5 Must-Have Qualities to Become a Top Freelancer

Freelance HeroA few months ago I was sorting through my email when I stumbled across some old conversations with potential clients. I found pitches that looked great, but eventually went stale, and other times when I didn’t think I would get the client but they came back to me enthused and excited.

At first glance, it wasn’t clear to me why some pitches went perfectly and others (even though the prospect had contacted me) didn’t even come close to closing the deal. Then I started to think about the periods of time where I had lots of clients and the times when I was suffering a drought — and I realized that my own behavior at the time was affecting the outcome.

There are certain qualities that we all exhibit from time to time that greatly alter the way we are viewed by clients — and I believe that these qualities are what set the top freelancers apart from the rest. This was clear to see after interviewing and receiving responses from the 6 top freelancers we talked to in last week’s blog post.

Based on my experience, and the information I’ve gathered from working with many top freelancers, I have put together a list of 5 qualities which I think all top freelancers need to have. Hopefully this list will help you in your own endeavors.

In no particular order, the five qualities that all freelancers should aim to have are:

Quality #1 — Be Genuine

As I shared with you all in my freelancing story, when I first started accepting clients I was afraid of letting them know I worked from my home and not in some posh office. Therefore, via the avenues I was promoting myself, I put up this ‘front’ that differed from reality.

It was only when I started to realize that a lot of people work from home, and that it showed I didn’t need a boss to keep me going or get clients, that I started to embrace my true situation. Once this was the case, I got more and more clients because I was genuine and started naturally communicating with people just like we were old friends.

Being genuine not only means that you can communicate effectively and it’s much easier to do so, but it also means that you show a genuine care in the projects your client is working on. I’ve noticed in the people that I hire for my own creative ventures, I always go for someone who actually has an interest in what I’m doing.

Quality #2 — Take Responsibility

Back in school and college, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, I would always leave my coursework and assignments until the day before they were due and hurriedly get them out of the way. Similarly, when I started freelancing, if there were times I could take a few days off from working or leave my tasks until the end of the month, I would.

Of course, if anything ‘came up’ during these times then I was effectively out of luck.

There are actually a number of areas in freelancing where you have to start taking responsibility for what you are doing, such as:

  • Taking responsibility to command your own time and give adequate attention to freelance projects
  • Taking responsibility to do the best that you can for your clients’ (probably) hard-earned cash
  • Taking responsibility to get things done before less important life matters take over

In a few months I will be traveling and freelancing at the same time, and it’s important that my responsibilities still get taken care of to the same standard as if I were at home. Just because your life situation is different, it doesn’t mean the quality of work that your client receives should be different.

Quality #3 — Communicate Well

There are two main reasons that the ability to communicate is very important when it comes to becoming a top freelancer:

  • To make it clear what you can offer and when you can do it
  • To have a clear understanding of what your client actually wants

If you can get past their “uhms” and “aahs” and find out what they really want, it’s going to be much easier for you to deliver a polished result on your first attempt. Not only must you know what they want, they also have to be clear about what you offer and when you can do it.

If they have misconceptions about your talents or your timescale it will very likely cause complications in the future.

Quality #4 — Know How to Network

Whether online or off, networking is crucial to the success of your freelancing career. I know of two young guys who were very talented at what they did and started offering free services to some of the biggest companies in the world. Of course, the companies snapped them up and received excellent services even though they weren’t paying anything.

These two guys made sure that they worked only for people who were either well connected or had a number of other brands under their label. All they asked when they finished their respective projects was “if you like us, please tell others.” Within a year, I kid you not, these guys received so many clients through this method that they made over $1 million and hired a whole team of skilled staff.

Online networking is also good for your business through routes like blogging, taking part in social networks and connecting on business platforms on LinkedIn. If you’re used to this though, don’t forget that offline connections are usually much more solid and can result in more referrals. I recommend checking out Conference Calendar to see if there are meet-ups in your industry where you can get to know the right people.

Quality #5 — Be Flexible

While you’re transitioning from the rat race to full-time freelancing, it’s obvious that you’ll only have so many hours to dedicate to your work and will have to limit yourself to a certain number of clients and/or projects. If you do get to freelance full-time however, things will change dramatically.

The first thing you have to be prepared for is varying projects each day. In a traditional job you tend to know what you have to do each day and just get on with it. With freelancing, you’re going to have a number of different tasks to deal with and no day will be the same.

