Anyone can start a freelance business. However, it takes hard work, motivation, and dedication to be a successful one. It’s why so few freelancers turn their side hustles into full-time jobs. Some do, though, and so can you.
You might be thinking, what makes this guy so sure? I became a freelance writer in 2020 when my brick-and-mortar business went south because of the pandemic. No violins—it’s the best thing that ever happened.
Since then, I’ve written over 400 published posts and moved to a small Italian island off the Amalfi coast. I spend my free time with my son Luca, mostly snorkeling in the warm Ligurian sea looking for octopuses. Not to eat, of course, to admire.
It took hard work getting here and I’ve learned many lessons along the way. Some I had to learn through trial and error, others from freelancers I admire. So I’ve compiled 13 tips that can help you be a successful freelancer, too.
A successful freelancer means different things to different people. For some, it’s paying off debts, spending time with the kids, and early retirement. For others, it’s driving a Bugatti down the Amalfi coast.
But for many of us, success means earning enough from our freelance side-hustle so we can go full-time, kissing our day jobs au revoir. That’s what it was for me.
You probably have your own definition of success and that’s cool. Just make sure you know what it is because it’ll keep you going when times are tough. It’ll also drive you to become a successful freelancer. That and my following tips, of course.
Italian islands, cafes, and snorkeling aside, freelancing is a serious business. So are your future clients about who they’ll hire.
You must promote your expertise because clients want freelancers who have experience in their industry and bring value to their business.
For example, I’ve experienced running construction and landscaping companies, guest houses, e-commerce, and selling on Amazon and eBay on numerous continents. I can apply my past expertise to my current job; I’m doing it now. Given my background, pitching for jobs writing about health food or personal finance wouldn’t make sense because those aren’t my areas of expertise.
To attract your ideal clients, consider your experience and expertise and how you can use it to bring value. Consider things like employment, certifications, past client recommendations, or successful projects that you can use to show prospective clients that you’re the freelancer they need. List everything you’ve got because you’ll use it later in your marketing.
Many new freelancers set their prices low to land their first clients. But if you compete with other freelancers on price, you could enter a race to the bottom. Offering the lowest price can make prospective clients suspicious and undermine your perceived value.
Most clients aren’t looking for the cheapest freelancer (avoid those that are); they’re looking for the best and many will judge you based on your rates.
A better approach is to price relative to your skills and experience. First, price your service relative to the going rates for your experience level and niche. You can find those on websites like Payscale, Glassdoor, Clippings, and Payoneer. Then adjust your price to match as you gain experience and build your portfolio.
The freelance market is very competitive, so you need strategies to stand out from the crowd and present yourself as the go-to freelancer. Here’s where branding helps. Look at the top freelancers in your niche. What do they have in common? Yup, top-class branding.
Those freelancers use branding to promote their services, engage their target audience, and create a consistent online presence. Here’s how can do the same thing:
With 59 million freelancers in the U.S. alone and a further 1.1 billion worldwide, you might think it’s impossible to think of original branding. And you’re probably right! Fortunately, you don’t have to; there’s a better way.
Look again at those top freelancers. You’ll notice that they define themselves using a particular style that ensures everyone looking at their portfolio or website gets the same feeling. Your style must reflect your work. It could be professional, creative, playful, minimal, exciting, etc.
Most of my favorite freelancers have great personal stories and use them to promote their brands. Writer and blogger James Altucher is a fine example. James uses his story for his “about” page and his honesty connects with his target audience. Far more effective than any sales page could do.
Your mission is to find and share personal insights with your target audience to create a connection that makes them think, “Hey, I like where this person’s coming from, and I want to know more.” As with all the great stories, keep it short and simple.
The more your ideal clients see your brand, the more they’ll trust it. One visual you’ll use on all your marketing platforms is your logo. The more folks see your logo, the more they’ll connect it with your freelancing services, increasing the likelihood of them contacting you.
You can check out the post on how to design a logo for your freelance business on the Tailor Brands blog to learn more. After this post, of course!
To be a successful freelancer, you must become an authority figure in your niche, one your clients come to know and trust. You can use your portfolio and blog to help do that.
Here’s where you showcase your skills and past triumphs. Keep it professional; they’re not your private thoughts. However, make sure to infuse them with your personality and branding to create consistency. Regularly update them so prospective clients can see what they’ll get by hiring you.
Once your branding is ready, you can create your digital presence, which isn’t as hard as you might think!
You could be the best freelancer since sliced bread, but if clients can’t find you, you’ll go hungry. You have to create a digital presence that promotes your service so clients find you when looking for freelancers with your skills. Your digital presence is also how you’ll create and build your online community, which is essential for recommendations and referrals.
You can use freelancer platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr to advertise your skills and connect with clients. Still, those only take you so far. To be a successful freelancer, you’ll also need the following:
Content is crucial for self-promoting your soon-to-be thriving freelance business, and the best place to promote your content is your blog on your website. You need a basic, easy-to-navigate professional website to showcase your portfolio, about me page, services, contact details, and blog.
Your website probably won’t have a lot of traffic when you’re new, but you can increase visitors by maximizing your social media presence. You can use various platforms relative to your niche, like LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, Twitter, and Behance to redirect people to your content marketing strategies while building your network and promoting your brand.
You can also expand your client pool by partnering with other freelancers. For example, as a content writer, a potential partner I could team up with is a graphic designer as they’d bring real value to my posts, which I can use to attract more clients.
But partnerships also open doors to client lists that could otherwise be unattainable as they’re outside your present niche. And direct referrals from other freelancers are priceless.
