Starting a career as a freelance professional and building it up for success isn’t easy. Yet, working as a freelancer is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have, provided you condition yourself with the right mindset. And, of course, put a method to the madness with some self-imposed freelancing rules. Or what I like to call the golden rules to becoming a happy and successful freelancer.
In June this year (2023), I will complete 18 years of my freelance journey. And as an ode to the years gone by, I am sharing my tried, tested, and religiously followed golden rules to turn into a confident, happily satisfied, and successful freelancer 🙂
Once you have these figured out, you’ll finally have the answer to the proverbial question – How to Make My Freelancing Career a Success, one that makes me proud?
I’m sure these rules will work for you, even if you’re working full-time.
Self-Imposed Rules to Smoothen the Freelance Journey: Freelancing Success
Anyone who says working freelance is simple or straightforward is kidding you. The truth is making it on your own and sticking to your freelance goals can feel like a roller-coaster ride.
There will be days when you’re on Cloud 9, happy with your progress and focused as hell on your goals. And well, there are times when you’re down in the dumps, dreading your to-do list, doubting your every move and the path you are on.
So how to keep yourself motivated to continue doing what you know you were destined to do? How to handle the hits and misses without letting them go over your head?
That’s where my Golden Rules for how to be successful in freelancing make their entry!
Let’s look at them, one at a time.
RULE 1: Stay Grounded in Reality
The concept of being your boss and not having to answer to anyone may sound invigorating as a newbie or even an experienced freelancer.
But it doesn’t take away the fact that you’re still the one solely responsible for your success or failure. And that means you’re always going to be carrying the heavyweight of your expectations.
So, when things don’t work out as planned, say, you lose that big project you were counting on, you’re out of work for weeks, or your latest work goes unnoticed, it’s easy to plunge deep into despair.
And it’s here that Rule No 1 applies.
Know that uncertainties are a part of freelance life and that the struggle is real. So, the more you stay grounded in the reality of it all, the better you’ll be at quickly bouncing back from temporary setbacks.
The best way to ensure you’re going to stay here for the long haul is to remember that you win some and lose some – not just in the freelance world but in life itself.
And focus on questions like – What can I learn from this bump in the road to my freelancing success? How can I do better next time to succeed on my freelance path?
CALM is my go-to app for daily calm. Depending on the time available, you can select the short Breathing Exercises, 10-minute daily calm sessions or the more detailed Meditation. Features worth checking out include the ‘How are you Feeling’ and ‘Sleep Stories’.
RULE 2: Remind Yourself Why You Are Doing It?
Working by yourself can get lonely. Even monotonous. There will be no office parties to distract you. No coffee breaks with colleagues or impromptu team lunches to break the monotony.
And sometimes it’s way too easy to find yourself in a rut, lacking the motivation to show up, make the day count and work towards your success.
Another thing that can quickly undermine your hard work is comparing yourself to the numerous others who are more successful or more popular than you, especially if you care about social media likes and follower counts.
It’s at these frequent times that you need to fall back on Rule No Two. And that is to be your CHEERLEADER!
Think about why you chose this path in the first place. What motivated you to quit that comfortable, full-time job in favour of your freelancing career? Or start freelancing straight out of college?
You will be surprised at how energising it is to reconnect with yourself, even for a few minutes and remind yourself of why you do what you do. And hopefully, move forward on your path to becoming a contented and victorious freelancing professional.
Oh, and do take some time to revisit your successes by looking back at some of your best work. A quick trip down memory lane, filled with jobs done well, is a fantastic way to find your lost focus and motivation!
I like to look at my writing portfolio here.
RULE 3: Learn to Say No
A self-employed freelancer takes on several avatars throughout the day. Take, for example, a planner, diligent worker, negotiator, and business head, among others.
And to fulfil all these responsibilities, you must be prepared to make tough decisions, think on your feet, and manage your time well.
It is here that it is crucial to know when to say a difficult ‘No’ rather than an easy ‘Yes’.
Say you’re talking to your dream client only to realise they are on a strict budget and asking you to almost work for free. Do you compromise and say yes? Or should you walk away, knowing your worth?
