7 Top Freelance Survival Tips

These seven freelance survival tips will help to see you through the lean times–and there will be lean times, at least until you have an established, reliable base of regular customers.

Every freelance worker has gone through a bad patch, when none of their job bids are accepted, on-spec submissions are rejected, or rock-solid clients cancel a gig (or go under). How you deal with adversity is critical to the survival of your business.

Here are seven tips to help your freelancing business survive.


7 Ways to Survive as a Freelancer

Maybe you’re going through some rough times as a freelancer. Or maybe you haven’t faced your rough times yet. Either way, these freelance survival tips will help you keep your freelancing business alive:

  1. Be businesslike. Never think of your freelance work as “just another job.” In a very real way, you are your reputation. It’s easier to build a good reputation than it is to repair a bad one when things go wrong. Hitting deadlines, being flexible, being persistent without being a pest, acting polite in your dealings, and keeping promises and commitments is nothing more than common business sense. Nothing makes you stand out more than screwing up. Avoid screw-ups at all costs. You want to be memorable for the right reasons–by over-delivering and raising the bar for your competitors.
  2. Be original. My brother is trained as an illustrator. His mentor told him to always reject the first two ideas he had after looking at a brief for the first time. Just think what that means for a moment. The most obvious ideas you’ll get for any topic are almost certainly the same ideas that your competitors will have. Being original means shining new light through old windows. Check out the publication, project description or site you are hoping to work with. Avoid pitching ideas that are too similar to anything that’s been done by others. If you have to write about a topic that has been talked about before, ensure that your angle is unique, fresh and adds value.
  3. Be humorous. I got an excellent response rate when I sent a letter by mail (in those happy days before the Internet) to a group of targeted publications, describing my ideal ‘nemesis’ (freelance writers who missed deadlines, failed to return calls, went off on three-day gin benders and made the editors’ lives a misery). In the letter I highlighted how I was different from my nemesis in every way. One small mailing of 20 letters got me four “Nothing now, but we’ll keep in touch” letters and three jobs, two of which became long-term relationships. There is a fine line to tread. Never be offensive or tacky. Don’t make fun of religion or race. But, a well-written, amusing approach is more memorable than yet another “Hello, here is my resume I am super-cool” borefest.
  4. Be resourceful. When my freelance writing career took a turn for the worse (problems in my personal life dominated my energy and made it impossible for me to operate effectively), I needed a different way to make up the shortfall. I took to trading on eBay for several years. My writing skills made it easy to craft great descriptions that sold my products, and I even began to learn rudimentary HTML that made the switch to online publishing easier when I took that route.
  5. Don’t be afraid to bastardize your talent. If you are a great illustrator, but gigs have dried up, create T-shirts and gifts with your portfolio using CafePress or Zazzle and promote them to suitable website partners to leverage their traffic. Turn your writing talent to producing eBooks, and market them on Kobo, Amazon Kindle and iTunes. Consider offering a free report or review of somebody else’s project to get your foot in the door for future hiring. Offer your services on Fiverr, so clients can try you out before committing to bigger contracts. There are so many ways to make a living these days. Talented people with imagination are truly in a blessed position.
  6. Network. Tools like Twitter and Facebook make it easier to find hard-to-reach people. I still think it’s impossible to get onto a truly famous person’s radar in this way, but there are thousands of decision-makers on Twitter who could be reached out to with a little persistent friendliness and value-added tweeting. Don’t be a pest, but do send them links they might find useful or make suggestions about projects you could bring something to the table on. It’s always better to be constructive rather than critical. Just remember, you’d better be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk (or tweet the tweet) if they come back to you for a proposal.
  7. Don’t lose heart. It’s easy to become discouraged when things aren’t going your way. It’s such a cliché, but there is not one successful business person–not ONE–in the world who has never failed, never suffered a setback, never been told “no” dozens of times in a row. The difference between success and failure is never giving up. Of course, you can’t be delusional about this. If your work is being rejected on quality grounds, over and over, then you need to examine whether what you’re producing is good enough. Are there skills you could improve by taking courses, reading books, or studying websites? Can you get a peer review by a totally unbiased professional who will give you a no-punches-pulled, frank assessment of your output? Is there a mentor who could take you on? Could you intern for a brief time and get free training that way?

Your Turn

Being truly outstanding, standing out from the crowd of freelance workers competing for every job, means implementing the above freelance survival tips. Sharpen that lance, and go forth to battle!

What are your best freelancing survival tips?

Image by Florian