Freelancing can appear to be the perfect career: a completely flexible schedule, choice in projects, and working from home. Sounds like a dream, right?
But in order to be successful, freelancers must have a completely different set of skills from the typical on-site cubicle Hobbit that has a supervisor checking their every move.
As it turns out, total autonomy can be a double-edged sword, so before you put all your professional eggs into the freelancing basket, you should ask yourself if you have these traits:
This is the most crucial quality for a freelancer in any field, because instead of a boss hovering over you, you have client deadlines written on your calendar, and they aren’t nearly as loud. Since most freelancing transactions these days are done via the internet, Reddit and Pinterest addicts can let hours and sometimes days slip by with nothing to show clients. If you’re considering freelancing, get a system in place to avoid procrastination first.
- Personal Organization
Freelancing is typically the practice of juggling several projects for several clients simultaneously.
Once you start having multiple projects with overlapping deadlines, it’s folly to think you can keep track of everything in your brain. You will need some sort of organization system, either on paper or in the cloud. For example, I use an online project tracking site which allows me to sort all of my projects by deadline, so I have a ready-made to-do list each day.
- A Pleasant & Patient Attitude
Your clients are all different people, and they all have different styles of communication. Some are better at explaining what they want you to do than others; some you’ll actually like talking to and some you’ll dread having to communicate with. But when a client is not clear in their direction, the ability to write a pleasant-but-prodding e-mail or have a productive phone call will make all the difference between getting the job done and having to deal with an unsatisfied customer.
- Timely Communication
Clients want to see their freelancers on Skype or the IM client of their choice, even if they aren’t actually interfacing with them. When clients text or e-mail you, they want a reply sooner rather than later. Ask your clients how they prefer to communicate, and go with their system for the duration of the project.
Just remember to let them know your time zone and your availability times so expectations are clear. Though you should communicate regularly, you shouldn’t feel pressure to respond or be available all day and night either. If it’s an ongoing project, you may even want to set up a weekly or bi-weekly time to check in and update them on progress.
- Secure Portability
At a minimum, freelancers today must be willing to work on a late model, well-maintained computers customized for their line of work with a fail-proof system of backing up data. For example, consider storing clients’ projects in the cloud in both Google Drive and Dropbox.
Make sure you have access to those accounts on your laptop, phone, and tablet, and have at least one of those gadgets with you at all times. You may also want to invest in a quality, noise-canceling headset for taking client calls over Skype, and installing Skype on your tablet and phone in case you get stuck in traffic and need to get on a client call.
- A Love of Learning
With business of every sort so reliant on the internet, freelancers have to be in-the-know with the newest and biggest developments in the technology of business. If a client asks if you’re experienced in using a new software and you reply with “What’s that?” you’re probably not getting the job.
- Financial Management Skills
Instead of a regularly-scheduled paycheck from the Cubicle Lords, you will have to invoice clients on either a per-piece or hourly basis, depending on the terms of your agreement. This means you’ll have to know how to set prices for your work. If you’ll be paid hourly, you must then track your time on each client’s project, and have a system for billing each client.
These are all things you can work out before you start work, and there are many online resources that can streamline this process. You’ll also have to pay your taxes quarterly once you earn $1000 in earnings each year. It’s no fun, but it’s literally the cost of doing business as a freelancer.
The ability to earn a living without a boss is exhilarating, especially if you’ve spent all of your previous working life doing someone else’s bidding, but that exhilaration can cause some people to say yes to every client request that comes along, which can lead to working around the clock and yet always being behind.
You have to learn never to set a deadline with a client or take on a new project until you consult your calendar and make sure you can deliver what you promise. It’s also not a bad idea to overstate how much time you need, so you can deliver the project early and exceed client expectations – it’s a much better feeling than begging for extra time and earning a reputation for always being behind.
- Ability to Delegate
You don’t need actual employees to delegate your duties. For example, you may want to call on an accountant to help you keep your finances straight. And if you find that a certain element of a project you took on is out of your wheelhouse, consider outsourcing that part to another freelancer to make sure it’s done well.
When it comes down to the reality of full-time freelancing, it’s not for everyone. It’s a lot different than clocking in and out of an office and having someone oversee your work.
Being your own boss definitely has a lot of perks, but it comes with challenges as well. Before you commit to this type of work, make sure it’s the right gig for you.
About the Author: Alex Soare is the man behind ArtRise, a social networking site he dreamed up specifically for artists. As a professional opera singer, his goal was to give creative professionals more opportunities to connect with fellow artists from around the globe. He also enjoys sharing his passion and experience with others by contributing to a variety of online art and lifestyle publications. Learn more & create your own profile at http://www.artRise.com