And, just like your projects will differ, so will your working hours. There were times when I would land a huge project and literally spend every spare hour on it for weeks. Then there will be times when I just had ‘odd jobs’ here and there and I’ll only work a few hours per day.

If you’re expecting to abide by a rigid schedule that only sees you working a few days per week then this might not be the career choice for you.

These are the qualities I believe all top freelancers need to have, but what about you?

Do you exhibit these qualities? Are there are others I missed?


  1. says

    Great article. I definitely agree #3 and #5. Communication in any relationship can make or break it. It is key! Being flexible doesn’t necessarily mean going in the complete opposite direction you want. it really just means to be able to take ideas from the other party and form them into your view to make something even better. Keep writing great stuff!

  2. says

    Hi Glen,

    I think points #1 and #3 are the most important since those not only will define the success of your collaboration with your client, but the ability for you to leverage that success for more work opportunities in the future.

    Granted the other 3 points are valid ones, but without the ability to communicate effectively and working with a sense of integrity, the foundation on which you build your freelancing company will be rather shaky and difficult to build on.

  3. says

    I think that you can’t place a value on being genuine. I really think that it is one of the most effective weapons you can have in your freelancing arsenal. People can just tell when your not being real with them.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for this post. It is very informative and at the same time inspiring. I agree with you an all 5 whole heartedly but find that I´m lacking slightly in #3. I could communicate with my clients better, especially with telling them what they will be getting from me.

    Do you guys have a ready made template of what the client will be getting? Or do you count the beans again for every project?

  5. says

    I love that being genuine is #1 on this list. People are generally more comfortable with you when you’re sincere and aren’t just trying to impress them. Here in my home office, my dog occasionally makes a snorting sound or two. I was doing an interview with a source over the phone one day and when my dog got particularly loud I said, “pardon my dog, seems like it’s naptime for her.” This put my source so much more at ease because she was a dog person! It’s good to keep in mind that although we’re all being professional, we can also connect on a personal level. Great post!

  6. BebopDesigner says

    Great advice… This is really handy, especially now that I’m rat racing again. Thanks for posting.

  7. says

    Hi Glen,
    Amongst all the points you mentioned “BE Genuine” resonated with me so much more. But care should be taken not to mention some crazy things like ‘I’m actually waiting for a great work like this sort of stuff’ which I generally do by being overwhelmed with the project or the prospect of working with a new client. Then, they start bargaining or taking us for granted.

    However, I always prefer to state the facts as it is. I tell them I’m working from home and have few independent freelancers with whom I get your creatives done. Period. I never say I’ve an office and so on.

    This way we try to clear that we’re straightforward and trustworthy people. Being genuine though risky initially but has lasting and refreshing relationship prospect in the future and make things clear and plain.

    Thanks for the great post!

  8. says

    I loved your post. It’s one to print, and that is rare! I could not agree more with #1 Be Genuine. What a great word. My mantra used to be “Just Be Honest”, but I like Be Genuine better. It adds warmth.

    I work from home as well, and have two children. I often explain that they are my most important clients, and the ‘real’ client work comes after them. I usually gain a lot of respect, and then I don’t have to explain myself when I can’t respond to an email at 3pm. Of course, I do jump hoops and try to exceed expectations, but it takes the pressure off and lowers my guilt when I’m not doing the 9-5 stint at my desk.

    What would I add to your list? Treat your vendors VERY well and pay them quickly. Say thank you often and only ask for favors when your REALLY need it. They will come through when you need them and make you look like a superstar.

    Thanks again for the great post, and all the responses. An inspiring read.

  9. says

    @All – Thanks for all the awesome comments. I’m really glad you all enjoyed the post and could take some value from it

    @Kelly – That is a great addition, thank you!

  10. says

    One Must-Have quality you dont mention I think is: Prodiving solution according each client. Most time I ask what client what to do and think about best solution, not just do what client tell you to do.

  11. stella says

    Good post! Freelancers really need all these qualities to become successful. I think #1 and #3 points are really important to stay competitive in the current freelance market.

  12. Steve Right says

    Very useful thanks. I certainly agree networking is important for every business and can pay dividends and not always straight away. I found <a href=" clever diaries also as a useful networking resource service.

  13. says

    One Must-Have quality you dont mention I think is: Prodiving solution according each client. Most time I ask what client what to do and think about best solution, not just do what client tell you to do.


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