How to Become a Successful Freelancer

As a freelancer, you are free to put your feet up and work, if that’s what gets your creative juices flowing. Yet it takes talent, business savvy, commitment and time to be a successful freelancer.

Freelancers are always in search of some work, so that they can earn something by rendering their services to people from the comforts of their home. Most of us read a lot about productivity, marketing, pricing, customer service, and these aspects of business are all important. But it’s also important to enjoy the work that you do.

Being a freelancer is a great opportunity that allows you to shape and customize your ideal work style. Here is a look at some things you can learn to help make your work more enjoyable and profitable.

Principles of Successful Freelancing

Freelancers in the design field rule their own schedules, and they can choose the projects they want to do. They crave challenges and dream of working on exciting projects, like everyone else. Certain principles help them in their decision-making processes.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

A client’s smiles grow your business by miles. Be trustworthy. Support, respond and deliver on time. Clients only recommend those who treat them well.

A good price to survive, the right price to thrive. In a competitive environment, each one vies for the attention of prospective clients, so price your services correctly and convey trustworthiness.

Effective communication brings additional remuneration. Undoubtedly, creativity and technical skill are essential for the job, but without effective communication, those abilities won’t go very far.

Dedicated time pays back. Dedicating sufficient time to a project prevents wasted time and helps you meet the expectations of the client. It’s a firm foundation.

Welcome expenses that enhance business. Invest in resources and services to save time and generate income. Say yes to necessary expenses, and maximize your productivity and efficiency.

Long-term clients will delight forever. They are extremely precious because they give reliable work. You avoid follow-ups and other repetitious tasks when working with repeat clients.

Know everything, but master one thing. Freelancers believe they can do it all… because they usually can, to some extent. Being an expert in every aspect of design or development is not easy. Distinguish yourself in some way so that you become the first choice for clients seeking your type of service.

Take freelancing seriously. Whether you are a full-time or part-time freelancer, treat your work as you would any business: make it a priority. To develop a growing and sustainable business, you have to work seriously. Make a budget for necessary expenses, and give yourself enough time to work.

A strong network is your most valuable asset. Socialize online and offline, and join online forums, groups and social networks. Ideally, a freelancer’s network should include experienced and multi-skilled experts.

Manage time effectively. You are your own boss and can set your own hours; thus, productivity and profitability rest in your hands. Evaluate your time-management skills and set financial and scheduling goals.

Motivational Tips

The most difficult aspect of freelancing is staying motivated when you’re all alone. Freelancers must be self-motivated and have a strong work ethic. Keep hunting after new and fresh ideas to stay motivated. Here are a few.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

Save funds for emergencies. Responsibility falls entirely on your shoulders, so organize yourself. Set up an emergency fund. Remember to refill it after you use it, at your earliest convenience.

Be accessible. Freelancers often start out by working from their own place, but make it a priority to rent some space for your business.

Dare to say no. Refusing clients is one of the advantages of freelance work. Stay within your niche, and turn work down if you don’t have a good feeling about it.

Maintain quality. Freelancers are in danger of collapsing under the pressure of deadlines and quantity of work. Don’t compromise on the quality of your work.

Readability. Your work should be immaculate. Queries should be of high quality: well-written and clean. Keep words simple, paragraphs short and thoughts organized.

Do pro-bono work. Do free work for charities or low-budget clients. It’s a good way to get your name out there in the market and open the doors for new opportunities.

Taking Breaks

In good times, you are overwhelmed with work, and projects just keep falling into your lap. But more work means more risk, which can lead to missed deadlines or lower-than-desired accessibility. When your schedule is tight and clients ask for new projects, updates or proposals, the time for a break has come.

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Distraction. When you get distracted, your mind is diverted, and losing focus is easy. Admit that you’re no longer productive and take a break.

Lack of precision. Distraction and lack of productivity are frustrating. When your work gets sloppy and you can’t get something quite right, take a break.

Psyche yourself up. Don’t let other people’s agendas weaken your resolve. Have strong will power and discipline; let go and say no when need be.

Breaks for Your Well-Being

Give rest to your body. Eyes, back, neck, shoulders and wrists benefit when you get up and take rest. Warm up. Your body and soul will thank you for it.

Revive your creativity. When pushing yourself to finish a project, exhaustion is natural. Take a short break, and let new innovative ideas flow. A physical activity like gardening or playing a game can inspire and free the mind to create.

Increase your productivity. Short intervals for relaxation allow us to sustain high levels of effort. The mind reacts faster after a short time away and thus increases productivity.

