Is it money?
Authority and expertise in a niche?
How do we really measure success for freelancers?
1. Successful freelancers have a mission and vision, not just a to-do list
We can’t all be blessed with “epic” workdays all the time. Sometimes, life is just mundane and tedious. Freelancers who have a sense of purpose and who are able to see the big picture can ride above the hard and boring days because their eye is on something further down the road. For me, my mission is to empower other freelancers to create a life and business that provides flexibility and freedom for the family. In my client work, my mission is to watch the dreams of my clients come to life.
2. Successful freelancers are able to live without immediate or positive feedback
There is nothing worse than sweating over a task or a design only to have your clients give meh or worse…a bad review. It’s hard to give 100% and not see immediate results. Freelancers who rely on that instant gratification will get burned out and disillusioned. Learning, relationships, and creativity are a messy endeavor, much like nurturing a garden. It takes time, and some dirt, to grow. Create milestones that aren’t just approval-based.
3. Successful freelancers know when to listen to their clients and when to ignore them
Right on the heels of the above tip is the concept of discernment with client feedback. A freelancer who never listens to his/her clients will ultimately fail. A freelancer who always listens to his/her clients will ultimately fail. It is no simple endeavor to know when to listen and adapt, and when to say, “No- we’re going this way because I am the freelancer and you hired me as the expert!” Learning that line is like discovering gold in the desert, and it’s one of the trademark qualities of success.
4. Successful freelancers have clear goals
How do you know if you are driving the right way when you are traveling somewhere new? You use the road signs and a map (although nowadays it might be SIRI or a GPS). In the world of online marketing, your objectives for your client work act as road signs to your destination. Your plan is the map. Making a plan does not suggest a lack of creativity in your workflow but rather, gives creativity a framework in which to flourish.
5. Successful freelancers have a positive attitude
Negative energy zaps creativity and it makes a nice breeding ground for fear of failure. Good freelancers have an upbeat mood, a sense of vitality and energy, and see past momentary setbacks to the end goal. Positivity breeds creativity. Before I move on…I have to stop and take a moment to address the issue of anxiety and depression. By no means am I suggesting that those who struggle with one or both will not be successful. On the contrary! I have struggled for years and run a very successful freelance business. But I’ve also done the work…meditation, therapy, medication, etc. My depression and anxiety do not define me or my business, and I’m always striving for positivity, even if I have a bad week.
6. Successful freelancers expect their clients to succeed, but don’t take it personally if they don’t
Believe it or not, clients need someone to believe in their ideas and business. They need a supportive and enthusiastic person to put stock in their abilities. The tricky part is detaching emotionally if their launch, program, etc. doesn’t go off as planned. You might say, “I wasn’t hired as a cheerleader” and while that is true, the successful freelancers do exactly this.
7. Successful freelancers have a sense of humor
Humor and wit make a lasting impression. It reduces stress and frustration, and gives people a chance to look at their circumstances from another point of view. If you interviewed 1000 clients about their favorite VA or freelancer, I’ll bet 95% of them were hysterical.
8. Successful freelancers use email and client communication smartly
Clients need communication yes, but effective and productive communication. It does no good to email them with all sorts of unimportant or redundant questions when you know if you took a bit of initiative, you could probably keep going with your assignment without peppering questions. You don’t want to create an environment where there is no communication; you want to create one where the emails you DO send are valuable BECAUSE you use it judiciously.
9. Successful freelancers know how to take risks
There is a wise saying that reads, “Those who go just a little bit too far are the ones who know just how far one can go.” Risk-taking is a part of the successful formula. Risk is an essential ingredient to a successful business so get practicing!
10. Successful freelancers are consistent
Consistency is not to be confused with “stuck”. Consistency means that you do what you say you will do, you don’t change your rules based on your mood, and your clients can rely on you when they are in need. Freelancers who are stuck in their outdated methods may boast consistency, when in fact it is cleverly masked stubbornness.
11. Successful freelancers are reflective
In order to avoid becoming the stuck and stubborn freelancer, successful ones take time to reflect on their methods, their delivery, and the way they connect with their clients. Reflection is necessary to uncover those weaknesses that can be strengthened with a bit of resolve and understanding.
12. Successful freelancers seek out a mentor for themselves
Reflective freelancers can easily get disheartened if they don’t have someone a bit further along offering support. You are never too old or wise for a mentor. Mentors can be that voice that says, “Yes your reflections are correct,” or “No, you are off because….” and provide you with a different perspective.
