The first steps into freelance life are exhausting and exciting by equal measure; choosing a business name, winning your first piece of work, calculating tax when you’ve been used to corporate payroll.
But what happens when you’re better established and securing work is less of a struggle – shouldn’t you just be happy with your lot? In a word, no. If you want to stay motivated, keep your clients interested and secure your longer-term prospects, your career will need care and attention. Here’s five tips to help you out:
Five tips for keeping your freelance career fresh
1. Don’t set too many constraints
When you’re employed by a company, the boundaries of your role will be well defined – making it easy to measure your contribution and demonstrate room for improvement. When you work for yourself, the only person who says you can’t do something new is you. If you’re unsure about what else you might be able to offer, it’s helpful to think about how what you do fits in to the broader overall picture of your client’s business. Ask yourself:
- Is there a next step in the process that you could fulfil?
- Is there a task you could take off their hands that would help you grow your business?
- Are there other freelance services your clients use that you’d love to deliver?
And if you don’t know the answers to these questions – ask! Having a conversation with your client that demonstrates you’re interested in their business success creates new opportunities and keeps you front of mind.
2. Plan for what’s next
It’s vital to keep on top of what’s going on within your industry and the wider world. As a freelancer you can move much faster than larger organisations so think about how you might adapt or tailor your services in times of change.
You don’t have to do this alone either. Networking groups can be fantastic forums for developing strategic alliances and a well-worded post on LinkedIn could yield insights and opinions that will help you spot opportunities to create new offerings.
3. Get ready to fail fast
When you’re emotionally invested in your business, you can become fixated with seeing ideas through – even when they’re not working. This is where the growth mindset principle of ‘failing fast’ comes in; instead of beating yourself up, view the failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
If you feel like a project or service offering isn’t working and you’re finding it hard to let go, consider the following questions:
- Does this fit with my long term aims for the business?
- Is there demand for this in the market? If not, why not?
- What is preventing me from stopping this service / halting the project?
More often than not, it is our fear of letting others down or being seen to fail that gets in our way – something that does us, and our business prospects, more harm than good. If you’re really struggling in this regard it is useful to talk the challenge over with a business coach or someone who’s unconnected to your business and can help you look at the issue rationally.
4. Set yourself a challenge
When you work for yourself your world can become very small very quickly. So, it’s important to set yourself some challenges or ‘stretch goals’ that offer you something to aim for. Just because you’re working from your spare room or kitchen, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make a significant impact. Examples could include:
- Doubling your income
- Tripling your profit
- Delivering a series of talks
- Winning a client on every continent
- Securing a guest slot on national radio
What’s valuable to remember is that your business is your responsibility so there’s no point in feeling queasy about having big goals or wanting to earn public recognition.
5. Reward yourself!
There’s a reason why performance reviews, achievers’ clubs and bonus schemes work – and there’s no reason why you can’t set these things up if you’re freelancing. If you’ve had a great quarter then reward yourself with a week off, buy yourself something that feels extravagant or take yourself out for dinner. Set yourself targets and against each one line up a reward that will motivate you to get there. It can feel curious doing this for yourself, but it absolutely works.
Freelancing involves taking risks that many people would feel uncomfortable with and a level of commitment and tenacity that deserves a pat on the back – make sure you recognise your efforts!
About the author
Toni Kent is an experienced writer and performer who is trusted by large corporate IT organisations to represent their business leaders and brands through a mixture of ghost writing, coaching and motivational speaking.
With twenty years of experience in technology and as an advocate for women supporting women, Toni is frequently booked by Women in Business networks and organisations that want to promote gender parity. With lived experience of how work transforms the life prospects of women from disadvantaged backgrounds, she is proud to be the official event compere for Smart Works Reading – an organisation that helps women return to the workplace via free interview coaching and work-appropriate clothing.
Toni is also a columnist for Berkshire Life and has written three books of humorous reflections on what it means to be a woman: Reasons to be Cheerful Parts One and Two and I Need a Wife. Her books are all available via Amazon.
You can follow Toni on Twitter and LinkedIn at @tonijkent
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