When to Take a Break

When your attention and energy fade, take a break, especially if you feel any of the following.

You’re ill. Don’t let clients guess your skill level. Consult with them about deadlines early, and revisit the issue as needed during the project.

You’re injured. You can’t do your best work when you are injured and in pain. Let your body heal fully so you can return to work at full strength. Know your limits.

You’re burned out. You stare at the screen for hours, trying to summon the strength to be creative. You have simply run out of juice. You want to quit. It’s not wrong to do that, sometimes. Outsmart your burnout by taking a break. Get a trusted assistant to manage work. Pamper yourself, go somewhere, or spend time with your family to motivate yourself to begin again.

What’s Next in Your Freelancing Career?

When you’re freelancing, your career path can be unclear. Ambition is closely tied to objectives. We all want to land clients and increase our per-hour rate, but where do we want to wind up? Here are some ideas.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

Be content with freelancing. Sticking with freelancing and avoiding added frills is definitely an option, and you could increase your rate over the years or specialize in a niche.

Start a creative studio. For some, the dream is a creative agency. It’s an exciting and logical career path if you get into the habit of taking on clients and hiring other creatives to help.

Create something. Your freelancing skills might enable you to create something: a website, a blog, software, an iPhone app, a book or something else.

Find your dream job along the way. Everyone has dream work in mind, and not everyone wants to freelance forever. Your freelancing experience can help you work toward that dream.

Freelancing can sometimes get in the way of you imagining your future. Where do you want freelancing to take you? Have enough courage and faith in yourself to believe you can get there.

Things to Avoid

Working alone can be mentally exhausting. Not only do you spend days alone, weeks can pass without much social interaction. Here are some mistakes to avoid. They’re easy to make when you’re responsible only to yourself and clients.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

Poor groundwork (such as contacting a potential client without proper preliminary research) is a dangerous way to begin work. Avoid it by researching clients thoroughly before making contact. Use the Internet to double-check facts.

Charging too-low is another mistake. Don’t undervalue yourself. Do good work and charge accordingly. Find out the market average, and charge a little more (but be reasonable). Charge according to your working hours and how much you want.

Missed deadlines are another pitfall. If you miss deadlines frequently, you’ll find your clients going elsewhere. Break projects into small steps, and be accountable. Make deadlines your top priority, along with great-quality work.

Selecting the wrong clients can also bring you down. Select clients based on their market, working style, ability to pay on time, amount of work they require and general attitude. Select carefully. Do assignments on a trial basis initially, and see how things work out.

Unleashing your frustration can be tempting, but don’t direct it at your clients. It will harm your professional reputation, and your business will suffer. Do not communicate when you are angry or frustrated. Calm down first to avoid problems.

No follow-ups can dry business up. Freelancers often complete one assignment and then move right on to the next client. Instead, suggest a follow-up idea for future work. Then, if you don’t hear back, follow up yourself.

Not having multiple income streams is another common mistake. Relying on one or two clients is a bad idea, because if your main client drops you, you’re out of luck. Work hard to get other income sources, and maintain these streams once you have them.

Remember, every problem has a solution. Take appropriate actions to ensure you’re ready when the tide turns.

Increasing Productivity

A smart freelancer is equipped with questions to evaluate their intelligence and test their insight, and they are in contact with discerning minds who can offer feedback. Here are some tips for boosting productivity.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

Be physically fit. Stay healthy, and you’ll be energetic and focused.

Set goals. If you don’t set goals for yourself and your business, no one else will.

Challenge yourself. Goals will be effective only if they’re challenging. They boost your productivity and push you that much further.

Plan ahead. Be precise with your goals, and figure out a way to reach them. Prioritize your day’s work, including necessary tasks and realistic deadlines.

Manage your surfing. Be aware of how much time you spend on the Internet. Organize your email account or hire a contact manager to free up your time for more productive tasks.

Create a good work environment. Have a well-organized desk, comfortable chair and sufficient lighting. Give yourself a place to work comfortably and freely for long hours.

Organize your workspace. For a freelancer, the home office is a workplace, so organize it well for productivity.

Seize opportunities. Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Even when you have steady work, don’t stop looking for new jobs.

Rank your jobsRank your jobs in order of priority according to the following criteria: payment, payout cycle, your expertise, time consumption and other factors.

Raise your rates. Gain experience and take yourself seriously. Expect to get a raise on a regular basis. Demand the same to move up in rank.

Extend your range of services. You use certain skills and talents for most jobs, but stretch your range of services if and when you can.

Market your services. Focus on a single traffic source and target audience. Despite your limited resources, go for more offers than you can handle.

