This article has been contributed by Devin Partida.
Whether you have just started freelancing or have been doing it for years, you’re most likely aiming to secure consistent work and progressively make more money over time.
So, it’s crucial to ensure you stand out against the rest in the job market. After all, the nature of freelancing means you compete with other candidates across the globe — not just those in your city, state, region or country.
Here are 10 actionable tips that will help you get noticed and maintain a successful freelancing career, even when faced with tough client demands and a challenging marketplace.
1. Communicate Clearly and Honestly
People often say excellent communication skills are vital in today’s workforce. They’re arguably even more important for freelancers — especially since you may not have the benefit of body language or verbal communication when interacting with a current client or someone who may need your services.
You may use a freelancing platform that lets you describe what you’re willing to do, how much you charge, how fast you can get the work done and other specifics. Even in that case, you’ll probably encounter clients who want to know if you can go outside those parameters.
For example, someone might ask, “If I pay you twice your rate, could you get this done by tomorrow?” It’s up to you to use your communication skills to set accurate expectations. The extra money might sound great, but you may worry about producing lower quality work if you have to rush. It’s better to tell a client right away that you can’t meet their needs rather than going too far outside of your abilities and generating subpar results.
Communication also matters when you run into issues around meeting deadlines for a client. Maybe they sent you a file that shows an error message when you try to open it. An internet service outage due to a storm could disrupt your workflow, too. Let your clients know about these things as soon as possible, and they will appreciate you keeping them in the loop.
2. Learn What Helps You Stay Productive
People have various tricks they use to maintain high productivity. Figuring out what works for you is essential if you want a profitable freelancing career. Freelancers must keep themselves motivated, and they usually don’t have on-site colleagues to hold them accountable for completing work on time.
Some people find that music keeps them focused, while others want a completely quiet room. If your phone becomes a significant distraction, consider silencing it and keeping it out of sight. Then, only check it at scheduled times, such as every hour.
When facing a seemingly impossible task hinders your productivity, try breaking it down into manageable chunks. Then, tackle each segment one by one. Determine during which parts of the day you feel most alert and engaged, too. Aim to complete your most challenging assignments then, if possible.
Understanding which techniques make you most productive should help you finish more tasks during a workday, which may mean you earn more. Additionally, staying on track and not wasting time should make it easier to meet deadlines and satisfy your clients.
3. Feature Reviews on Your Freelancing Profiles or Website
People regularly read reviews before buying products. It makes sense they would want to do the same before hiring you. Many freelancer marketplaces have built-in review systems requiring or strongly encouraging people to give feedback about services received. Alternatively, you can ask for client opinions outside of those sites and request permission to publish them.
Freelancing marketplaces often show average user ratings. One way to stand out is to work hard to get and keep a five-star average. That way, as people scroll through the options, they’ll immediately notice you’re among the best of the best.
If clients offer to write reviews of your services for your website, urge them to mention as many specifics as possible, especially if discussing things like your attention to detail, technical prowess or ability to complete responsibilities efficiently. They should ideally give examples of things you did well, rather than only mentioning positive characteristics.
When you add details about yourself on your website or a profile, highlight your positive feedback. For example, you could say, “58% of my clients have hired me again after my first assignment,” or “98% of people who used my web design services would recommend me to a friend.”
4. Improve Your Portfolio
Your portfolio sets expectations by showing potential clients your capabilities. When was the last time you updated yours? If it has old, irrelevant material, your portfolio is not an accurate reflection of your talents and achievements.
Scrutinize your portfolio and assess how to make it better. For example, maybe you created it three years ago, right after you’d just gotten into freelancing. Back then, perhaps you believed the best approach was to list all your skills instead of only mentioning the areas where you truly excel. If your portfolio’s About Me page still says you design Office templates, but you haven’t done that in two years, it’s best to delete that part.
Choose a niche. Doing so conveys that you can do a few things well, rather than making people possibly assume that you can do lots of things but none of them well.
Check out your portfolio samples and ensure they still showcase your best work. Could you enhance the content by adding more variety or drawing attention to a project that won a competition last year?
5. Use Your Remote Work Expertise to Earn More
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a marked acceleration in companies permitting employees to work remotely. Many leaders assumed letting people work from home would cause productivity to drop. However, research has found that 82% of executives said productivity stayed the same or got better after employees started working outside of company offices.
That doesn’t mean the transition was smooth in every case, though. Some company leaders had to switch their teams to remote working in a matter of days. That was often difficult if people solely got stuff done from business offices before.
However, as a freelancer, working remotely probably comes naturally to you. Maybe it’s all you’ve done for years, and you can hardly remember other work arrangements. That knowledge could come in handy at a time when many people are still adjusting to working from home. A survey showed that 40% of freelancers trained or provided consulting services during the pandemic for clients who wanted help working remotely.
29% of respondents assisted their clients with online project management. Another 27% said they taught people the right ways to use video-based communication tools. Consider whether you might specifically offer your knowledge ways like this to increase your earning potential. We live in an increasingly digitized world, and knowing how to work from anywhere is an in-demand skill.
