Eight years ago, I decided to ditch my commute, mothball my business casual wardrobe, and fully commit to building a freelance writing and content management business. With nearly 12 years of professional experience behind me, I knew I could handle the business basics of a freelance life. From networking to invoicing, and from marketing to tech support, I realized everything would be up to me — and (frighteningly) only me.
How right I was. As I enter my ninth gloriously commute-free year, I can affirm that success is built around the following eight life skills every freelancer needs.
As with any other job, good communication is the linchpin between success and failure in freelancing. Networking, pitching new business, working with different teams every day, and keeping clients up-to-date all require proactive and professional communication skills.
2. Time Management
For most freelancers, work comes in unpredictable spurts. Being able to go from zero to 60 in a day or two is just part of the game. And when multiple projects all have back-to-back deadlines, staying sane means learning the secret of effective time management.
Freelancers must be able to establish fair work agreements and terms — terms that respect your skill and time and offer a competitive value to your clients. Getting the hang of it and negotiating with tact and confidence takes practice.
At this exact moment, I have four major new projects waiting in the wings — each with a different client. Keeping due dates, deliverables, meeting times, billing terms, and contact names straight takes masterful organization skills. If you don't have a Type A personality, do yourself a favor and explore some organization tools for businesses.
Many newbies eagerly accept every project that comes their way and never learn to gracefully push back on a deadline. But understanding how much work we can handle without sacrificing quality or breaking promises is critical to business success. When we get it wrong, first-time clients become one-time clients.
Since freelancers seldom have a boss looking over our shoulder, it's alarmingly easy for our workday to veer off track. A keen ability to self-motivate, stay focused, and not let short breaks turn into long distractions is essential for success.
7. Boundary Setting
For freelancers, there's no official beginning or end to the workday and not much separation between work, home, and social life. We have to defend our zen by setting clear boundaries. Successful freelancers know when to shut things off, walk away, and get back to the business of living.
As freelancers build a strong work history with a wide range of clients, one or two of those happy customers will inevitably extend a job offer. The security of traditional employment arrangements can be tempting; it takes profound self-awareness to know exactly what you want, guard your independence, and know when to say, "Thank you, but no."
Remember, freelancing is a science and an art. If you're just starting out, explore what successful freelancers do and develop your life skills as you develop your business.