Establish a reliable, communicative clientele. Choosing the right clients and creating lasting business relationships are essential to freelancing success. Your reputation will benefit, and the high and timely payments will keep you motivated.

Manage your time well. It’s essential to prioritize tasks and to know how your time is best spent. Remember to manage your Internet time; set a schedule for surfing.

Set working hours. Distinguish between working hours and free time. With clear boundaries, you’ll be in the right state of mind to work.

Celebrate successes like achieving goals and hitting milestones. Add fun to your work.

Schedule vacations. Time away from work is important for your physical and mental health—and for relationships.

Staying on Good Terms With Clients

Clients are your business, so building strong relationships with them is key. They allow your business to thrive. Preserving those relationships is good for referrals and future business, and they make your work enjoyable and satisfying. Here are some suggestions for fostering business relationships.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

Clearly written contracts improve relationships, almost automatically. The better the client understands your role, the better they’ll feel about the relationship.

Know your client. Learn your client’s interests, and spend time with them during the project. Care about their thoughts and feelings. Treat them as you’d like to be treated.

Ask questions, and invite the client to share their observations regarding the project’s progress and your performance.

Stay focused. When you deliver on time, you raise your credibility and enhance your relationships.

Say yes. The more work you do on the client’s behalf, the more valuable you become. Branch out and try new things.

Say no when requested tasks fall outside the agreement or beyond your capabilities or interests.

Be a learner. Be open to new methods, and approach each project with fresh eyes. Investigate new techniques, and incorporate the best ones into your work.

Hire the right clients. Look for clients who want your type of expertise and thus are willing to pay well.

Make commitments, but don’t die by the contract. Some new requests are outrageous and require a lot of time. Be open to discussion.

Admit your mistakes. Take action as soon as you recognize a mistake. With time, problems only grow and become more difficult to solve.

Secrets of Success

With freelancing comes the freedom to plan your own days at work, but it also requires discipline and planning. You are your own boss, and you need to be good at making rules to help you succeed. Avail yourself of these hints.

instantShift - How to Become a Successful Freelancer

Be reliable. Update your client on the progress of the project. Answer questions and reply to communications.

Be credible. Reliability has a direct effect on your credibility. Care for your client beyond the terms of your contract.

Promote your business effectively. Be reliable, credible and accessible, and promote yourself effectively to build a stable of clients who call on you in their time of need.

Be productive. To become a successful freelancer and increase your income, you must be consistently productive.

Communicate well with all. Be strong in both written and verbal skills.

Plan courageously. Plan your business as well as your current projects.

Be professional. Remember, you are the only representative of your company.

Create support networks. Sometimes, you’ll need feedback from friends, family and others in the field.

Be creative. Use innovative methods of finding new clients. Make unique use of equipment and office space.

Be trustworthy. Changes in your personal life should not jeopardize your projects or investments.

Create a portfolio. Present your projects and demonstrate your ideas.

Advertise locally. Put up fliers or place ads in the local newspaper for some local recognition.


This article was written to inspire you and to guide you as you start out in your freelancing career. Freelancing requires a good grasp of design, development and entrepreneurship. It is an exciting and freedom-filled career path.

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  1. Thanks for the tips Ross. Freelancing really needs some disciplined way of working as we may get carried away due to the feeling of being at home. i would surely try to implement the above mentioned things to polish my freelancing career…Cheers!!

  2. great post :)
    i’m working in freelance now and i hope that’s info really help me.

  3. Yes, freelancing requires certain amount of professionalism and dedication in execution of work.

    This article seems to be lengthy and boring but one needs to understand certain protocols that are explained here. I had a good time reading this one!

  4. Great read and tips, thanks Anders. Love your ‘taking breaks’ ideas and suggestion. Gotta go, “Break Time! Be back, maybe…” smile

  5. Interesting article!

  6. Great Resource provided for the upcoming freelancer. Great stuff

  7. Great post! I’m a frelance and I agree what you said.

  8. I think this is a must read for every wanna be freelancer. Freelancing is not easy now a days. It also require dedication and professionalism.

  9. Very well written. I have been into freelance work for the past 4 years. Clients come in and out – and yes I have come across bogus clients who did not pay even if I rendered quality work. These guidelines will be so much useful to all the other freelancers out there! More to come =)

  10. Hi… What a well written and good looking article. Very good quality all round. Thank you. I too work in freelancing and it is rare to come across an article on the subject which is so informative and full of common sense. There are so many points there that I had never really considered…
    Thanks again and all the best.

  11. Wonderful tips for any freelancer. Thank you

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