7 Essential Professional Decisions to Determine Your Success or Failure


What determines freelancing success or failure?

Of course, there are a lot of answers to that question. Maybe there are as many answers as there are freelancers…

However, I’ve come to believe that there are seven vital decisions freelancers make that play a significant role in future success or failure.

In this post, I’ve listed all seven essential professional decisions along with some suggestions about each one. At the end, I invite you to share how you’ve handled each decision.

Decision #1: When Am I Going to Work?

There are a lot of dimensions to this first key decision. Here are a few of them:

  • Will I be full-time or part-time
  • Will I work traditional business hours?
  • Will I keep “regular” hours or just work when I feel like it?
  • How many hours do I want to work per week?

As you can probably see, these dimensions are all interrelated. For example, if you are a part-time freelancer you may need to work non-traditional business hours because you have a full-time job during traditional business hours.

Freelancers who are available during traditional business hours often have an advantage when it comes to meeting with clients who expect them to be available during regular hours.

Setting regular hours for freelancing can also help you to get into the habit of working and being productive. However, many freelancers feel that if they set “regular” hours they won’t be able to enjoy the flexibility of freelancing.

Of course, this isn’t true. Just because you typically work certain hours doesn’t mean that you can’t take a day off or change your schedule when you need to. As a freelancer you don’t need to ask anyone for permission to change your schedule.

Once you’ve determined when you’re going to work, you’ll also need to decide where you’re going to work.

Decision #2: Where Am I Going to Work?

Your work environment plays a critical role in your success or failure. A good working environment is a huge asset, but a negative work environment can slow you down.

Fortunately you get to choose where you work.

Here are some of your work environment choices. You can work from:

  • Home in your own office
  • Home in a common area (such as the living room or kitchen)
  • A co-working site
  • A private office outside your home
  • A mobile device

When it comes to where you do your best work, every freelancer is different. Many freelancers flourish in the middle of family activity. For them, a desk in the corner of the kitchen or living room works just fine.

Other freelancers need quiet to concentrate. They do their best work from a private home office or even from an offsite office where they can get away from it all.

Now that you know when and where you are going to work, make sure that you understand the purpose of your freelancing business.

Decision #3: What Is the Purpose of My Business?

You’ve probably already identified your freelancing field. You’re a freelance web designer, graphic artist, translator, writer, or whatever. That’s great. You definitely need to know that. :)

But there’s a little bit more to knowing the purpose of your freelancing business than that. Think about why you started freelancing and what your goals are for your business.

Are you freelancing so that you can earn a living, or do you just need a little extra cash? Are you content for your freelancing business to stay small, or do you want to grow and become a corporation?

Think about the future of your freelancing business. Where do you see yourself next year? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Understanding your answers to these questions helps you make difficult choices as a freelancer.

Decision #4: What Is My Unique Selling Proposition?

Are you different from other freelancers in your field?

Hopefully, you answered “yes” to that question because it’s the differences that make your freelancing business stand out.

The differences are known as your unique selling proposition (USP). Your USP is an important factor in your success.

If you’re not yet sure what’s different about your freelancing business, take some time to figure it out. Ask clients and colleagues if you’re not sure.

Not learning what’s unique about their freelancing business holds many freelancers back. Remember, without a USP you’re just one freelancer in a vast horde of other similar freelancers.

Decision #5: How Will I Market Myself?

Knowing USP will help you market your freelancing business effectively.

As a freelancer you there are many factors that impact your marketing, including these questions:

  • How much time should I devote to marketing?
  • Will I focus on offline promotions, online promotions, or a combination of both?
  • How do I effectively use social media to promote my freelancing business?
  • Should I have a blog, website, or both?
  • Should I make cold calls?

The marketing decisions you make determine how many new clients your freelancing business gets and what type of clients they are.

The number one mistake that newbie freelancers make is not marketing their freelancing business enough (or at all). Unfortunately, not marketing can cause your freelancing business to go under.

Decision #6: How Much Will I Charge?

Speaking of income, one of the most popular topics here on Freelance Folder is freelancer rates. It’s no wonder, since rates directly impact how much we earn as freelancers.

Lots of freelancers struggle with figuring out how much to charge for their services. Of course, we’ve risen to the challenge to provide you with posts on pricing principles and methods of charging clients.

Remember that your freelancing rates are not set in stone. You can raise them if you need to. However, it can be hard to raise your rates and keep the same clients, so be careful not to undervalue yourself.

Decision #7: Where Do I Find Work?

The final question that most freelancers struggle with in their freelancing career is where to find freelancing projects.

There are basically four methods for finding freelancing work:

  1. Contact prospective clients directly (cold calls/direct emails).
  2. Answer online and print advertisements.
  3. Work through an intermediary such as a bidding site or being a subcontractor for an agency.
  4. Maintain an extensive network of potential clients and friends.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

The highest paying clients tend to come from method number one, but you will also face a lot of rejection.

Freelancing jobs are often advertised, so it can be worth it to respond to advertisements. But you’ll face fierce competition from other freelancers who are answering the same ads.

Working through an intermediary means you don’t have to market as much, but you’ll also earn less money since the intermediary takes part of your profit. Bidding sites, in particular, can put you in a pricing war that you don’t want to be in.

Personally, I get most of my project work through a network of colleagues and friends. But it took me years to build this network.

Your Turn

There you have it–the seven essential decisions that can make all the difference in your freelancing career.

Did I miss anything important? How have you handled these decisions in your own freelancing business?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by Klearchos Kapoutsis

Comments

  1. says

    Your second point is a very good point. When first starting out I think it is common for a lot of freelancers to operate from home, striking a balance between home life and work life can be very difficult unless you lay down specific boundaries.

