More than a third of the U.S. workforce are freelancers. Here’s how to set yourself apart–and up for six-figure success
The benefits of becoming a full-time freelancer or independent contractor are clear and compelling: being your own boss, setting your own schedule, and potentially working from your dream location anywhere in the world!
And the freelance market is growing steadily. In 2022, 60 million Americans performed some kind of freelance work, which represents an increase of three percentage points from the prior year.
However, with that growth comes increasingly fierce competition for work. I get a glimpse of that every time my content marketing agency has new work to assign; we often have hundreds of talented freelancers who are skilled and ready to take on those projects.
So how do you become the go-to freelancer who’s at the top of everyone’s lists for interesting, well-paying work? I asked some of our top contractors to share their best tips for building and scaling a top-notch freelance business. Here’s what they had to say.
Build your brand.
There are a few key ingredients to setting the right foundation for independent contractor work. A great place to start? Polish your website and LinkedIn profile.
Because you’re representing yourself as a business, it’s important to have a website showcasing your work, including some copy about the type of projects at which you excel. This is also an opportunity to highlight any key results from your projects. Did your ad copy double traffic to your client’s website? Was your article featured on the homepage? Don’t be afraid to brag–a little self-promotion goes a long way.
For LinkedIn, include an email address to make it easy for potential clients to get in touch, a few LinkedIn recommendations from your clients, and a link to your website.
Build your foundation.
As you develop your business, look for work from reputable organizations. You can get a sense of who those companies are by joining freelancer groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Signing up with agencies (like Masthead Media, the agency I co-own) is a great way to learn about a variety of projects and clients.
Many of the most successful full-time contractors I know started their businesses as side hustles while they continued working at another job. This is a great approach if you need some time to build up your client base and get a better sense of what a full-time freelance income might look like. As you increase your client list (and earnings) from freelance projects, you may naturally shift into the mindset of a small-business owner and transition into independent contractor work full-time.
Finally, lean on technology to help you stay organized as you grow your business. Project management tools can provide structure to help you stay on top of assignments, deadlines, payments, and more.
Build your network.
Relationships are everything in business, and this is especially true for independent contractors. Fostering strong client relationships and building your network are keys to any successful freelance career.
Keep in touch with your clients, get to know their business goals, and check in on a quarterly basis. For example, did a client receive positive press or launch a new product? Did you come across an article that’s relevant to their business? These are all perfect opportunities to touch base so your contact will keep you front of mind when new projects arise.
If a potential new client reaches out with a business inquiry, even if it’s a cold email, be sure to respond! This is still true even if you’re not interested in the opportunity or don’t have the bandwidth for new projects at this time. A professional response goes a long way, and you never know where that connection may lead. Pro tip: Organize these kinds of emails in a separate folder in your inbox to keep track of potential opportunities for the future.
Build your reputation.
How can you become the type of independent contractor clients want to work with again? Submitting high-quality work is crucial, of course. But there are a few other elements that can take a freelancer from good to go-to.
First, meet your deadlines, plain and simple. If, for any reason, you’re concerned about missing a deadline, let your client know as soon as possible and propose a suitable solution. Perhaps that means offering a new timeline or sharing an abbreviated version of the work on the deadline and submitting the full version two days later. Whatever it is, be proactive and keep your client informed.
Another reputation-building tip: Take time to understand your client’s processes. Make sure you know when and where to send your invoice, and track your time, if the client requests it. Confirm how long it takes the client to pay their freelancers. If your agreement says you’ll be paid within 30 days of submitting your invoice, don’t send a reminder about payment before that time is up.
Finally, communicate! Ask questions to make sure you understand expectations, keep your client informed of your progress, and ask for feedback during and after the project. This shows your client that you value your work and the relationship–and that’s a win-win for everyone.
Feature Image Credit: Getty Images