I've been in publishing since 1987, a freelance writer since 1993 and ran an editorial staffing agency in New York City from 1996 t0 2004. So, Iíve been on both sides of the hiring desk. Over the years, I've noticed that successful freelancers, eg, those who make their living entirely from freelancing (writing, editing, copywriting, web design, etc.), have the following seven traits in common.
1. Write every day: Many freelancers are drawn to their particular freelance career because they love it. They love to write, design, draw - whatever it is, they would do it for free.
Once they decide to freelance full time, most work at it every day. They write articles, design sites, doodle illustrations, etc. In other words, they don't stop working on their craft just because there is no paying client.
Benefit to a freelance career: These professionals always have a body of work to sell, show, update their portfolio with, etc. Beyond that, it keeps their skills fresh and allows them to work that much faster once they are being paid for a project.
As a personal example, when I first started to do article marketing to promote my business back in 2002, it would take me an hour or two to complete one. Nowadays, I can literally knock out a 400-word article (the minimum word count for most directories) in as little as 20 minutes. Really! Usually, itís because Iím writing from first-hand experience.
Side Note: I have run across more than a few freelancers who don't exactly love what they do. BUT, because they like the freedom freelance affords them, they discipline themselves to do what it takes, ie, work hard and consistently at it to make a living at it.
2. Don't wait for markets to come to them: Building on the first habit, when you are constantly churning out new material, you don't have to wait for clients to come to you, you can pitch to them.
For example, if you've written a great article on the benefits of yoga, why wait for a national exercise magazine to take months to get back to you. Pitch the local newspaper journalist who covers health. You'll usually know within a week or two if they can use your story.
Your neighborhood paper can't use it? Hit the web. There are so many sites covering so many niches that need great content Ė constantly Ė that thereís no reason to sit around and wait for someone to approach you.
The point Iím trying to get across is, successful freelancers are PROACTIVE.
When I ran my editorial staffing agency in New York and Iíd be perusing resumes, I was constantly amazed at the type of assignments successful freelancers were able to ferret out for themselves.
When I'd ask, "How did you get that assignment, come up with that idea?", the comments ranged from, "I couldn't sleep last night so I start doing some digging online because I just wrote this great article and wanted to get it published," to "I was just doodling and came upon this great design; I knew it would make a great logo for this niche, so I put it on a t-shirt and pitched a few boutiques in my neighborhood ..."
Successful freelancers are not only creative in their work, they're creative in how they locate markets to sell their work.
Benefit to a freelance career: You learn how to market, and you make it a habit.
3. Have more than one stream of income: By this, I donít mean second jobs. What I mean is, successful freelancers do more than one thing.
Using myself as an example, I have three or four income streams going on at any one time, ie, I:
Write for clients;
Do affiliate marketing; and
Write and self-publish my own line of ebooks.
FYI, in 2010, my line of self-published ebooks accounted for more than half my annual income. This wasnít planned, but it did make me stand up and take notice and pour more of my efforts into self-publishing. Now, if my SEO writing company never landed another client, I would be ok.
Would things be tight? Yes.
Would I have to go out and get a job? No.
And thatís comforting.
Benefit to a freelance career: And thatís thing about secondary income streams, you never know when theyíll need to become your primary stream, or tide you over when things get tough in your primary freelance business.
4. Have a niche: While this may seem to contradict the previous habit, it doesn't. Most successful freelancers do one thing - and do it very well. Eg, they are a medical writer, a direct mail copywriter, a graphic designer.
This is because successful freelancers usually have a professional background in the discipline in which they freelance. Usually, they have built up a reputation and client list based on their expertise/experience.
This works well because once clients are comfortable with you on one level, you can approach them about doing other types of projects. In some cases, they will even approach you.
For example, if you are a web designer, you can approach a client about doing some logo design work. Most web designers are familiar with other tools of the trade like logo design software, that makes it easy for them to offer peripheral services to clients.
In the retail trade, this is known as upselling. BUT, you can only upsell if you have established a level of trust and professionalism in your base (niche) skill.
Benefit to a freelance career: You increase your income because you can charge more, and it takes less time to complete projects.
5. Have a website: Without fail, all successful freelancers have at least a basic website. They realize the need to present a professional image to clients and have invested in an online presence.
Every once in a while, I am still asked by those just starting out if they need a website. Invariably, I ask, "Would you do business without a telephone?" Have an online presence (blog/website) has progressed to this point. And, it doesn't have to be fancy and cost a fortune. Most web surfers are seeking information.
A basic site will serve your purposes just fine. Just make sure it is professional looking, is easy to navigate, is free from grammatical errors and has your contact info on every page (or a "Contact Us" button on every page).
Benefit to a freelance career: Websites save freelancers time - which is at a premium if you are a successful freelancer. You can direct potential clients there to see samples of your work, get pricing info, your professional credentials, your client list, etc. Many times, this is how clients will find you to begin with.
6. Are savvy & consistent marketers: Revisiting habit three, successful freelancers are masters of marketing their services. They have to be.
When you are a freelancer, you have to remain hungry - for the next assignment, the next gig. By being proactive and consistent marketers, successful freelancers don't wait for one project to be done before looking for the next one.
To this end, these professionals use many marketing tools (free and paid) to get the word out about their business, eg, search engine optimization (SEO), article marketing, press releases, e-book giveaways, speaking engagements, seminars, workshops, etc.
In other words, successful freelancers treat their careers like a start-up business - which is what freelancing really is.
Benefit to a freelance career: You keep the pipeline primed with work, and lessen the length of dry spells, which happens to the best of us.
7. Put in much more than 40 hours/week: Face it, you may be able to go to the grocery store at 2 pm when everyone else is stuck in an office, but you probably didn't log off until 2 am, finishing up a project for a client who needed it at the last minute.
Freelancing is not a static career. Sometimes you will have weeks with nothing to do and then you will get slammed with three or four projects at once. It's some type of weird Murphy's Law at work.
Projects never come when you want or need them too. They invariably come at the most inopportune time (eg, when your kid is sick, when YOU'RE sick, two days before vacation, on a Friday afternoon and needed by Monday).
So, while you may be able to work in your jammies - you may also not be able to go to the beach, hang out with your friends as much, take the afternoon off. Like anything in life, it's a trade-off (a worthwhile one in my opinion).
Benefit to a freelance career: While the hours may be long, you call the shots and have more control over your career and your income. Freelancing is the new recession-proof, job stability so many seek. Embrace it!
Do you freelance? Want to? What ďhabitsĒ would you add to this list?
About the Author: Yuwanda Black heads New Media Words, an SEO writing company. She's also the publisher of SEO Writing Jobs, a blog devoted to helping others start successful, freelance online writing careers. She says, "With proper SEO writer training, there's no reason you can't earn between $35,000 on the low end, on up to $75,000 (or more) - your first year as a freelancer." Ms. Black has authored over 50 ebooks, most of which cover some aspect of freelance / SEO writing. They can be found on major outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Keywords used in this article: freelance business, how to freelance, freelance writing, recession-proof job, recession-proof career, career advice