• Advice

5 soft skills that every freelancer should have

We live in an economic system that is skills-based, but what exactly does that mean or should it mean?

Many of us might automatically think about the skills that one gains from formalized training or education, but what about those skills that aren’t taught? The ones that some of us might have learned as a result of some good old fashion home training or experiential knowledge.

Whether I am preparing to partner with someone, contract with a fellow freelancer, or engage in a team-oriented project, I have found that these five skills are cornerstones for success.


Think about time as a precious, natural resource. Most freelancing projects are time-sensitive. Deadlines are often determined by the client or in conjunction with the client. An ability to meet or even exceed those stated deadlines can add tremendous and measurable valuable to your tenure as a freelance.

Yes, life will happen and when it does, be sure to keep your clients informed if you are going to miss a deadline or if you need an extension. Typically, the work that we do has other moving parts and when we miss deadlines, it may have implications for the rest of the project.

By giving clients notice, you better equip them to make the necessary accommodations on their end.

Problem Solving

Although there are many great resources—print and digital—available to us about freelancing, entrepreneurship, and our fields and industries, there are certain things that freelancers have to figure out simply by doing them. This often requires activating one’s problem solving or critical thinking skills.

Because we can’t always anticipate what’s to come, the best way to fine-tune your problem-solving skills is to think through “what if” scenarios, always keeping in mind the end goals and the desired outcomes. If you have grown accustomed to doing things a particular way, think about workarounds or various plan B's.

Effective Communication

A freelancer’s ability to effectively communicate is becoming increasingly more important in a culture that relies extensively on abbreviations, acronyms, and lingo. As freelancers, the ability to articulate what you do, why it is of value (especially for potential clients), and why your services are needed can make the difference between your closing a deal and missing out on one. The keys are being able to write and speak well.

If public speaking is not something that you enjoy doing, you may want to look into local organizations that offer public speaking workshops or you may even consider taking a public speaking course at your local community college or hiring a coach.

The same is true for writing. It doesn’t matter if you write an email a day or a blog post a week, the ability to write well is a commodifiable skill that can aid any freelancer. As with anything, time on task will help you gain stamina, confidence, and a stronger command of the language.

Working Well Independently and With Others

Co-working, group projects, and cohorts have become major trends in corporate America and at many colleges and universities. Understandably, it is important that people can work together in multiple settings with diverse groups. Yet, it’s equally true that in order for any team to operate, all of its members must be able to work well, not just when working together, but independently as well.

Teamwork does makes the dream work and there is no “I” in team. However, if no one is looking over your shoulders or holding you accountable, are you just as productive? The key is understanding your intrinsic motivations. Your ability to perform or work well is should not be contingent upon external factors. Being a self-starter and being self-driven equips you to work well by yourself or in groups/ teams.

Being Positive

This, by far, is my favorite. I firmly believe that having and maintaining a positive outlook is paramount to being a successful freelancer. Going into projects optimistically and with great care and concern for your clients can lead to a healthy attitude about the work that you are doing.

This is not to say that you have to be positive about everything all of the time, but it is to say that if you focus on what you can control and you operate under the assumption of goodwill, your good days as a freelancer will far outweigh your bad days.

Soft Skills Matter

Timeliness, problem solving, effective communication, an ability to work well independently and with others and being positive are five skills that some people may refer to as soft skills. But these soft skills are probably equally as important, if not more important, than some of the other skills that are needed to advance in one’s field. Regardless of your industry, focusing on and fine-tuning these can lead to great long-term success for freelancers.

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.