The modern age is a good time to be a freelancer. Upwork’s 2019 survey indicates that more than a third of the U.S. workforce operates on a freelance basis, generating nearly $1 trillion in revenue. Those numbers are only expected to grow in the years to come, as younger generations are more likely to work freelance. While the collective outlook may be great, it does imply increasingly stiff competition among individuals. So whether you’re turning to the gig economy for an additional income stream, or whole-heartedly embracing the flexible lifestyle it affords, here are some tips to help you discover your edge as a freelancer:
One common pitfall among freelancers, especially those just getting their feet wet, is to jump on every opportunity. This is understandable—gigs can be scarce, after all. But the last thing you want to do is over-promise and under-deliver. This can seriously damage your reputation in the long term.
A background in creative writing may leave you out of your depth in technical or research work, for example. Or you may be good at taking candid snapshots on your phone, but not posing models for a shoot. For various reasons, clients may have higher expectations than you can satisfy; the solution is to narrow down your field. Find a niche where you’re able to work on projects that maximize your skills and avoid exposing any weaknesses. This will also help you connect more consistently with the type of clients you’d actually like working for.
Deliver on the basics
Consider a field like law, which undergoes slow and incremental change—every practitioner can stay on top of that. Most lawyers don’t innovate in terms of the law itself. They offer excellent service, great relationships, and convenient services to make lengthy processes such as conveyancing more effortless for their clients. The same applies to the other extreme. Among freelancers, innovation and changing trends can be so rapid that it’s impossible to stay on top of changes.
What sets the most successful freelancers apart is not excellence; it’s the fundamentals. Consistently execute the basics: be courteous and prompt in your communications. Meet deadlines. Research potential clients as you would prepare for a job interview. That way, you have a better grasp of what they do and how they operate, and you can immediately raise any questions to be addressed sooner than later. In an industry brimming with skill, covering these fundamentals will earn distinction time after time.
Stick to your passion
Freelancing is like running a business in many ways. You’re essentially a one-man team; invariably, this means you’ll have to don the many different hats an entrepreneur also wears. Not an accountant? Too bad, you’ll have to run the numbers anyway if you’re going to make the effort profitable. The same goes for marketing, sales, and all other functions. If you don’t have a taste for those aspects of the job, freelancing becomes tougher than it has to be.
Your passion is what will keep you motivated and focused—not only when dealing with difficult clients, but when facing the grind of the work, particularly those tasks that aren’t exciting yet remain necessary to succeed. Ask yourself if you can keep this up five years from now. If the answer’s no, then it’s time to realign your work with your passion.
In the freelance economy, it’s expected that everyone is skilled and continuously learning to improve. By focusing on a narrow niche, delivering on the basics, and putting your heart into your work, you’ll stand apart from everyone else.