  2. says

    Regardless of your decision or plans before you start your business, the time you work (whatever work means) will be predicated upon your contract with your client.
    Did you know that many old timers point out that work expands to the time available for it.

  3. says

    When I went first left full time employment to go it alone the big one thing I underestimated was the ‘where’. I assumed I could just site at my kitchen table the same as I had done when I was working evenings and weekends, however in a full time capacity it just proved too much.

    Firstly, the boundaries between home and work life became really blurred, and I never quite kicked into ‘work mode’ in the morning. I found it difficult to simply move my cereal bowl from breakfast and suddenly be at work.

    The second issue was best described as cabin fever, I felt like I was going crazy being in the same place all day every day. I know some people thrive in this environment, but to me it was all too much and I found I was doing my best work when I went out to n the coffee shop for a few hours.

    After this, I decided to get a separate work space and it worked out much better for me. I just wish I’d considered all this before I’d left work as it made the first few months even more stressful that it already was.

    David

  4. says

    David,

    Thanks for sharing your story about where to work. I do think this decision is often taken for granted and it shouldn’t be.

    Of course, the best location will be different for every freelancer. I’m glad you found yours.

  5. Leah says

    This is a great article, Laura! I also want to add that prior to all these questions, one should have the courage to jump on it. It is true that there are a lot of risks involved in being a freelancer — but one will eventually learn along the way.

    One of the biggest reasons I opted to being a freelance contractor is the flexibility and mobility of it. I have a full time project of 40 hours per week and some part-time projects on the side though I work on them whenever I want and wherever I want. I don’t set a regular “shift” but I try to allot number of hours a day to work on each project. Generally, I work based on my project deadlines. It’s really a great way to practice time management :) In my case, I have a home office but whenever I travel, I bring a few hours of work with me — and there have been instances wherein I worked at the beach or a coffee shop. ( I guess this depends on the nature of your project – I prefer diversity in my workplace but I thrive in my home office 70% of the time)

    Just like any other jobs, being a freelancer takes preparation — the thing is I started accepting part-time projects even when I was still employed. This helped me build my freelancer profile over the span of 2 years while I was still on a regular employment. When it came to the point wherein I wanted to do something else in my life such as traveling and doing charity works, I left the corporate world and decided to take a leap and just do it. It is a rewarding experience especially now that majority of my clients are giving me long term work — but of course it didn’t happen overnight. Nonetheless, your heart should be in it and money should not be your sole motivator. Freelancing is a very rewarding way to earn a living and it has many benefits which might not be as lucrative as a regular employment but definitely the rewards are priceless. For me, the biggest benefits are flexibility and mobility, less cost/expenses, you’re much more in control and your success is not dependent to a single organization ( since you can have multiple clients and projects). I was able to do more trips and successfully launched two charity projects in the first year of being a freelancer.

    I have to mention though that the industry I worked for the past 9 years is aligned with the projects and clients I have now as a freelance contractor — so the experience in the corporate world played a very important role in my success as a freelancer as well. I’ve had great success in my corporate days though the stress of routine, commute and reaching the prime age ( lol ) made me consider a career in freelancing.

    Just to share, based on my personal experience, the three most important questions I asked myself were:

    1. How do I view freelancing and how will it make my life richer?
    2. What are the skills which I can market as a freelancer?
    3. Am I ready to take a leap now or wait out until I develop on my skills further? ( In short, am I ripe enough to be competitive? )

    In my case, I looked at it as a sustainable career rather than just a source of income so I prepared for it and carefully made sure that I’d be in for the long haul.

    I guess most freelancers would agree if I’d say that being in this made my life less stressful and more richer. I can travel, spend more time with family and friends, enjoy diversity of projects and learned how to manage my time and money better.

    I hope my story will be a testament that there is success in being a freelance contractor.

    Again, great article, Laura! And I send my respect to all my fellow freelance workers who are loving and living life to the fullest!

  6. says

    Great post Laura! This could definitely help out others especially those who are new to the freelancing world.

    “..it’s the differences that make your freelancing business stand out.” I totally agree with you. There are millions of freelance workers out there. Standing out could really help you get an offer/job.

    Thank you for sharing this with us!

  7. says

    A great post and really useful. The only thing I’d add is that I transitioned from full-time day job / part-time freelancing to part-time both to full-time freelancing, and I set up systems recording my income from freelancing per month against financial goals involving replacing the salary I would lose with each drop in day job hours, which meant I knew when to ditch the day job and go solo.

    But it’s good you mention financial matters – lots of freelancers I meet don’t have financial goals, and I still have them, so I can track my progress through the year and make sure I’m on target for financial independence, even though my main goal was “have a more flexible lifestyle”.

    Liz Broomfield
    I’ve blogged about moving from part-time to full-time freelancing at http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com

  8. says

    These are the crucial decisions to make before deciding to be a freelancer. I made a decision to quit my full time job considering the work load that I had to do each day. It was impossible for me to handle a full time job and my freelancing.

  9. says

    For me, the biggest learning point I have from going full time freelance is being able to work from home without colleagues around me all day. It takes a good amount of getting used too, and you find you need to re-shape the routine you may have with your partner. Once they arrive home, you are generally ready to go out!

    No regrets at all though. It just important to think everything through before making the jump.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 7 Essential Professional Decisions to Determine Your Success or Failure: What determines freelancing success or failure? I’ve come to believe that there are seven vital decisions freelancers make that play a significant role in future success or failure. In this post, I’ve listed all seven essential professional decisions along with some suggestions about each one. At the end, I invite you to share how you’ve handled each decision.[Freelance Folder] [...]

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