7 habits of highly effective freelancers

Nov 10, 2015

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Have you ever wondered what it really takes to make it as a freelancer? To build a thriving business that brings personal satisfaction, financial stability and lets you live the lifestyle you truly want?

Is it confidence? Persistence? Patience, perhaps?

Or is there something else you need to learn and develop to succeed?

That’s exactly what I’ll answer today. I’m going to show you the 7 habits of highly effective freelancers.

Habit #1: Always Set Goals

The first habit is the simplest:

Set goals.

That’s it. Never start anything without first defining what you want to achieve by doing it.

And here’s why:

  • Goals are stepping stones to achieve an end result
  • Goals help you define steps required to complete the project
  • Goals help you keep track of your progress
  • Goals help you spot problems early
  • Goals create a sense of commitment

If you look at the most successful freelancers, they all set goals. And that’s for pretty much everything: from income levels they want to reach, to the rate at which they manage to cross projects off their to-do list.

Habit #2: Find Focus

As a fellow freelancer, I’m sure you can relate to this.

It’s easy to get distracted.

You wake up in the morning, committed to finally get that project off your plate. You sit at the computer and instead of firing up your first project you check your email. Then log in to Twitter and catch up with what your friends were up to on Facebook.

And an hour later you still haven’t even opened the client’s file.


But successful freelancers know the value of doing the hard work first. And, they religiously do it first thing in the morning, before doing anything else.

So, what’s this hard work?

The simplest way to describe it is anything you tend to put off, and make excuses for not doing. It’s the stuff we skip to work on the easier, more pleasurable stuff.

Habit #8: Join a community of freelancers (it's free!)

Become a member

Habit #3: Continue to Learn New Stuff

It’s actually simple:

Never stagnate with your personal and professional development.

Keep pushing yourself to learn new skills. And build up on the ones you already have.

Master the business side of freelancing. Become better at managing money. Sharpen your technical skills. Or learn something completely new that you could start offering as a service.

Whatever you do, it will have a huge impact on your career.

You see, education is what would set you apart from other freelancers delivering similar services. It can also help you to justify raising your rates.

Any additional and specialized knowledge and skill you gain is also likely to add value to clients and persuade them to hire you. Not to mention that many companies prefer hiring freelancers with highly specialized knowledge.

In short, learn new skills. Any new knowledge you gain will help you improve your business.

Habit #4: Develop Organization Skills

I’m sure you’ll agree:

Freelancing often requires juggling many projects and responsibilities at the same time.

It can be confusing, time consuming, and it almost always results in errors. That’s why effective freelancers are also keen organizers.

They have filing systems to help find the right information when they need it. Schedules and daily planners keep their actions in check. And, they use software to help automate tedious tasks.

They do it all with these goals in mind: to make themselves more productive, complete greater amount of projects and prevent errors.

And so, to make it as a freelancer, you need to develop strong organizational skills. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Develop a daily schedule to help you stay on top of what you have to do each day.
  • Keep your workspace tidy so that you don’t have to push away hamburger wraps to find the keyboard.
  • Develop processes to manage clients and their projects.
  • Set work hours to build and maintain a healthy work / life balance.
  • Incorporate tools that can help you automate a lot of.
  • And develop a proper filing system to keep track of any paperwork you have, from client contracts to business receipts.

Habit #5: Master Communication Skills

Successful freelancers network, mingle and communicate with everyone, from clients to peers and anyone in between.

They use social media to connect with peers and go to networking events to build relations that could result in new business opportunities.

So, to grow a successful business, you need to get out and talk to people.

Ross Simmons advise new freelancers to have strategic coffee meetings. He writes:

“When you’re starting out, the coffee meetings you take will make a huge difference down the road. It might be just an hour today but it could be the beginning of a relationship that fuels a portion of your business.”

And he’s right. But not only because these meetings will fuel your business, they’ll also help you learn to communicate.

Habit #6: Prepare for Change

If there is one thing I’d like you to take from this post, it would be this:

Never take your business for granted.

It’s so easy to rest on laurels when your roster is full, you bill top dollar and have a long waiting list of companies dying to work with you.

But things change. Your clients might run out of projects (or money) and a market shift might force you to lower your rates. You can quickly exhaust your waiting list too.

Unless you were prepared for it, you might find yourself facing not having enough work and not knowing where your next paycheck might come from.

Successful freelancers understand the dynamics of business. They know what brings them money today might not necessarily be their main source of income tomorrow.

Habit #7: Always Look Ahead

You should also approach your business as a living entity.

Whether you like it or not, your business will change. The company you’re running now will not be the same in, say, 2-3 years time. These changes will be subtle and will happen gradually over the course of time.

You may have had restructured your business. Or changed the way you manage it. Even a small change like introducing a proper onboarding process changes the business forever.

The market plays a role in shaping your practice, too. Not to mention your personal situation. Your business priorities will change when you start a family, for instance. Suddenly the prospect of having to provide for more than just yourself forces you to make different life and business decisions.

What do you think?

Do you agree with me? Or do you think that it’s something else that makes some freelancers successful? Let me know in the comments.

Calin Yablonski runs the Freelance Business Guide, a resource website for new freelancers wanting to launch and grow a profitable freelance business. He is also the founder of Inbound Interactive, a micro agency specializing in local search marketing services.

You can find chat with him in the Business of Freelancing Hive, right here on Freelancers Union.