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10 Essential Skills That All Freelancers Need to Master

by Marc Andre

There are countless different services you could offer as a freelancer, but there are certain skills that will be critical to your success regardless of the type of work that you do. 

The most successful freelancers aren’t always the best photographers, designers, coders, or writers. Being great in your primary area of focus is only part of the equation, and that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to run a successful freelance business. 

You don’t need to be a business expert, but you do need to develop some essential skills in order to keep your clients happy and keep things running smoothly.

Here are nine skills that all freelancers need. Fortunately, all of these skills can be developed. You don’t need to be an expert right now, but you should be working to improve in any of these areas where you struggle.

1. Communication

The most important skill for any freelancer is communication and there are so many ways that your communication skills will come into play, including:

  • Chatting with potential clients to answer questions about your services.
  • Asking the right questions to clients so you know what they truly want and need from you.
  • Clearly communicating what you have to offer and how you can help the client.
  • Setting clear expectations for yourself and for clients throughout the process of working together.
  • Handling feedback from clients.

There are many other ways that communication is important, those are just a few examples. 

Most freelancers tend to communicate with clients primarily by email or phone, rather than in-person, and this can present some other challenges. Communicating face-to-face is easier because you can use body language, but that’s not an option with phone or email.

Communication (and particularly tone) through email can often be misinterpreted, so you need to be careful about emails and be sure that you’re communicating effectively and not giving the wrong message.

2. Organization

Communication may be the most important skill for freelancers, but organization is probably a close second.

As a freelancer, it’s all up to you.

When you’re an employee, you probably have some established systems that you’re supposed to follow or procedural manuals that were developed to provide organization to your role. As a freelancer, you’ll be responsible for all of the organization.

Your organizational skills will impact how well you’re able to serve your clients, the experience that clients have working with you, and your ability to work efficiently.

It’s important to develop your own processes and procedures for staying organized and thankfully, there are a number of helpful tools and resources available. Bloom can help you to organize workflows, emails, scheduling, contracts, and more.

3. Time Management

In order to maximize your income, you’ll need to be able to manage your time effectively. Many new freelancers learn the importance of time management very quickly after some early mistakes.

Effective time management will allow you to accomplish more in less time and essentially earn a higher hourly rate since most of your jobs will probably be billed at a set fee instead of by the hour.

As a freelancer, there will be no boss looking over your shoulder to ensure that you’re working and staying on task. You’ll need the discipline to stay focused and work efficiently through the distractions that come with working from home or while traveling.

One of the best things you can do is work to limit and minimize distractions. If there are other people in the house when you’re working, be sure that you have an office in a room or space that has some privacy. Stay off social media, put your phone on silent, or keep the internet closed while you’re working to avoid unwanted distractions.

4. Problem Solving

Working for clients involves a lot of problem solving. You’ll need to remain flexible and use adaptive thinking in order to effectively solve the problems associated with your projects.

Depending on the type of work you’re doing, your primary service may involve solving problems of some sort (like using design or coding to create a solution for your clients). With any type of service that you could offer, unexpected problems and challenges will arise during projects.

The most effective freelancers are able to use problem solving skills to find the right solutions and ultimately to get the best results for clients.

5. Pricing Work

One of the big differences in working as an employee and working as a freelancer involves the need to price your own work.

As an employed graphic designer, you’ll be handed client projects and you’ll be paid a set salary or hourly rate for your work, but you won’t be responsible for determining how much to charge the client. As a freelancer, you’ll need to provide potential clients with a quote or estimate in order to land the work.

Learning how to price your work can be one of the biggest challenges for freelancers. Underestimate how much time you’ll need and you’ll wind up spending way too much time on a project and not making enough money. Overestimate how much time you’ll need and you’ll price the project too high and lose the work to someone else.

Most new freelancers tend to underestimate the amount of time needed for projects, so it’s a good practice to add some room for error to be safe until you’re more comfortable with the process. 

When you’re estimating the amount of time that you’ll need to complete the project, remember to account for things like the time needed for communicating with the client throughout the project, changes or revisions that may need to be made, and other necessary details aside from just completing the work itself. 

