38+ Freelancing Success Tips (What You Really Need to Do as a Freelancer)

Are you just starting out as a freelancer? Have you been freelancing for a while, but now you’re stuck?

Either way, reviewing this post will help. In it, I share over 38 freelancing tips in our biggest list of freelancing success tips ever.

Freelancing can be hard. Really hard. You’ll get discouraged. You may even be tempted to quit.

There are challenges to be met. There are problems to solve. And it’s hard to remember everything.

This post can help you stay on track. It works great as a quick reminder for the experienced freelancer or as a checklist for a new freelancer.

If you liked this post, you will probably also like Seven Days of Freelancing Tips.

Success Tips for Freelancers

For the first time, I’m sharing this giant list of over 38 freelancing success tips.

(I’ve arranged them in the order that makes the most sense to me, but feel free to apply them as needed.)

Here are the tips:

  1. Don’t stop marketing. Marketing is the key to a steady flow of new and repeat clients. Don’t stop, even when you are busy.
  2. Get social. Social media and other online communities are a great way to get your freelancing business in front of prospective clients.
  3. Establish an effective website. Having a freelancing website is almost a given these days. Make sure yours conveys your message.
  4. Blog to establish expertise. Blogging is a great way to show that you really are knowledgeable about what you do.
  5. Know what’s unique about your business. Base your marketing on how your freelancing business is better than similar businesses.
  6. Keep your portfolio up to date. Remember to review and periodically update your portfolio so that your best work is always showcased.
  7. Don’t be afraid to cold call. You don’t have to wait for clients to come to you. It’s okay to reach out to prospective clients.
  8. Research potential clients. Don’t enter a client agreement without knowing something about the company you will be doing business with.
  9. Listen carefully and ask questions. Don’t jump to any conclusions about what you think your client wants.
  10. Be polite. We live in a rude society, but that doesn’t make it right. Being courteous will make you stand out in a good way.
  11. Negotiate. Don’t just accept whatever terms a prospect suggests. Nearly all aspects of a freelancing agreement can be negotiated.
  12. Define scope. Make sure that you understand exactly what the client wants. Be as specific as possible.
  13. Price fairly. Don’t base your freelancing business on being able to provide low cost services, but rather on the value you add for the client.
  14. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Not every freelancing opportunity will be right for you. Don’t be afraid to turn work down.
  15. Get it in writing. A contract or freelancing agreement is a must-have. Don’t start work without one.
  16. Minimize distractions. Make sure that your work environment is conducive to maximum productivity.
  17. Set a routine. While you don’t have to keep traditional hours, most freelancers are more productive if they schedule regular working hours.
  18. Keep your office neat. A messy office can slow you down and lower your morale.
  19. Eat right. The last thing most freelancers want is to lose work time due to illness.
  20. Get enough exercise. You’ll feel better and work more efficiently too.
  21. Take regular breaks. It goes against common sense, but working too long can actually reduce your productivity.
  22. Meet or exceed expectations. Don’t disappoint your clients. Deliver on time and make sure that you deliver what the client wanted.
  23. Invoice promptly. Once you’ve delivered work, it’s time to send an invoice. If you wait, you or the client may forget.
  24. Say thank-you. Again, people who say “thank-you” are rare. If you want to stand out in a good way, say thanks.
  25. Follow up. Too many freelancers are afraid to check back with existing clients, but follow up is an important part of the process.
  26. Set measurable goals. Without goals, there is no way to measure how well your business is doing.
  27. Have a plan. Once you’ve set goals, devise a realistic plan to achieve those goals (and revisit it often).
  28. Delegate low-level tasks or specialized tasks. Just because you freelance doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.
  29. Keep learning. Keep your skills and knowledge current. Regular learning is not optional for freelancers.
  30. Invest in your business. In the end, it is worthwhile to spend money on a high quality machine, pay for software updates, and high-speed Internet.
  31. Use the right tools. While some freeware and shareware software is quite useful, there are times when you will need to invest in the right tool to get the job done.
  32. Build a support group. Freelancers usually work alone, so it’s up to you to maintain and grow your friendships.
  33. Get testimonials. An endorsement from a past or current client is a powerful selling tool.
  34. Create products. You can create an additional income stream by developing and selling products such as eBooks, WordPress themes, and training modules.
  35. Stay positive. A good attitude is a great asset for the freelancer.
  36. Believe in yourself. If you don’t think you are the right person for the job, why would you expect a client to believe that you are?
  37. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  38. Monitor your online reputation. What you say and what is said about you online is important.
  39. Bonus Tip: Prepare for the future. Save money for those famine periods and have a strategy for retirement.

Your Turn

What tips would you add to the list?

Share your tips in the comments.

Image by Jasen Miller

Comments

  1. says

    This is a smart list. I like 25, 28 and 32.

    I hired an assistant this year, paying her $15/hr. to help with administrative tasks, research, initiating and follow-up with some client calls. The cost is a business expense, and a small one for the time she needs. It also helps me have someone tracking my progress, sending me reminders of tasks and certain deadlines, and generally cheering me on. Freelancing is lonely! I think many of us expect ourselves to be good at every aspect of this business. It’s unrealistic and tiring.

