“How did you become a freelancer?” This question is asked of any seasoned freelance professional a lot. The truth of the matter is how we become freelancers really depends on our background, our zeal for success and what we want to get out of it.
However, there are 5 things that help when you make the decision to make the leap into freelance.
An established network
If you’ve worked in an agency before, it can be a lot simpler to begin your freelance journey. But what if this isn’t the case for you?
To become a freelancer is to become someone that knows the value of networks, online and off.
My best advice would be to spend time establishing a network of people who have similar or would be in the need of your skill set. Look for opportunities where you may be able to leverage friendships to gain some free work experience or further contacts.
Attend events where the kinds of people you’d like to mix and mingle with attend. You can find a lot of open professional networking situations via Meetup, Eventbrite, and the Freelance Jungle events program.
Virtual networking is a big part of freelancing as well. That’s why it pays to hang close to Facebook groups. You can find all kinds of groups divided up via location, women in business, topics such as copywriting, design and so on.
Whatever the case, look for opportunities to meet new people.
2. A hunger for knowledge
Becoming a freelancer isn’t only about who you know, it’s about what you know. Unlike more traditional working roles, freelancing means having a thirst for knowledge. You have to be willing to continuously learn as part of freelancing.
This doesn’t always mean studying expensive courses, attempting higher education or knowing everything about your industry.
Learning as a freelancer is almost as flexible as the lifestyle. Therefore, it includes:
- Mentoring through books, podcasts and video
- Taking free courses such as the ones offered by Google, HubSpot, and various educational institutions (you can find these on our Thrifty Tuesday blogs here and here and here)
- Finding a business coach or mentor to help you with various stages of your freelance business
- Experimenting with software, techniques, and tools in your spare time
- Being an active member in groups and other forums – one that listens as much as speaks!
Truth be told, marketing these days forces you to continuously learn. Google search updates influence freelance copywriters, web developers and content creators as well as online marketers and anyone who wants to sell products online. Changes to WordPress, Wix, Square Space, and other forms of web technology keep developers and designers on their toes. New software, hardware and social media platforms all come with their own specific learning curves.
No matter what you call yourself or what you set out to do, when you become a freelancer, you also become committed to keeping up with technology. Even if only to market yourself or run your business.
3. An existing brand identity
If you’re already thought of as someone to watch in your industry or you have spent time exploring ideas within your craft on a regular basis, this can really help you when you become a freelancer.
Visibility matters. People want to know you have insights and opinions when you freelance. It becomes easier if you’ve already decided to build a strong professional reputation before you take the leap.
Some ways you can highlight your personal brand before (and during) freelancing are:
- Having a podcast where you explore your industry or craft. Bonus points for inviting guests and creating extra connections
- Building a website that demonstrates your abilities. Bonus points for attaching a blog that used on a semi-regular to regular basis
- Making use of platforms like Medium or LinkedIn’s blogging feature. If you don’t want a website yet, you can still share your insights and opinions in written form on either of these
- Spending time on your LinkedIn. Making sure it is a strong performer, rich with keywords in your descriptions and more than the usual laundry list of jobs can really help
- Looking for opportunities to speak. Panel discussions, podcast call outs, public relations opportunities, presenting and teaching all help build credibility
- Using what you’re good at to tell your story. If you’re in film, animation, design, sound or whatever, use it to its best advantage on each of the appropriate platforms
- Join professional memberships and associations. Be known by the people who care about the success of your industry informally via groups and forums as well as industry bodies
The aim is to demonstrate you have a position of authority in the particular field you have chosen. Be recognisable, helpful and generous. It pays, believe me.
4. A can-do attitude
When you become a freelancer and you join the freelance community, one of the hardest things to come to terms with may very well be one of the best things about it. Everyone has a can-do attitude.
We’re all working on projects, seeking the right client, lifting each other up, creating things in our spare time, and looking for ways to renew and reinvigorate ourselves as freelance creatives.
This means there’s this wonderful feeling that if you create, you can succeed. It’s really not that simple though, as many a burnt-out freelancer later finds out.
Our can-do attitude needs protection to withstand all that freelancing can throw at it.
Preserving that spark when you become a freelancer means:
- Having boundaries. A healthy, functioning freelance business means saying no to incorrect opportunities, misaligned values, poor pay rates and servitude
- Giving yourself time to play and create. Your marketing and your capacity to stay fresh creatively depends on it
- Avoiding overwork and busyness. Freelancing is an important part of your life- but it can’t be the only thing you rely on to get you through. Friends, family, downtime all matter
- Choosing freelance friendships wisely. Look for people who build you up and inspire you over those who remind you of bald spots and failures
Be brave enough to advocate for yourself on all levels. It’ll be what translates your freelance journey into a fruitful one.
5. Critical thinking
Critical thinking has a massive yet often underrated role to play in a successful freelance business.
It helps you with the problem solving and the client wrangling side of your freelance career. The objectively helps you look at situations with clients and colleagues in a way that reduces head damage. You can recognise the weaknesses and problems in advice you may receive online. Or moments when your clients haven’t thought through their project.
And critical thinking helps you stay true to your values. Your values are what will define the kinds of people, places and projects you accept once you become a freelancer.
Even when you’re getting sound advice from people who actually know the drill, being able to think around corners makes a huge difference to how much damage you take on.
For a freelancer, critical thinking often comes down to asking yourself:
- Am I capable of taking this project to completion? Am I playing to strengths or weaknesses?
- How can I achieve the best outcome in the situation at hand- for myself and for my client?
- Who are my main influences when it comes to my freelance business? Do they matter as much as I sometimes believe they do?
- When I made that decision, was it the right one to make? Would I make that decision again in a similar scenario?
- Positive or negative, what can I learn from the situation at hand?
Being able to back your decision-making process when you become a freelancer is probably the best tool in your arsenal. Our capacity to learn from all kinds of clients, colleagues and projects while applying critical thinking will often determine how easy or hard freelancing is.
Want to know what else you need to become a freelancer?
Join the crowd of Australian freelancers sharing knowledge and insight on a daily basis with the Freelance Jungle Facebook Group. Check out our blog for further information on Australian freelance life. And join our Patreon for exclusive seminars, courses and content to help with your freelance journey.