“Being a freelancer is the dream!”
I’ve heard that statement so many times. Although I tend to agree, freelancing is far from being a vacation; a freelancer needs to be motivated, disciplined, passionate about their work and have good customer service skills if they want to succeed. Talent counts for a part of your success but you will need much more than that. Do you have what it takes to make the jump and become a freelancer?
You will need:
To Love your Work
If you are considering switching to freelancing because you want to take a vacation from your full-time job, you will be sourly disappointed; being a freelancer is a lot of work. It’s deadlines, last-minute requests, late-nights or early mornings (or both) and if you are like most freelancers out there, your work will become your life.
In order to remain positive and clear-headed you have got to love your field of work as well as being your own boss. Ask yourself these questions and answer truthfully: Do you love being your own boss? Are you excited to the prospect of freelance work when you wake up in the morning? Do you love the area you work in? If you answered no to at least of these questions, you should sit down and reconsider your choice of becoming a freelancer. In the long-term, it could make you miserable.
Using myself as an example, I adore being my own boss, I love the domain of design and arts, and the first thing I do every morning is check clients’ emails while still in bed. You do not need to be as exhilarated as I but loving your work is a definite pre-requisite to success.
Self-Motivation and Discipline
Being a freelancer requires self-motivation and discipline. No one will be standing behind you to make sure you complete your work on schedule; you are your own boss and authority. If you have no motivation to work, no drive and discipline, you will find being a freelancer hard.
Thankfully, discipline is something that can be developed. Using to-do lists can be very helpful to get things done. Checking off items that are completed usually feels quite good and makes us feel productive, encouraging us to do more. Another way to develop discipline is to focus on important goals (it could be anything from building a whole website to replying to a clients’ email in a timely manner) and their completion. Reminding yourself of the result of an accomplished project and its possible rewards can be a big motivator. There’s also routine which can help you find the motivation and discipline you need to achieve long-term goals. The Daily Mind has a nice article about how you can develop discipline and keep at it.
As a freelancer, you are the creator of your own success. If things get done, you will see results and, slowly but surely, you will advance, get more clients and recognition. If you lack the willingness to work, this means you can also be the master of your own demise. And while failure can teach us valuable lessons, you can avoid it altogether by being self-motivated and disciplined.
Customer Service Skills
Since you are your own boss, as a freelancer you do not have the luxury of relying on a manager to handle client situations that goes out of control. I wrote a whole article about that topic (clients from hell) last spring. You are responsible for creating and sustaining harmonious client-freelancer relationships. Everything rests on your shoulders.
That is why it is crucial that you possess minimal customer service skills; you are not a mere employee working in a cubicle anymore. You need to be able to sell your work, show your worth to your clients and prospects and finally handle issues when they arise with a cool-head. Learn from customer service agents; they will never yell at a client, no matter how angry they get. They keep their cool, are respectful and do their best to find satisfactory solutions for both the company they work for and the client. A good customer service worker will be able to turn a furious client into a happy camper in a matter of minutes. Everything is in the attitude and the willingness of the person to genuinely help resolve the problem.
If you treat your clients badly, they will not come back and, worse even, they will spread the bad news around; you are someone impossible to work with.
Don’t break your back in two trying to resolve a problem though; it’s not worth going under just to keep a client happy, unless you are certain it will bring more business in the future (hint: if the client is extremely disrespectful, don’t expect more business). But always treat your clients with respect, no matter if you choose to continue doing business with them or put a term to a contract. Act like the professional you claim to be.
To be Courageous and Daring
Although freelancing is on the rise, the market is competitive and one’s success is not assured. According to Industry Canada, 15% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% in their second, 38% in their third, 47% in their fourth and 49% in by their firth year of operation. Overall almost as many businesses fail every year than new ones get created (ouch!). Being a freelancer and/or entrepreneur is immensely gratifying but it’s also risky business.
“There are many talented people who haven’t fulfilled their dreams because they over thought it, or they were too cautious, and were unwilling to make the leap of faith.”
— James Cameron
This quote by James Cameron sums up my feelings about freelancing. It takes courage and a leap of faith, but if you have what it takes to be a freelancer, if you love what you do, are motivated, and you treat your clients well, there is no reason why you shouldn’t succeed.