How to be a Successful Freelancer: 7 Tips of the Trade

Wake up.

Drink morning beverage of choice.

Get dressed. Brush your teeth. Rush out to your car. Be almost late.

Crank, crank, crank out your work. (Maybe pause for lunch.) Keep on cranking.

Answer one more email (or two or three) that pushes you past your 5 p.m. clock out.

Trudge home too exhausted to play with your kids, love on your spouse, or fix that blasted faucet that won’t stop dripping.

Sound familiar?

Working an office job is great for some people, but for others, it begs the question: is there more to living than this?

A lot of people are working from home as freelancers these days – whether by choice or due to coronavirus layoffs – and even though there are more people in the freelance field than ever, there is still an abundance of consistent work available. As a freelancer, you have more control over how, when, and what you do for work, leaving you with more time for friends, fun, and family if you do things right.

As a creator of a leading copywriter online course, I have worked with countless freelancers and can recommend some specific habits for successful freelancing. Let’s walk through some of those critical habits.

Habits for Success

1. Make a Time Budget

If you’ve ever worked through a financial budgeting exercise, you know that one of the first requirements is to track your spending for a few weeks. By looking closely at your regular spending before setting up a budget, you end up being more successful with divvying out and sticking to your budget.

The same works with your time. It’s easy to get behind, so if you constantly feel like you’re playing catch-up, write down the amount of time it takes to do everything at work for a few weeks. By tracking your time, you might find that it takes you consistently longer than you think to complete certain tasks. Once you know what’s holding you up, you can modify your schedule accordingly.

2. Stay on Schedule

That brings us to point number two: stay on schedule. Instead of prioritizing at the beginning of your day, make your to-do list at the end of each day for the following day. That way, you wake up with a plan of action and can jump in with both feet.

When you generate your schedule, put the things that take the most brainpower in the times when you think best. Whether you’re a morning person, night person, or middle-of-the-day person, your body’s preferences should be a key factor when filling out your schedule. Need to write a block of copy for a new client? Get that out of the way when your brain is alive and kicking. Then, you can tend to the more mindless admin tasks later (cleaning out your inbox, generating invoices, etc.).

You should also have set times for snack breaks and to check your emails and messages. Checking social media and your email can be huge time wasters, so close those tabs and turn off notifications so that you can stay focused.

3. Make Space

We mean this in both the literal and metaphorical sense. You literally need to have a dedicated workspace with a working computer, internet, and access to a printer. It may be more comfortable to write copy in bed, at the dinner table, or on the couch, but you’ll be more successful at a desk separate from everything else. Keep regular office stuff close by, but keep your desk clutter-free.

You also need to cut the clutter in a metaphorical sense. Most people think their best first thing in the morning, so purposefully start your day with your biggest tasks. Then, when you’re at a good stopping point on the big tasks, push yourself to complete projects that are 90% done and go back to work on your important client work. You might be surprised by how well your brain can tackle the big things again once you check off the small things.

4. Chunk Your Time

Since you’re already in the comfort of your own home, you may be tempted to work, work, work without a break. Don’t! There are tons of studies out there that support the idea that taking breaks helps keep your creative juices flowing and prevents burnout. Whether it’s 25 on/5 off, 52 on/8 off, or 120 on/20 off, you need to get up and walk away from your desk more often than you might think.

And no, that doesn’t mean check your emails while you get a healthy snack – it means completely cut yourself off from work. Call your mom. Put in a grocery order. Read 10 pages of a book. By giving your brain a rest, it’ll be ready to hit the ground running again when you get back to your desk.

If you find that you are too distracted, look into some time management tech. Social media blockers, time tracking apps, and online to-do lists are great ways to keep yourself on track to meet your goals.

5. Stay Healthy

Probably one of the best ways to be a successful freelancer is to take care of yourself. When you feel stressed, you might want to put healthy habits on the back burner and stress-eat caramel corn, but resist the corn! You will be your best self when you incorporate healthy habits into your daily routine. Do things like:

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Exercise daily
  • Take time for self-care (meditate, get dressed every day, read a good book, etc.)
  • Put the phone/computer/tablet away when you’re done with work and don’t check it in bed
  • Get enough sleep
  • Drink water, and limit drinks high in sugar and caffeine
  • Get together with friends and family regularly – high-quality social time is good for the soul

6. Learn to Market Yourself

Writing copy is all about selling something – whether it be an idea, product, or lifestyle. If you want to be successful as a freelancer, you have to learn how to sell yourself, too. Keep track of your writing in a portfolio, and stay on top of recruiters. You might write in your sweatpants, but when you have an audience, you need to dress up and practice your pitches so that everything you present is flawless.

Above all else, always make your deadline. Let’s repeat that – always make your deadline. You’ll find that word-of-mouth can land you a lot of gigs if your reputation includes on-time, quality work.

7. Communicate

Last, but certainly not least, you need to practice your communication skills. Successful freelancers know what they are capable of creating and can verbalize their expectations and qualifications with their clients. However, clients may not be great communicators, so you also need to know what questions to ask and how to check in to ensure they get what they’re after. And, of course, your written and verbal communication needs to be timely, transparent, honest, and professional at all times.

Working from home as a freelancer doesn’t mean that you can slack off – remember, you are every employee in your company, so the buck starts and stops with you. By setting and sticking to your expectations and schedule and holding yourself accountable, you are almost guaranteed to be successful as a freelancer. And with your new and improved quality of life, you may even get around to fixing that leaky faucet.

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© 2020 SPG Educational Resources LLC

Stefan Georgi

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