6. Selling yourself

In order to land work as a freelancer, you’ll need to be able to close the sale. That doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert salesperson, but you do need to be able to show clients what you can do for them and why they should hire you.

Selling yourself isn’t about being aggressive or pushy, this is really another point that comes back to communication. You’ll need to be able to communicate exactly what you’re offering and how it will meet the needs of your clients.

In order to sell your services, be sure that you’re focusing on the benefits to clients and what’s in it for them.

7. Networking

In order to have long-term sustained success as a freelancer, you should be working to build your professional network. There are so many different ways that connections can help you, including leading to more business.

Your network should include other professionals who provide the same service as you, those who provide complementary services, past clients, and potential clients.

There are any number of different ways that you can network both in-person and online. For online networking, LinkedIn can be extremely useful, and you can also find online communities that are very popular with people in your industry. This could include social networks, forums, and other community-oriented sites. For designers it could be Dribbble, for developers it could be Stack Overflow, and for photographers it could be Instagram.

As a freelancer, you should always be working to grow your network, but remember that networking is a two-way street. Aim to give more than you receive and you’ll have success with networking.

8. Setting Boundaries

One of the downsides to freelancing, or self-employment in general, is the difficulty of setting boundaries. This can apply to your own boundaries and finding some separation between personal time and work time, and it can also include setting boundaries with clients.

If you don’t set boundaries, you may wind up experiencing burnout or allow your work to eat away at the other aspects of your life. Setting boundaries can help you to achieve better balance and to enjoy your work more.

It’s a good idea to set and maintain regular working hours even though you have a lot of flexibility and can work whenever you choose. You don’t need to work traditional 9:00 -5:00  hours, but you should have a clear separation between the time when you’re working and the time when you’re off.

Setting boundaries with your clients is also important, and this goes back to the original point on the importance of communication. When you start working with a new client it’s important to set expectations so you’re both on the same page. Let the client know the different ways they can contact you, days/times when you’ll be accessible, and average response time that you’ll need to get back to them. Effectively communicating and setting boundaries can be the difference between peaceful time off of work and frustrated clients who want you to get back to them right away on the weekend.

9. Stress management

While freelancing can be a great way to earn a living, it doesn’t come without some stress. Dealing with an inconsistent income and the pressures of working with clients will surely create some stress at times, and you’ll need to be able to deal with it and manage it.

There are a lot of different methods you can use including yoga, mediation, exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, finding time for a hobby, and socializing with friends. Find a technique that works for you and put it into practice.

Several of the other points that we’ve already covered in this article will also help to reduce stress. For example, effective organization and time management will reduce the pressure of deadlines, communication skills can minimize stress caused by not being on the same page with a client, and problem solving will help you to deal with potentially stressful situations when they arise.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that creative skills are the only thing that matters for success as a freelancer. As we’ve seen throughout this article, there are plenty of other skills related to how you manage your time and run your business that will have a huge impact as well.

But don’t worry. Nobody is great in all of these areas when they first start out. Identify the areas where you need to improve and make an effort to get better as you go.

10. Taxes

If you’re earning income as a freelancer (part-time or full-time), you’ll be responsible for paying taxes on that income. When you’re working as an employee, the employer will withhold income taxes from your paycheck, but that’s not the case with your freelance income because there is no employer. 

You don’t need to be a tax expert as a freelancer since you can hire an accountant to help with the details or use an online system or tax software that will guide you in the right direction, but you do need to understand a few basics. 

The most important part of handling taxes as a freelancer is to set aside a percentage of your income to be used for taxes. The percentage will depend on the tax bracket that you fall into.

Another important aspect of managing your taxes is to file and pay quarterly estimated taxes, rather than simply waiting until you file your year-end taxes. Quarterly tax payments will be required in most cases because the government doesn’t want to wait a full year to get your tax payment.

If you’re looking for some guidance in the area of taxes, please see Freelancers: 7 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Filing Self-Employment Taxes, which also explains the difference between the self-employment rate and the W2 employee rate.

Which of these skills is the hardest for you to master as a freelancer? What would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments!

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