Top 10 Things Successful Freelancers Do
The best ways expert freelancers avoid the common pitfalls of freelancing to become a Master Freelancer!
In today's rapidly changing job market, it's important to think of your career as a start-up.
One that you have to constantly manage and adapt in order to succeed.
And the most successful freelancers approach their business as a business and not just a side gig.
It's okay if freelancing is just a side-gig, but your mindset and approach of the side-gig should be anything but.
It's one of the biggest entrepreneurial myths - just because you are good at "xyz", does not mean you are good at running a business that delivers "xyz".
There is a difference between working in your business and working on your business.
That's the focus of this piece.
What separates the professional freelancers and solopreneurs from the amateurs is not how hard you work in your business, but how well your "business" is set up.
You will avoid being scammed, getting better clients, being paid more (and on-time), have work-life balance, and be happier.
At it's core what separates the professional freelancers from the amateurs is a better set of habits, systems, and mental models.
So if you really want to become a successful freelancer and overcome the biggest problems, these are the top 10 best things to lean into.
How To Become A Master Freelancer
1. Become Limitless: Foster A Risk and Growth Mindset
The Problem: This solves for issues of time management, staying productive, communicating more effectively, getting paid better, periods of no work (feast or famine cycle), and enjoying the journey.
Mindset is everything in business and life.
It is the fulcrum of which all future successes are built upon.
The most successful freelancers are learning machines.
They have reframed their relationship with failure, luck, and risk to tilt the odds in their favor - ever so slightly.
They are not only talented at their technical skill / service, are intellectually curious, foster a long-term mindset, and use mental models to improve their judgement and make better decisions in familiar and unfamiliar situations.
The most successful freelancers have a basic understanding of financial intelligence, price vs. value, process vs. outcome, human psychology, negotiation, sales, and marketing.
They leverage code and media.
If they can't code - they write books and blogs, record videos and podcasts.
And arguably most importantly, they know what game they are playing.
They play long-term games with long-term people.
They utilize the 80/20 principle, canvas strategy, and apply digital leverage.
They play offense, not defense, 80% of the time.
And yes, hard work matters, and you can't skimp on it. But it has to be directed in the right way.
Want to learn more about becoming limitless? Uncap your potential and dive deeper into the first-principles of a risk and growth mindset to become a Master Freelancer.
2. Find Your Own Niche
The Problem: This solves for issues of finding great clients, getting paid more, being a jack of all trades / varied workload, getting your value proposition right, time management, vague requests, and enjoying the journey.
The riches are in the niches.
Who do you think makes more money? The primary care doctor or the doctor who specializes in brain surgery?
Instead of offering a broad range of services / products, specialize.
Focus on becoming the go-to expert in a very specific skill / look in a sub-industry.
Finding your niche is not as difficult as it may seem.
In its most basic form, it's defining your "sweet spot".
The sweet spot can be found at the intersection of four elements: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
Use the easy 4-step formula to find your niche in business and do work you love!
3. Goals Are For Losers: Set Up Systems for Operational Excellence
The Problem: This solves for issues of work-life balance, time management, getting scammed, finding great clients, establishing yourself as an expert, getting paid better, and project management.
Not that goals are completely useless, of course not.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
A systems approach unlocks productivity, efficiency, and profits at every step in the process towards your goals.
Every master freelancer has a few basic systems set up to play the game well, streamline operations, and minimize the time it takes to do a variety of tasks that support the business.
The most successful freelancers are registered as a business entity, use financial accounting software, have a simple lead generation / sales system, a project management system, data management, and a digital asset manager (DAM).
Click here to learn more about each one of these systems in greater detail!
Check out the Top Remote Resources for Remote Work to streamline your operations!
4. Legal and Sales: Contracts and Invoicing
The Problem: This solves for issues of getting scammed, finding great clients, getting paid better, time management, and establishing yourself as an expert.
Master Freelancers have a few branded template documents on file to quickly edit and easily share with a client.
This is how you cover-you-ass and protect yourself from getting scammed.
- Master Services Agreement (Work-For-Hire Agreement)
- Freelance Contractor Agreement
The W9 is the easiest.
You fill it out once at the beginning of each year and send it at the same time you send your deposit invoice to clients.
A solid master services agreement (work-for-hire agreement) should have some basic yet specific project information outlined.
A detailed scope of work (SOW), deliverables list, milestones (if applicable), deadline due, fees, deposits, communication expectations, terms and conditions, and more.
The freelance contractor agreement is similar to the work-for-hire agreement but for sub-contractors.
You use it when you sub-contract out a part of a job to other individual(s) or a team.
A branded invoice template should have your company logo, legal entity name, address, date of service rendered, the name of the service you are providing, the fee / deposit amount, and terms (ie; due on receipt or net 30).
Additionally, you should have your clients contact name, the legal entity name, and their address on the invoice.
To learn more about protecting yourself, structuring contracts, and invoicing clients professionally, click here!
5. Data Management
The Problem: This solves for issues of time management, establishing yourself as an expert, and poor communication.
Data management is often times one of the most underutilized systems an amateur freelancer fails to adopt.
The most successful freelancers have a universal folder and file structure, along with universal naming conventions.
This is paramount to becoming a Master Freelancer.
Expert freelancers unlock huge efficiencies in the business that at first glance appear to be marginal at best.