6. Think About Offering Your Services in Additional Markets
Many freelancers stick to what they know once they figure out viable ways to make money consistently. For example, maybe you’ve found that professionals in the finance industry hire you frequently and like your results. That’s great, but focusing on that market too much could limit how much you earn.
A survey of freelance linguists from 100 countries asked respondents how their work opportunities changed due to COVID-19. The results showed that 80% of people experienced decreased work assignments from travel and leisure clients. However, 39% of those polled said demand for their services went up in the health care sector. Moreover, 27% of people said the same thing about work related to social networks.
As mentioned earlier, it’s advantageous to have a niche. However, circumstances can change, making it necessary to see what other industries offer. Having that kind of flexibility will make you more adaptable, no matter what the future holds.
If you’re not sure how to start broadening your reach, think about the passions you have outside of your work life. For example, maybe you’re an extremely eco-conscious person who always looks for ways to protect the planet. Alternatively, perhaps you’re an avid gamer and love to stay up to date about the latest games and tips for playing them. Could you turn that enthusiasm and continually growing knowledge base into more freelance work?
7. Don’t Overlook the Local Job Market
Freelancing lets people work from anywhere. You may think that one of its best perks is that you could have clients from Ireland and Iceland while being based in Japan. Many clients don’t care where you work from — or even when you’re on the clock — as long as you get jobs done on time.
However, that geographic freedom does not mean you should ignore possible options for working locally. According to a release published in October 2020, Freelancer.com experienced a 15% increase in work posted in its Local Jobs & Services category during the third quarter of the year.
The possibilities for working locally may be relatively straightforward, such as bringing people flowers or helping someone move. They could also be more skill-based, such as using your videography background to shoot a music video for a local band or designing a website for a new tech startup in your area.
Your local knowledge could also set you apart from other freelancers who are not in the area. Perhaps a Chicago-based food delivery service wants you to spotlight some little-known dining hotspots that people can enjoy from home after getting their meals brought to their door. If you’ve lived in the city for years, you’ll more than likely have some mouthwatering recommendations without doing much research. Moreover, if you often eat at a particular restaurant, you could suggest what to order and offer other insider tips that a non-local freelancer would not know.
8. Prove Your Reliability
The COVID-19 pandemic made many people turn to freelancing out of sheer necessity. If they got laid off or found their entire industries disrupted indefinitely, some individuals decided that freelancing gave them the best chance at generating some income again.
Consider the recent example of Diana Gill. She had 24 years of editing experience at major New York publishing houses but got laid off during the pandemic. After that, she started working as a freelance editor. Her expertise and industry contacts keep her busy, but Gill knows that may not last.
“Freelancing is feast or famine. So [the work] kind of comes in waves. And I know at some point there will be less of it. So I’m looking at what to do and how to make it work as a business,” Gill explained. One way you could do that is to prove that people have made a smart decision by choosing you as a freelancer.
Show clients that you’re reliable enough to make them want to hire you for long-term work. Doing that could help you achieve a steady income while standing out from other candidates. Even though looking for jobs may increase your stress, it’s often equally as daunting for the people who need your services. If you produce top-quality, error-free work on time, clients will likely want to keep giving you jobs rather than taking a chance on someone else.
9. Tweak Your Resume
People hiring freelancers want proof of their capabilities. For example, if you’re a copywriter, they might ask you to do a trial assignment. The results of that mean more to them than a resume that says you have a decade of copywriting experience. However, that doesn’t make your resume irrelevant when you’re a freelancer.
Some companies — especially major brands that hire freelancers — require you to submit resumes to be considered for positions. In other cases, freelancing platforms recommend you upload your resume to give potential clients a better idea of your skills and body of work.
Your resume does not replace your portfolio. Treat it as a supplement. As you update the document, be careful to use the correct language. For example, you would not want to give the incorrect impression that you were a company’s employee while working for that enterprise as an independent contractor.
Don’t forget to add relevant volunteer work, too. Maybe you’re a freelance web developer who took a voluntary role last summer to teach coding to kids. Mentioning that suggests you’re good at explaining things and have excellent interpersonal skills.
10. Accept Feedback Gracefully
You learned earlier how reviews can increase prospective clients’ interest in hiring you. Most people who do will probably give feedback on work before accepting it, too.
It’s frustrating to submit a project you believe is right on the mark, then hear that the client wants extensive changes. Instead of immediately feeling upset and letting your disgruntled attitude show, make it obvious to the client that you care about taking their criticism into account and making the changes they request.
One helpful tip is to summarize the feedback you get before taking action. Doing that ensures you did not misinterpret the instructions. It also conveys that you’re serious about satisfying the client.
Check that the feedback aligns with your original agreement, too. For example, if your client demands a new webpage they never mentioned before hiring you, that probably calls for negotiating a higher payment for the project.
Step up Your Freelancing Game and Succeed
Thriving as a freelancer isn’t easy, and you’ll inevitably encounter some low points. However, by putting these 10 tips into practice, you’ll increase your competitiveness and show clients you’re worth hiring.
About the author: Devin Partida is a business tech and innovation writer. Previously, her work has been featured on The Boss Magazine, Talent Culture and Techopedia, among other publications. To read more from Devin, you can find her at ReHack.com, where she is the Editor-in-Chief.