Keeping existing clients is less expensive than finding new ones. It also frees up your time to work for paying gigs. The key to regular work is ensuring you keep your current clients happy by building and maintaining strong relationships.
How do you do it? You go above and beyond with your service by providing quality work and being reliable, punctual, flexible, and helpful. Clients appreciate freelancers who are easy to work with, often employing those before a more difficult experienced one. It comes down to going the extra mile for your clients when they need you to with zero fuss.
Adopting this positive attitude will help you build a reputation as a dependable and go-to freelancer, often resulting in higher-paying clients who’ll appreciate your service.
A significant difference between unsuccessful and successful freelancers is regular referrals and reviews.
Your current and past clients often have associates that could need your services, and referrals from satisfied clients are the best form of marketing. Tell your clients that you’re building a market-leading business in your niche, show them your hunger to succeed, and chances are they feel the same. Ask them if they know other business owners that might need your services and update them on any new ones you add to your skill-set.
Seek reviews from your clients and put them on your website, LinkedIn account, and other social media platforms. Businesses looking for freelancers trust other business owners’ reviews more than any marketing strategy, so don’t be afraid to ask.
When you find a great client, you can quickly get comfortable. I’ve been lucky. I landed a gig with an excellent client, but while it’s working out for me, not all freelancers are so fortunate. Also, freelancers don’t get permanent contracts, so my reliable client could change direction with little notice.
A better approach is to have several clients providing not-so-regular smaller gigs. This way, if one stops using you, you’ll have others providing that all-important stream of regular income.
I get regular feedback that I’m professional and easy to work with; it doesn’t happen by chance. Years of running businesses have taught me the importance of customer service. You can ensure your clients are happy by keeping them in the loop.
Here’s how: Before starting a project, review your client’s guidelines to know their requirements and due dates. For example, your client might want you to inform them when you complete specific targets, so ensure you know what they are.
Once you start a project, update your clients about your progress, and if you must adjust an agreed deadline, give them plenty of notice and ask for their approval. Tell your client your reasons for change and how you’ll manage it.
As freelancers, we must take every opportunity to build our client network. Knowing what your clients think about your service shows you care and helps build your brand’s reputation.
So when you complete a project, keep the lines of communication open to ensure your clients are happy.
A side project relevant to your freelance niche is a great way to advance your business. At first, your freelance business might be your side project, but as it becomes your full-time gig, start a new one to promote your skills and direct people to your website and social media platforms.
My side project is a business content website providing tips, insights, and resources. I use it to try different writing styles and new SEO techniques, helping me provide a better service to my clients and attract new ones.
And, of course, your side project could become another income stream in time.
Quick disclaimer: I’m guilty of this one. When I became a writer, I devoured content, took several courses to improve my skills, and worked my butt off for various clients. I wasn’t earning much, but it didn’t matter; I could see the opportunity.
Then I landed a well-paid, consistent gig and I admit I got a little comfortable. I continued to perfect my craft but didn’t work as hard as before. In my defense, I’d been working non-stop for 5 years and my son was getting older. Parents don’t get those years back!
But freelancers can’t get comfortable, because there’s always another one wanting to replace you. So, if you find yourself taking your foot off the gas, remember that a hungrier freelancer is right behind you!
The inspirational Seth Godin said to “treat your freelance work as art” and he’s right. When you adopt this mindset, it’s no longer work. You’ll enjoy it more, which will show in your results.
I’ve found that by focusing on providing value to clients, my efforts pay back tenfold. So, strive to please your clients, deliver excellent service, and give a little extra so they’ll remember you for creating outstanding work.
For example, I often add extras to my posts if I believe they’ll provide value to my clients, such as free images and infographics. Daring to differ from other freelancers is how you’ll become indispensable to your clients, and that’s a sure way to become a successful freelancer.
Believing you know it all is the downfall of many freelancers. As Albert Einstein once said: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Yes, have confidence in your abilities, but always be willing to learn to ensure you remain relevant in your niche.
Regularly review your main competitors to see what they’re offering, enroll in courses that bring extra value to your service, or join social media groups relevant to your niche.
It doesn’t matter how you learn as long as you’re learning.
Dr. Seuss put it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” And you want to go places, right?
Okay, let’s finish with what is quite possibly the most important thing to remember to become a successful freelancer.
To become a successful freelancer, you’ll need thick skin and resilience to deal with rejections.
Here are some rejections you’ll probably get:
If you have a background in door-to-door sales or a call center, you probably have built up some resiliency. But if you’ve got neither, try to remember:
Your resilience will grow with your experience, skills, and confidence. And when most of your clients appreciate your work, you’ll learn to ignore those that don’t.
After all: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” – African proverb
Chart Your Way to Success
There’s more to freelancing than just landing clients and making money. That’s often easier done working for someone else! If you let it become just about the money, it’ll feel like a fight for survival.
To be a successful freelancer, you must do it for a personal reason and never lose sight of it. Whether it’s financial freedom, the opportunity to live somewhere better, or spending more time with your family, make it about what’s important to you,
And never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because successful freelancers are those that never give up.
This portion of our website is for informational purposes only. Tailor Brands is not a law firm, and none of the information on this website constitutes or is intended to convey legal advice. All statements, opinions, recommendations, and conclusions are solely the expression of the author and provided on an as-is basis. Accordingly, Tailor Brands is not responsible for the information and/or its accuracy or completeness.
Terry is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience building businesses across multiple industries – construction, real estate, e-commerce, hotelier, and now digital media. When not working, Terry likes to kick back and relax with family, explore Taoism’s mysteries, or savor the taste of fine Italian red wine.