But as their freelance business grows through time, they have a foundational folder system in place that leads to improved organization, better collaboration, and scalability.
To unlock hidden efficiencies in your freelance business with the basics of data management click here.
6. Use Digital Assets To Speed Up Workflow
The Problem: This solves for issues of getting paid better, staying productive, project management, procrastination, long hours (work-life balance), and time management.
The most successful freelancers use a variety of digital assets to deliver a better quality product in half the time.
In this way, their work feels more like play than real work.
There is little need to begin each project from scratch.
The master freelancer leverages graphics, textures, templates, plugins, and mockups to kickstart the design and/or creative process.
It's a small, powerful, and often overlooked form of digital leverage.
One of the easiest and best ways to level up your work and begin each project three steps ahead.
Learn more about the untapped value of design resources in business.
Unlock your creative mastery with industry leading design assets and editing packs for your next project!
7. Captivating Portfolio and Showreel
The Problem: This solves for issues of finding great clients, getting paid better, establishing yourself as an expert, getting your value proposition right, being a jack of all trades (varied workload), and marketing yourself.
No matter the field or niche, the successful freelancer has a captivating portfolio.
This can be a website, instagram page, showreel, or a youtube / vimeo channel.
The most successful freelancers have a website featuring all of the above.
A curated showcase of their finest work.
Up-to-date, easily viewable, and shareable.
Displaying exactly what their value proposition and skillset is and the results they deliver.
Learn the details of making a killer reel that quickly captures your customers' attention.
8. Find Great Clients
The Problem: This solves for issues of better clients, getting paid more (and on-time), establishing yourself as an expert, getting your value proposition right, micromanagement of bad clients, and vague requests.
This is one of the top 3 biggest issues freelancers face.
How do you find not only clients, but great clients you enjoy working with and like their products / services?
Well, start there - create a google sheet and make a list.
Add the company name, website, and contact link or email address to a point of contact.
Do that for all of your dream companies that you would like to work with.
Then, do a google search of industry specific companies in a particular city and add them to your list.
Top production companies in Los Angeles.
Best creative agencies in New York.
Best fashion brands in London.
Now, that you have a big list of hundred(s) of companies - this will be the start of a basic CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
Then make a new tab and create another list of all the job boards in your field.
Both large and small job boards.
Then create a profile on all of the major and niche job boards, that have links to your portfolio work, website, and social.
This is the foundation of a lead generation system.
Next, have a pitch template that you can easily edit names, text, and portfolio links.
Lastly, email blast your pitch with portfolio links to the contacts in your CRM.
This is one way to pitch companies on your service.
The flip side to this coin is you can approach working with your ideal clients by making interesting things that attract them.
Learn to build. Learn to sell. If you can do both, you will be unstoppable.
Check out the 25 Best Job Sites for Freelance Filmmakers to find work.
9. Reputation: Reviews of Reliability and Professionalism
The Problem: This solves for issues of finding better clients, getting paid more, establishing yourself as an expert, develop your online presence, and marketing yourself.
I love this quote by Kutcher because its the unvarnished truth.
If you want to be a successful freelancer - work with great clients, charge higher rates, and do cool projects, it all goes through what Kutcher has summarized.
Be nice, flexible, and easy to work with while overdelivering.
Execution is everything.
In the long run your actions, habits, and reputation of reliability will compound.
Word of mouth remains the most powerful customer acquisition tool.
And if you have a review platform like google reviews or trustpilot, your ranking and referrals about the work you deliver will sell itself.
Learn the 7 Best Ways To Get Reviews: How To Ask For Reviews + Examples!
10. Increasing Your Versatility and Expanding
The Problem: This solves for issues of establishing yourself as an expert, staying productive, time management, meeting unrealistic demands, a battle to win new business, getting your value proposition right, procrastination, feast or famine cycle, creative inspiration, and enjoying the journey.
Now, this does not necessarily have to be a technical skill.
It can be soft skills too.
Getting better at critical thinking, improving your judgement, financial intelligence, investing, communication, negotiation, and time management all pay massive dividends over time.
These will make you a better business person and creator over time.
Once you've established a solid portfolio and become known as a reliable freelancer, you will naturally be asked to do additional projects that may fall outside of your niche.
At this point, being asked to do work outside your direct service is a good thing.
This is the time where you begin to expand, naturally.
At this point, the successful freelancer's schedule is fully booked.
They have created the demand for your service / product.
This natural demand allows the expert freelancer to do two things:
- raise their rate (double it!)
- hire a sub-contractor (for the work they enjoy the least)
You step up the ladder from being a lone freelancer, to becoming a team of freelancers.
Expanding your core freelance services and cross-selling or up-selling additional services.
Learn more about increasing your technical versatility and expanding your freelance business.
First you learn, then you earn.
So be patient.
Play the long game.
Be a learning machine.
Set up systems.
Use digital leverage.
And most importantly, have fun!
It's a long road - so enjoy the freelancer's journey and don't take yourself too seriously.
We hope you’ve found this article on the Top 10 Things Successful Freelancers Do to be useful and practical.
For more valuable info, tools, and resources for freelance creatives - check out the Ultimate List of Filmmaker Resources, Glossary of Essential Film Terms, or all blog posts.
To Your Success,
Sickboat Creative Studios 😷🚤
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