With an estimated 53 million freelancers in the United States, it is safe to say that the world of freelance work is growing, and is not going away anytime soon. Each year sees more independent contractors entering the workforce, contributing more than $715 billion in freelance earnings to the national economy. The motivation for this professional direction varies; some are looking for more flexibility, some want to be their own boss, while others simply want the freedom to choose the projects they work on.
No matter the motivating factors, being successful as a freelancer is rife with challenges. So how does one survive as an independent contractor? It takes more than talent—more than a strong work ethic. From how you find work to where you do it—and everything in between, the following is a list of factors that can improve or hinder a freelance career.
Create a dedicated work environment
Working remotely can be a wonderful experience. Every day is casual day, your lunch break is whenever you are hungry and the commute does not require leaving the house. It is not, however without drawbacks. Working from home can be an incredible distraction; there are a variety of outside influences and levels of comfort that can lull an independent contractor and slowly rob him or her of motivation. Creating a dedicated work area is imperative to focus time and uninterrupted thought on the job at hand. Whether it is a clutter-free desk in the living room, or a specific, designated room, a home office needs to be designed to foster a distraction-free environment. Family, pets, television and household chores are often present, and separating yourself from home-based obligations is key to focusing on work. A dedicated space provides structure and organization that is paramount to producing the quality of work your clients expect.
As a freelancer, you are your most important client. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the reality is that work comes to those who seek it. Market your business with the same care and attention to detail that you would if you were working for a client. Building out a marketing plan on your own behalf takes time, but is absolutely worth it. First, clients need to know you exist. It’s up to you to find the best route to get your name, skills and experience out into the world. Some rely on word-of-mouth referrals while others may launch a full campaign complete with advertisements and email campaigns. Whatever your course of action, it is imperative to network and maintain your professional relationships to stay relevant within your industry.
Do not overextend yourself
Know your limitations and do not over-promise. Maintaining relationships is a result of strong work that is delivered on time, every time. While it is important to keep work flowing in order to generate a sustainable income, an overwhelming workload can depreciate the overall quality of your projects. When tight deadlines are unavoidable, you will find it is easier to produce work quickly when you are familiar with the subject matter of material. For example, if a client were to ask you to produce an article detailing the process of cell-adhesion and cell-migration, chances are you would need to do some research. Unless you happen to be a biologist, producing quality content on this topic will require added time. Promising to quickly produce work on a subject matter you do not understand will result in lower quality and will ultimately hurt your professional reputation, diminishing your work opportunities. This is a lesson that many freelancers learn the hard way when first starting out.
Manage your time
Every project is important to the bottom line, and as an independent contractor, it is up to you to prioritize those projects and balance them against the need to manage your own business. Time is one of the most valuable resources for freelancers, and the importance of this point cannot be overstated. Keeping time sheets, processing invoices and tracking expenditures may not be the most engaging tasks on your to-do list but you can minimize the pain by using tools such as FreshBooks, Asana and Trello to boost your productivity and efficiency.
Tap into your resources
Speaking of online tools, as the freelance market expands, so does the breadth of productivity tools and resources now available to independent contractors. Social media in particular is fueling the growth of the freelance economy in that it can be used to market your business and capture leads. With product reviews and visible social proof, social media also introduces a level of transparency that did not exist before, so it is important to nurture your social presence.
Maintaining a certain level of discipline both in environment and in approach can help an independent contractor flourish and evolve with the industry at large, while continuing to navigate the ever-changing landscape.
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