There’s no doubt about it:
Word of mouth is essential to a successful freelance career.
In fact, it’s directly responsible for up to 84% of the average freelancer’s work.
Therefore, if you want to win more work, it’s essential to be good at what you do.
But what makes a good freelancer? Is being good at your chosen profession enough? Do soft skills come into play when generating word of mouth?
In this instalment of Freelancers’ Corner, we’re once again bringing together our amazing global freelance community to provide a well-rounded account of what it really means to be a good freelancer.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Have great skills, communicate well and love what you do.
Vlad highlights the importance of great skills, but interestingly mentions two crucial soft skills in the form of strong communication and having genuine passion for your work.
As a freelancer, you’re responsible for every facet of your business. While you might be a freelance graphic designer by trade, you’ll also have to be your own:
- HR executive
- Customer success manager
- Project manager
Good communication will help you stay on top of each different facet and make sure you’re meeting the needs of your clients.
Loving what you do will keep your spirits up when managing the extra responsibility that comes with a freelance career.
Start doing what you always wanted to do, but have never been able to find time for.
Raf highlights the importance of getting stuck in and not procrastinating or making excuses.
As a freelancer, the responsibility is entirely on you to hone your craft, ensure a steady stream of work and build the career you’ve always dreamed of.
By adopting a self-motivated approach and a ‘can-do’ attitude, you’ll communicate both your enthusiasm and willingness to exceed expectations to prospective clients, maximizing your chances of them recommending you in future.
Keep everything systematic, have a set of rules and follow them. Be transparent with your client and provide the best service you can. Maintain good relationships with your clients as well as fellow freelancers in your field.
While Nikki offers three separate parts of being a good freelancers, they each fall under the umbrella of building and nurturing a strong network.
Honesty is an integral (pun intended) part of maintaining ongoing relationships with clients; a client would much rather you be realistic and practical with a project rather than over-exaggerating what you can provide.
By providing good customer service, you maximize your chances of both repeat work and word of mouth referrals from a client.
Nikki also highlights a point that all-too-many freelancers miss: seeing fellow freelancers as collaborators rather than competitors.
It’s common for freelancers to refer clients to each other if their own skillset isn’t a good match; an opportunity many freelancers miss out on in fear of competition.
You’ll also be able to pick up a few tips and tricks from each other’s playbooks, meaning you’ll further your career at a much faster pace.
The best I think, is to just jump in and start working. Figuring out your methods, techniques and order of how you work. There will be mistakes along the way, but that’s how you figure out the best process for yourself.
Like Raf, John also stresses the importance of being proactive in your career and learning through experience.
Freelancing is a hands-on game; every project is different and each client will have different expectations.
While you can (and should) learn as much as you can beforehand, you’ll learn at 10X the speed by simply taking on projects and learning through experience.
A great way to track your learning is to keep a project journal. After completing each project, use your project journal to jot down a few summary notes on:
- What you worked on
- What went well (and why it went well)
- What can be done differently for next time (and why)
Your project journal can also serve as a great reference point for future clients; if you find yourself working on a similar project in the future, you can always refer back to your notes to maximize your chances of a good experience.
By not only being good at your job physically, but also having good business and social skills. You represent your own brand and company as a freelancer, so you need to treat your clients how you’d want to be treated and sell yourself the best you can! This ultimately leads to more work and a better reputation for yourself in the long term.
Jake’s point stresses the importance of being cut out for freelance work.
If you want to increase your chances of success as a freelancer, it helps if you’re a naturally organized, outgoing and social person; skills you might not need to develop when working in a similar role for a larger company.
Here are three of the most important social and business-based skills we’ve seen from successful freelancers on the platform:
- Problem solving skills: Problems will inevitably crop up from time to time. With no line manager to pass them to, it’s up to you to manage and solve them. Being able to approach problems in a level-headed and logical manner will keep clients satisfied and grow your reputation.
- Punctuality: Tardiness is not only frustrating and disrespectful to a client, but it’ll also cause your project work to pile up. A good freelance experience is an easy freelance experience; being punctual and reliable is an effective way of keeping things convenient for your clients.
- Being able to adapt and evolve: Responding positively to criticism and adapting to changes in the market will grow your skills & abilities as a freelancer, while keeping the door open to more work in the future.
Practice your expertise in your free time and be good to your customers. If you set a good example, you will definitely get more clients timewise. Acting professional is always a good thing!
While freelancing give you the option to do your hobby as a job, it’s still really important to maintain a professional approach to your work.
