other words, they don’t stop working on their craft just because there is no paying client.
Benefit to their career: These professionals always have a body of work to sell, show, update their portfolio with, etc. Beyond that, it keeps their skills fresh and allows them to work that much faster once they are being paid for a project.
As a personal example, when I first started to write articles to promote my business, it would take upwards of two hours to complete one. Now, I can knock one out in 30 minutes if I have to.
Side Note: I have run across more than a few freelancers who don’t exactly love what they do. BUT, because they like the life of freelancing, they discipline themselves to do what it takes, eg, (work at it steadily) to make a living at it.
2. Don’t wait for markets to come to them: Building on this first habit, when you are constantly churning out new material, you don’t have to wait for clients to come to you, you can pitch to them.
If you’ve written a great article on the benefits of yoga, why wait for a national exercise magazine to take months to get back to you. Pitch your local newspaper journalist who covers health. You’ll usually know within a week or two if they can use your story.
Your neighborhood paper can’t use it? Pitch the neighboring county’s newspaper, a popular e-zine dedicated to women’s health, a new health website that needs fresh content, etc.
Successful freelancers are this proactive. When I was recruiting, I was constantly amazed at the type of assignments successful freelancers were able to ferret out for themselves.
When I’d ask, “How did you get that assignment, come up with that idea?”, the comments ranged from, “I couldn’t sleep last night so I start doing some digging online because I just wrote this great article and wanted to get it published,” to “I was just doodling and came upon this great design; I knew it would make a great logo for this niche, so I put it on a t-shirt and pitched a few boutiques in my neighborhood …”
Successful freelancers are not only creative in their work, they’re creative in how they locate markets to sell their work.
3. Have more than one stream of income: By this, I do not mean that they have second jobs. Most successful freelancers do more than one thing.
For example, a writer may design a line of themed t-shirts with their witticisms on them. Illustrators, in addition to creating logos, may sell paintings or drawings. Web designers may also create online games.
I don’t know how many more brain cells creative types use than the rest of the population, but editorial and creative professionals usually dibble and dabble in more than one sector – and quite successfully I might add.
4. Have a niche: While this may seem to contradict the previous habit, it doesn’t. Most successful freelancers do one thing – and do it very well. Eg, they are a medical writer, a direct mail copywriter, a web designer.
This is because successful freelancers usually have a professional background in the discipline in which they freelance. Usually, they have built up a reputation and client list based on their expertise/experience.
Benefit to their career: This works well because once clients are comfortable with you on one level, you can approach them about doing other types of projects. In some cases, they will even approach you.
For example, if you are a web designer, you can approach a client about doing some logo design work. Most web designers are familiar with other tools of the trade like logo design software, that makes it easy for them to offer peripheral services to clients.
In the retail trade, this is known as upselling. BUT, you can only upsell if you have established a level of trust and professionalism in your base (niche) skill.
5. Have a website: Without fail, all successful freelancers have at least a basic website. They realize the need to present a professional image to clients and have invested in an online presence.
Every once in a while, I am still asked by those just starting out if they need a website. Invariably, I ask, “Would you do business without a telephone?” I think websites have progressed to this point.
Benefit to their career: Websites save freelancers time – which is at a premium if you are a successful freelancer. You can direct potential clients there to see samples of your work, get pricing info, your professional credentials, your client list, etc. Many times, this is how clients will find you to begin with.
So, is having a website a must to succeed as a freelancer? In my opinion, absolutely. And, it doesn’t have to be fancy and cost a fortune. Most web surfers are seeking information.
A basic site will serve your purposes just fine. Just make sure it is professional looking, is easy to navigate, is free from grammatical errors and has your contact info on every page (or a “Contact Us” button on every page).
6. Are savvy & consistent marketers: Revisiting habit three, successful freelancers are masters of marketing their services. They have to be.
When you are a freelancer, you have to remain hungry – for the next assignment, the next gig. By being proactive and consistent marketers, successful freelancers don’t wait for one project to be done before looking for the next one.
To this end, these professionals use many marketing tools (free and paid) to get the word out about their business, eg, search engine optimization, article marketing, press releases, e-book giveaways, speaking engagements, seminars, workshops, etc.
In other words, successful freelancers treat their careers like a start-up business – which is what freelancing really is.
7. Put in much more than 40 hours/week: Face it, you may be able to go to the grocery store at 2pm when everyone else is stuck in an office, but you probably didn’t log off until 2am, finishing up a project for a client who needed it at the last minute.
Freelancing is not a static career. Sometimes you will have weeks with nothing to do and then you will get slammed with three or four projects at once. It’s some type of weird Murphy’s law at work.
Projects never come when you want or need them too. They invariable come at the most inopportune time (eg, when your kid is sick, when YOU’RE sick, two days before vacation, on a Friday afternoon and needed by Monday).
So, while you may be able to work in your jammies – you may also not be able to go to the beach, hang out with your friends as much, take the afternoon off. Like anything in life, it’s a trade-off (a worthwhile one in my opinion).
Just know, while your time may be your own, it will be on an unconventional schedule.
© 2000-2050, Yuwanda Black. Yuwanda Black is the publisher of InkwellEditorial.com: THE business portal for and about the editorial and creative industries. InkwellEditorial.com offers first-hand freelance success stories, resume tips, editorial e-courses, advice on the business of freelancing, job listings and much more!
Article Sponsor — To start home business has become very easy after the advent of internet. All you have to do is to get some web space. One thing one should take care of is to buy domain from the best web hosting company as it will affect the traffic of the website. Once you are online you can promote your website by direct marketing techniques.