Or say you are neck-deep in work when a past client asks you to work on their urgent assignment due early the next morning, thanking you in advance for being such a lifesaver.
Should you say ‘Yes’ and stay up crazy late at night to accommodate their request? Or should you muster the courage to decline politely, asking them for more time?
You see, the main benefit of choosing a freelance career is the freedom to work on your terms and timelines. And it’s a huge plus, especially if you’re the creative type who can only work when they feel inspired.
But that also means you run the risk of taking on more than you can realistically handle. Only to struggle with burnout, sleep issues and sometimes, missing life itself.
So, Rule No. 3 is all about owning your career path while being mindful of what and how much you can handle. Say No when it makes sense.
RULE 4: Maintain Your Individuality
Often in our race to get ahead, we try to mimic others, more successful than us. Here’s the thing.
While it’s okay to take inspiration from others and push yourself to achieve bigger things, doing so at the cost of losing your individuality is a big no-no.
See, your greatest power as a freelancer is what you bring to client projects as an individual. And just as you are unique, so are your strengths.
So, instead of being like someone else, reinvent yourself in a way that your individuality shines through.
It’s how you create a lucrative niche for yourself and stand out from the thousands of freelancers with whom you are competing. So, what does that mean for you exactly?
It all begins with knowing what works for you and what doesn’t. As early in your journey as possible, find your unique voice, define your terms, conditions, and policies, and once you’ve set them, stick to them.
Respect your craft and do it with sincerity. The rest will take care of itself.
Remember Rule No. 4 to become a successful freelancer – stay true to who you are as an individual, and instead of trying to be like everyone else, be the best version of YOU!
RULE 5: Offer the Kind of Service You Would Like to Hire
So, I’ve saved the best for last on how to become a successful freelancer.
Now, if you wish to make a genuine place for yourself in this big, wide, and cluttered world of freelancing, hold on to Rule No. 5 and never let go.
It is to ALWAYS deliver your absolute best service, no matter what. And preferably right from Day 1.
You see, the habits we form early in our freelance careers tend to stay with us for years to come. So, getting off on the right foot from the beginning of your journey will set you up for success.
And even if you’re already deep into freelancing, it is never too late to stop, make changes and improve, irrespective of whether you’re a freelance writer, web designer, SEO professional or any other freelance contractor!
So, what do I mean by your best service?
It covers things like the quality of work you deliver, your reliability as a freelance service provider, your respect for deadlines, and your capacity to provide an outstanding hiring experience.
How to know if you are doing it right? It’s quite simple.
Think about whether you would hire YOU. If you answered ‘Yes’, that means you’re on the right track to becoming a successful freelancer.
You see, when it comes to hiring a professional, each one of us has lofty expectations, expecting to receive exceptional service. It’s human nature. Now, if you can satisfy your exacting standards, you will be capable of meeting other people’s expectations as well.
So, work your way backwards and figure out what you need to do to offer a service you would like to hire yourself. Once you’ve done this little exercise, you will know what needs tweaking in your freelance business.
MY QUICK TIPS TO DELIVER AN FREELANCE SERVICE, PAR EXCELLENCE:
- Give each project you work on your heart and soul.
- Don’t hit the SEND button unless you’re satisfied with your work.
- Always, I mean ALWAYS meet deadlines.
- Be genuine and stay connected to your ethics.
- Respect your craft and be okay with not pleasing everyone.
Everyone’s freelancing experience will be different. Heck, you can work all through Sunday and stay up crazy late at night to meet deadlines. And who can stop you if you spend monster Monday binge-watching your favourite tv shows – if you do, please!
But the one universal thing is the need to start on the right foot and have some golden rules as you chase your freelance goals and become a successful freelancer. They’ll not only help you stay on track but also help you to pick yourself up when the going gets tough and get back to what you do best. Remember, successful freelancing is all about knowing what works best for you and sticking to it.
Do you have self-imposed freelancing rules of your own? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.
First Published: May 2021; Last Updated: March 12, 2023