If you aren’t taking a project seriously or putting your soft skills to good use, you’re going to have a hard time getting the client to take you seriously. While a friendly and enthusiastic approach can help build rapport with clients, you won’t want to come off as lazy or non-serious.
By being reliable, professional and dedicated, you put yourself on-track for a good client experience and increase your chances of word of mouth referral.
Work on your skill all the time, always enhance and push it, always test yourself and pitch on jobs which you might think are out of comfort zone because you’ll always rise to the challenge!
Here, Matt emphasizes the importance of forcing yourself to improve as a freelancer by taking on ambitious projects.
While you won’t want to take on projects that are unsuitable for your skillset, consistently developing your skills in your spare time will allow you to take on more ambitious, higher-ticket projects.
Similarly, nothing will accelerate your skills like paid work will. By pushing your comfort zone and gradually taking on slightly more ambitious projects, you place yourself in a position where you have no choice but to succeed.
This will quickly develop your skills and significantly broaden your scope of work.
Due to the competition, you main aim should be to be the best in your field. A good freelancer follows deadlines, does a better job than expected, and answers client requests very quickly.
Yevgeniya notes the importance of going above and beyond in all facets of your career, from the role itself to your interpersonal skills.
It’s worth mentioning that being the best in your field is intrinsically linked to your business and social skills:
By prioritizing your business and social skills, you naturally improve your chances of landing regular work and winning over those more ambitious projects.
This in turn will allow you to develop your hard skills as you broaden your scope of work and land more lucrative projects. Rather than seeing your soft and hard skills as two separate things, see them as an ecosystem that work hand-in-hand with each other.
What’s The Defining Quality of a Good Freelancer?
The most important thing is standing for yourself. You need to respect yourself and your work before you expect to be respected by clients.
Jelena stresses that while being good at what you do and providing a good client experience is important, none of this will fall into place without first valuing yourself.
She breaks this down into three distinct principles:
The quality of your work must be good enough so you can proudly stand behind it and cherish it.
Your prices must be industry-standard, and not pocket-money. Otherwise, you are compromising your own career and the careers of every other creative freelancer.
Don’t work for free. Forget about platforms that are encouraging work before client specifically chooses you to work with.
Jelena goes on to stress the importance of valuing your time as a freelancer and elaborates on the principle of not working for free.
She explains that while this may cause you to lose low-quality jobs in the short term, it’ll open the door to much higher-ticket jobs in the future.
She breaks down valuing your time as a freelancer into five principles:
Never do more than you agreed on (no additional work that’s not the part of the price)
Set the strict amount of revisions allowed and refuse additional requests (each additional revision has to be paid for)
Do not give discounts on bigger amounts of work – you are not a factory worker and every piece of work you create is unique and special
Be sure to know all of the details of the work before you set the correct price so you know when client is trying to get more out of you than you’re expecting
Never do anything before your employment is set in stone. Work on platforms that are theft-proof, or make sure you sign a contract if you’re working outside of a freelancing platform.
You must have good communication skills. Assess your client’s attitude and try to match it, but always remain friendly, respectful, AND professional.
Florence firmly believes that strong communication lies at the heart of a successful freelance career:
Provide constant feedback on your work. Phrases like “I’m working on your order/I started your project” and “What do you think of this?/I did such and such, do you like it?” can be amazing ways to gauge your client’s happiness with how the project is being developed.
Finally, Florence stresses the importance of honesty and openness in improving both client relationships and your industry skillset. She notes that constructive criticism is important to take on board and that freelancers should to take every action to amend work that a client is unhappy with:
Tell them if they’re not completely satisfied, to inform you what you can do to make it better. Provide free revisions with no objections, as long as they’re not trying to abuse it!
If you want to be a good freelancer, you need to get your name out there.
Justin argues that networking skills are the most crucial element of being a good freelancer. He stresses that no matter how talented and professional you may be, you won’t win work without first reaching out to prospective clients:
You need to reach out and be able to communicate to the crowd- not only what you do, but why others should pay you to do it for them. Are you a painter who creates pleasant landscapes An actor with a winning smile? Or do you have something new that the world hasn’t heard of yet?
Finally, Justin recommends taking advantage of portfolio sites and social media to get your name out there:
A good start is to find portfolio sites which can showcase your work (like Twine!) Social media sites like Instagram are also great for showcasing you and your work, and building a following. Who knows, someone might be willing to pay for it!
So, there you have it! A complete guide to exactly what makes a good freelancer. If you enjoyed this round of Freelancers’ Corner, why not check out some of the other posts in the series?