13. Successful freelancers practice and commit to building relationships with other freelancers
Collaboration between freelancers (in a network) is absolutely crucial to success. Create an open path of communication so colleagues can come to you with ideas, collaboration, referrals etc. and you can do the same.
14. Successful freelancers enjoy their work
It is easy to spot a freelancer who loves their work. They seem to emanate contagious energy. Even if it on a subject like inbox management or Excel spreadsheets, the subject comes alive. If you don’t love your work or your subject, it will come through in your work. Try to figure out why you feel so unmotivated and uninspired. It might have nothing to do with the subject, but your expectations. Adjust them a bit and you might find your love of freelance work come flooding back.
15. Successful freelancers adapt to client’s needs without becoming a doormat
Depending on the day, the strength of your coffee, and the phase of the moon, you might have to change up your plans or your schedule to accommodate your clients. As you grow and change and start to attract new and different clients, your methods might have to adapt and change as well. If your goal is to promote a certain program or software, it will feel like a personal insult when you have to modify it. Make connecting with your clients and solving their problems the goal and you’ll have no trouble changing it up as time moves on.
16. Successful freelancers welcome change in their business and work life
This relates to the above tip, but in a slightly different way. Have you ever been so bored with your house or your bedroom, only to rearrange it and have it feel like a new room? Change ignites the brain with excitement and adventure. Change your office or your methodology to keep you on your toes. Simple changes like rearranging desks and routines can breathe new life in the middle of a long project.
17. Successful freelancers take time to explore new tools & build skills
Every day, there are fresh new resources and tools that can add great functionality to your daily routines. Make time to study, learn, and grow in your craft. But freelancer beware, shiny object syndrome is a REAL problem, so set boundaries on when you can do this exploration!
18. Successful freelancers know that client work is often linked with emotional & psychological support
There are days when your clients will need your emotional support more than a piece of information. Connecting to your clients on an emotional level makes it more likely that they will listen to your counsel and take your advice to heart when it matters. This does NOT mean you become your client’s friend or blur boundaries. It simply means you understand that people do business with people – not robots, and that business as usual isn’t always possible 100% of the time.
19. Successful freelancers are comfortable with the unknown
It’s difficult to work in an environment where you don’t know the future of your revenue, or the outcome of all your hard work. How comfortable are you with not having all the answers? Good freelancers are able to function without everything tied up neatly in a bow, and can do research to find answers to problems they don’t know how to solve…yet.
20. Successful freelancers are not threatened by other freelancers
Unfortunately, competition in the freelance world is common. A freelancer who is insecure will see every new colleague as a potential threat. While there are plenty of over-involved nosy people ready to pounce on your next mistake, that shouldn’t stop you from taking the high road.
21. Successful freelancers bring fun into their workday
Don’t be too serious. Some days, “fun” should be the goal. By the way, fun and productive aren’t mutually exclusive either. When you feel fatigue setting in, infuse some silliness and relaxation into your day and you’ll reset your deadhead brain.
22. Successful freelancers think outside the box and about the big picture
Learning does not happen in a vacuum. Depression, anxiety, and mental stress have a severe impact on productivity. It’s crucial that freelancers take their whole life/work balance into account for longterm success.
23. Successful freelancers get in the client roll once in awhile
Good freelancers outsource work that is not their zone of genius! Not only does it help you, it also puts you in the position of client. This gives you a perspective about the process that you can easily forget when you’re always in freelance mode.
24. Successful freelancers push beyond their limits
It may be a self-made box. “Oh I could never do that,” you say to yourself. Sometimes the biggest obstacle to growth is us. Have you built a box around your methods? Good freelancers know when it’s time to break out of it and try something new.
25. Successful freelancers are masters of their industry
Good freelancers need to know their craft. In addition to the methodology of “client communication”, you need to master your subject area. Learn, learn, and never stop learning. Successful freelancers stay curious.
Three years ago (in my copywriting days), I wrote a blog post about the attributes of a successful educator, and it’s been featured on hundreds of sites and shared hundreds of thousands of times. I stumbled upon the article again, when an editor of an education journal emailed me asking for permission to use the content. And…it got me thinking…so much of that article applied to freelance work too! So…this was the freelancer/VA version rewritten and updated for 2016.