    I get most of my business from repeat clients, as I suspect many of us do.

    I would add 14a — fire lousy clients — PITAs and late payers. The stress they cause is extraordinary and distracting and hurts morale. There are always others, and more respectful.

    And 8a — pre-qualify! Too many editors are telling me “Pitch me!” as though I’ll just start lobbing ideas at them without understanding if this is a fit for me and if they pay enough to make it worth my while.

  2. says

    Great tips, Laura. I would add – Think like a business owner. It took me some time to look beyond my writing skills and to handle my business like a business.

  3. says

    Wow! Good additions to the list everyone.

    Kathryn–That’s true, there’s nothing that says you can’t moonlight on your freelancing with a day job.

    Caitlin Kelly–As always, thanks for your great insights. I really like 14a and 18a. :) Glad to hear that you’ve found a good assistant (and kudos to you for recognizing that you needed one).

    Cathy Miller–That’s so true… whether you’re a writer, designer, or some other type of freelancer. When you start freelancing you are starting a business.

  4. says

    Hire someone to do the things you know you can’t do, like an accountant. I tried for years to do my own taxes, but feel so much better now that I have an expert doing it. And I save a TON more money that way bc he knows the RIGHT way to do it.

    ALWAYS use a contract, even for the small jobs. Something as simple as a Word document outlining what you’re gonna do and when the client is supposed to pay with a line at the bottom for your signature and the client’s will do just fine.

    And the most important of all, don’t burn any bridges! It’ll always come back to haunt you.

    I’m going on 14 years of freelancing this year! YAY!
    Great article. Thanks for the tips.

  5. says

    Melissa–First off, congratulations on the 14-year milestone. :) That’s fantastic! Your comment has a wealth of good tips. I especially like “don’t burn any bridges…”

  6. says

    This is a great list for beginners, as well as for those who have been freelancing for a while. Number 36 is something I struggle with sometimes, but I make sure I do number 24 always :)

    Thank you for the list, Laura :)

  7. says

    Carmia Cronjé, Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you liked it.

    I think this is a good reminder for everyone. I tried to put everything I could think of in there.

  8. says

    This is a thoughtful, spot-on list! I echo Melissa’s advice not to burn any bridges. This is especially true for folks still in a full-time job who are eager to jump ship for self-employment.

    Because former employers can become clients (and references), strive to maintain as much grace and professionalism as possible before, during and after your exit–even if your current role is driving you crazy!

  9. says

    Sarah Jackson–So true. People often feel justified in burning bridges. If you’re upset, it can feel really good. But most of the time it will come back to haunt you for the reasons you describe.

  10. says

    I’ve got most of those pretty much covered, particularly the first four and No. 17.

    The one I won’t do is cold calling… I gave up my sales job for web designing to pursue a better quality of life as I HATED cold calling.

    Anything but cold calling…

  11. says

    This is a great list! I might even print it out and stick it on the wall next to my desk. Never hurts to have a daily reminder! I’ve been freelancing for just about 10 years now, but it’s been less than 2 years that I stopped working full-time to make this my only (paying) job. Don’t burn your bridges is a huge one. Several years ago I had a client who I had to stop working for simply because I didn’t have the time, and now they’re my biggest client. I also contract with my former full-time employer, my second-biggest client, and met with my employer before that to discuss how I could assist their organization. It really does pay to keep in contact.

    What I really need to work on are numbers 16, 17 and 18!

  12. says

    Laura,
    Awesome list. I love it and do almost all of it (been in the business almost 20yrs) but,
    what about asking all the right questions, getting the answers, and having the client still “freak out” after they make change after change, after change(basically changing the scope) after repeatedly keeping them up to date on every aspect and even heading a few things off in the beginning? This client has been great throughout the past 2-3 years, but their client is horrible. It’s the “trickle down” blame game.How do you handle that?

    Anyway, thanks again! I’ll be reviewing this again. Probably print it out too as a reminder!

  13. says

    Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your website on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the info you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, great blog!

  14. says

    This is a great and useful list.

    One other advice maybe, be organized and think of your priorities. Some people who have the burning desire to get REAL money just simply accepts a LOT of jobs at a time, and later on they’ll realize that they cannot cover all the projects…tsk tsk tsk

    This is what happened to my friends. I think you just need to relax, and stay focused on your current project. Maybe start one project, if you’re a first timer, and finish the project providing great experience to your client.

  15. says

    Great useful freelancing tips!

    I have been an avid fan and regular reader of freelancefolder articles. I will apply these tips to my freelance business. Thank you Laura for writing this very helpful tips.

  16. Jonty says

    If you are looking for a fresh approach to freelancer, try this recently launched new site…
    http://create-theworld.com
    They dont charge any fee’s and do not hold any funds, projects are paid straight into your paypal account, no percentages taken at all, just a small monthly subscription fee. Your portfolio is assessed for quality before your allowed to join the site so the standards of projects and users are pretty high…and legit!

    Finally an honest freelancing site!!

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