Running a business is tough enough, but when you’re centered in an industry that seems to change almost every day, it can seem impossible. While there’s a ton of freelance work out there, there’s also plenty of competition and it becomes a daily fight to set yourself apart.
One of the best things about being a freelancer is that when you get the ball rolling with clients, you don’t have to go looking for work or advertise often. However, if you’re not careful to keep up with the industry, you can find your skills behind the curve, and your clients somewhere else.
So how do you survive in this competition heavy industry?
Pack Your Survival Kit
Whether you believe in specializing in one area, or being well versed all over, it’s important to have your core skill. This is what you do the best, and no matter where else you may venture, this skill needs to stay updated all the time. This skill is your survival kit, your bread and butter, the one thing you can count on to get emergency work.
For example, my core skill is front-end development, specifically HTML/CSS. While I now mostly do WordPress work, some eCommerce, some PHP and have been dabbling in iOS, my core skill will always be the front-end. I make sure to keep up with all of the latest news, technologies and trends involving HTML and CSS, because it’s always something I can fall back on if WordPress or my other dabbles somehow fall to the wayside.
What is your best skill? No matter if it’s writing, design or code, don’t let it rust just because you’ve moved into other areas.
Another way you can ensure survival is to find yourself good shelter by having good business practices. While running the business itself isn’t glamorous, or something you often think about on a day-to-day basis, it’s the foundation of your freelance career. Without it, you’d forget to pay taxes, invoice clients or find actual work.
There are different methods that work for everyone, but my advice is to go digital and err on the side of organization. It’s better to spend an entire day trying to figure out how to arrange your workstation, then not caring at all and letting junk pile up. How can you think clearly when trying to work if the business side of things is a mess?
Once you become an established freelancer, you’ll find that you no longer hurt for work, nor do you have to “get out” and look for new clients. However, this doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to your little hole, or you will be forgotten. Just because you never advertise yourself directly, doesn’t mean you no longer put yourself out there. Simply by maintaining a blog, helpful Twitter account, or other social mediums, you continue to put yourself in front of potential clients, contacts and partners.
The worst thing a freelancer can do is get too comfortable with work. You might be completely booked for the next six months, but what then? If you bury yourself in your work for that six months and never show your face either offline or on, who’s going to remember you? Where will your work come from then?
Change Your Community
One sure-fire way to die in the wilderness is to be a part of the wrong community. Stop for a minute and see where you and your business stand. Are you working for the right clients on the right projects? Or are you barely making ends meet, doing projects you hate for clients who are crazy?
Moving somewhere else is scary, whether you’re physically moving to another place or just repositioning yourself. But moving is great for getting a jump start to a half-dead business. Not every project and every client and every budget is a fit for you. There will always be other freelancers who will charge less, and even more than you.
In all honesty, you never really need to worry about charging a client too much money. If you can sell your worth to the client, and he can see that you know what you’re doing and you do it well, he’ll pay your prices. Fail to deliver however, and word will quickly spread that you’re really not worth it. ‘Gouging’ a client only occurs when you short them what they pay for. That’s how some freelancers can charge $600 an hour for the same thing you do for $15.
Lead and Be Followed
If you watch any survival shows, you’ll know that the one who leads is the one who stays in the game (or alive) longer. Don’t be content with just following the experts, be the expert. Of course, this is easier said than done and it’s tough when there are thousands of people who do the same thing you do.
But leaders always offer something that no one else does. What can you give to people who would be your followers? A free eBook you wrote, great articles on your blog, free themes or templates, or anything that is both valuable and free are a great way to get people to follow. Continue giving great insight, and eventually you’ll naturally become the leader.
It seems that every day we learn that there’s some new web technology, some new “famous” person, or any other thing changing in our community. How do you keep yourself from falling behind?
Image by Frank Douwes