How to be a Better Freelancer: 9 Essential Tips

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However good you are at something, there’s always a way to get better at it. This article is all about learning how to be a better freelancer.

Based on over a decade of experience both working as a freelancer and regularly hiring them, the tips here should help you up your game, and boost both your income and your job satisfaction.

A bold claim? You’ll have to read on to find out!

Be Honest

“Well of course I’m honest,” I hear you say. And I’m sure you are 🙂

But I’m not talking about integrity or a moral code. 

Be honest with yourself; Be honest with your fellow freelancers, and be honest with your clients.

The freelance world can feel rather polarised at times. At one end of the scale you have many people on forums and Reddit threads working hard to make their first $100. At the other you have the sites that seem to exist for people to show off their “six figure” incomes.

What about the vast majority of us freelancers who are somewhere in the middle? The freelancers who have periods of struggle and anxiety, and then periods when there’s plenty of work and life’s all good?

This is where the honesty comes in. There’s no point in bravado. Freelancers face unique challenges that those in “regular” jobs will never understand. So, first off, share the ups and downs with the people who DO understand – whether you find them through real-life networking or on online platforms such as our own private advice group.

Next, be honest with your clients. Have you reached a point when the rate one used to pay is no longer enough to justify your time? Be honest with them. Are they not paying at the frequency and speed you agreed? Be honest with them.

Honesty

Freelancing’s not a poker game or an episode of The Apprentice. With honesty at the core of all you do, things can become much more straightforward.

Know when to Fire a Client

We’ve talked in detail about firing clients in this previous article. 

It’s not something that happens a lot, but sooner or later in freelancing you find yourself in situations where a certain client relationship isn’t working out. The longer these situations go on, the more toxic they become and the more time you waste.

The key to avoiding a lot of heartache is to learn to spot these situations early. As a random example, only a week or so ago I was approached for a freelance gig. I decided against it purely based on the manner and tone of a couple of emails. In these matters, your gut instinct is usually a very good guide. 

Obviously you can’t go canning every client that doesn’t make you entirely happy. There are lots of factors to consider, least of all that need to pay your bills. Our article here will help with all the related dilemmas. 

Tighten your Credit Control

I’m sure there’s no need for us to dwell too much on the epidemic of late payment in the freelance industry. It can be a massive problem.

However, it’s also down to you not to be a pushover or allow things to get out of hand.

We have some related articles on this around effectively issuing invoices and on how to chase late payment

It makes a huge difference if clients are left in no doubt that you treat credit control seriously. Invoices should be sent promptly, to the right person, and always detail exactly what work they are for. If you think these things sound obvious, I can assure you that plenty of freelancers get even these basics wrong.

When invoice payments are a day late, get in contact. If you get to the depressing point where you have to make legal threats, follow through on them. 

This isn’t about being money-grabbing, annoying, or anything other than polite and professional. Just make sure that if a client or a finance team don’t make a promised payment, they can be pretty sure you’ll be on the phone at 9am again the next day.

Invoicing credit control

If you’re doing that and another freelancer is just letting it pass (while quietly seething and worrying about paying their own bills), you can be fairly certain of which of you will be kept waiting longest. 

If you know your credit control and invoicing needs levelling up, a free trial of FreshBooks is worth a go. You can get one with this link

Keep Learning

Did you add a significant new skill to your resumé last year?

If you didn’t, I hope it doesn’t sound too harsh to say that you need to step it up if you want to be a better freelancer. Because hundreds of thousands of other freelancers DID do the studying.

The modern, connected world moves FAST. In everything from blogging to social media there are tactics and techniques that are all the rage one year and obsolete the next. 

The good news is that it’s extremely easy to learn new things, and it needn’t cost anything. You can start a free online course from Google or Facebook RIGHT NOW, for example.

There’s lots more about free and cheap training options here

Think Passive Income

At the time of writing, it feels like “passive income” has gone truly mainstream as an objective. 

I personally remember starting to think about the possibilities when I read The Four Hour Work Week back in 2009. Back then it was internet marketers and techies who seemed most interested in the possibilities. Nowadays it seems to be everyone.

Passive income money in back pocket

Thankfully there are plenty of options, but the golden rule to remember is that passive income is usually what you get only after you’ve put a ton of UNPAID toil into a project.

But it’s totally worth it, and there are many ways to achieve it. Self publish a book, start a blog, design T-shirts and sell them on Society 6. Just START a background project that may one day see income trickling in with little or no effort. 

Diversify

We talk a lot about slashies and portfolio careers on this site. As far back as 2017, Forbes spotted a trend towards freelancers getting involved in more than one activity. 

This has MANY benefits. If one type of work you do goes quiet, you can often be rescued by another one. Furthermore, it gives you a chance to indulge other work-related personal interests and hobbies.

Just be careful not to spread yourself too thinly, or start a bunch of unrelated projects all at once and never finish any of them. It’s easily done.

Get Partnerships, not Gigs

Networking is a tricky thing in the freelance world, especially the online freelance world. Bidding sites like Upwork can make everything feel very transactional: do job, get paid, move on.

But that’s not how the best business relationships work. The exciting stuff happens when you really work with clients to see how you can best serve them. When you share new techniques and tactics you’ve learned elsewhere.

Be ready to demonstrate what you can do; Suggest other ways to help beyond the obvious. It won’t always lead to great things, but it often does.

Cherish the Small Acorns

I’ve had several recent debates about those smaller freelance jobs. Those first little tasks for a new client, often worth $50 or less. 

Little acorns

It’s easy to be black and white about this, and separate clients into “the big ones” and “the small ones.” Clearly you have to give much more time and attention to a $1000 client than you do a $100 client.

But it’s not that simple. In reality, many of the big clients start out as small ones. And you never know which ones it’s going to be.   

Yes, some clients come along, you do a small job and you never hear from them again. But the best ones can build and build, until before you know it you have a relationship that’s created regular work spanning years.

So don’t “phone it in” just because a client is small. Don’t make them feel like bottom priority. Sometimes when it feels like work has “dried up” from a certain customer, it hasn’t really – they’re actually trying or using somebody else. 

Remember the Freelance Lifestyle

This last one is really important.

If you’re going to put up with all the highs and lows of being a freelancer, PLEASE don’t forget to take advantage of the good parts too.

I see far too much of this. People forcing themselves onto a strict nine to five, doing work that doesn’t fulfil them because it’s what they know, or never taking advantage of the ability to grab a duvet day or an impulsive afternoon of slacking off.

The fact you can do those things is half the point! Work at night if you want, or find ways to combine work and travel, or exercise and learning. At times it does seem that people go freelance and then become their own nightmare boss!


Which of the above things do you think you most need to work on to be a better freelancer? Let us know in the comments below. If you still have an appetite for more freelance tips, we have another enormous article full of them here. 

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