Have you ever wondered how to start freelancing, but at the same time worried that you lack the freelancing skills needed to succeed?
Fortunately, it’s not all about whether you know how to code or how to write direct response copy — it’s also (heavily!) about the “soft skills.” No matter how talented you are at the “hard skills,” if you don’t have these, you’ll be out of business in no time.
And if you do have these… well congratulations! So keep reading as I share 10 freelancing skills that will help you to be successful for years to come.
#1 – Willingness to work hard
Many people are shocked when I tell them that the #1 thing I wish people knew about freelancing is… “It’s really not that hard.”
“But wait,” they say, “what do you mean?” This seems to contrast directly with the name of this freelancing skill…
What I mean is that there are simple steps you can follow to create a successful career in freelancing — a 6-figure career if you’re so inclined. The steps are simple, they are not hard, but you do have to be willing to DO the hard work to get them done.
Going above and beyond to do solid research on a potential client’s business. Reaching out and pitching clients even if it’s scary. Putting in the hours once you’ve landed a project. Putting your name and high quality behind your work.
It’s hard work, but it’s completely doable. If you’ve got a solid work ethic and believe in doing work of meaning and value, you’ve got one of the critical freelancing skills necessary for success.
#2 – Professionalism
This is a real struggle out in the working world today, affecting far more than freelancers. With the massive popularity of social media and the shock factor we’ve seen play out everywhere from reality shows to politics, it’s getting harder and harder for some people not to cross the line.
In freelancers I’ve worked with personally I’ve seen glaring issues like poor communication, inability to deliver on time, huge entitlement issues, and the “play influencer” lifestyle. They want to be freelancers (or digital nomads) … at least for social media, but then they don’t actually want to do any work.
I am not kidding when I say that just upping your game in this one freelancing skill will make you stand out against the crowd in a massive way. So what does professionalism mean as a freelancer?
I’m not asking you to do a whole lot. Fix your hair and throw on a comfy but nice sweater before video calls. (Unfortunately, some people show up looking like they just rolled out of bed). Be organized. Do what you say you’ll do. Deliver on time. Run your business just like that, a business. Speak professionally (e.g. no dropping F-bombs unless that’s the accepted work environment you and the client have already established).
They’re little things, but having professionalism on your list of freelancing skills will help you go far.
#3 – Good time management
This freelancing skill is something that many new freelancers (myself included at the beginning) struggle with. I worked long hours and then wondered why I felt burnt out.
I soon realized that working an 8 hour day as a freelancer was different than 8 hours as an employee. Some studies estimate that office workers are only productive for around 3 hours a day. When I started my freelance business I was clocking 8 billable hours a day! This was solid work time! I was super productive — and also burning out.
Then there was all the other admin stuff I needed to do. Good time management is an essential freelancing skill as you develop your business.
Your customers will need a certain amount of your time in order for you to provide the services they’ve purchased. Your business will also need time for you to do things like setting up and sending invoices, bookkeeping, researching new clients, pitching new clients. And then, you’ll also need a life!
Ability to focus
Along with the freelancing skill of good time management, you’ll also want to hone your ability to focus. Blocking social media for several hours, batching tasks, or practicing the Pomodoro technique can all help you to stay focused on the task at hand, even when the sun is shining and it’s far more tempting to skip out on work and hit the park.
Because you are responsible for your own time, your ability to focus on the right task at the right time is extremely important.
It’s often far easier to stay in a cubicle where someone else directs your time. But if you can master this freelancing skill of good time management, there’s a whole world of benefits.
#4 – Great communication skills
Freelance professionals are constantly communicating with their clients, fellow business owners in their network, their audience via social media, and more.
You need to be able to speak well in both written and verbal communication. You’ll also need to get practice speaking in front of a camera — your laptop camera to be precise — as there will be times when you need to speak with clients via Zoom.
Again, this is one of those freelancing skills where, if you can level up just a little bit, you’ll be head and shoulders above many. You’ll want to learn how to write concisely and clearly and minimize unnecessary communication back and forth and get exactly what you need, when you need it, and without fuss.
#5 – Being determined to succeed
An article about skills for freelancers would be remiss if it didn’t mention that drive and persistence are absolutely necessary for this career. There’s a disturbing trend out there, visible all over social media, where people continually glorify the “easy life” and people then believe them, wanting to “have it all” but not lift a finger for it. That’s not going to work here.
There will be times when you’ll be exhausted. When some piece of software breaks and you’ve got to figure out how to fix it (your lack of technical skills be damned!). Or when your developer bails partway through the fix. Or when potential clients who looked like a good fit, suddenly decide they’ve got to hold off on the project for a while and you’ve got to go find new ones. There will be all sorts of problems.
Some freelancers overcome the problems, and some don’t. The difference is this freelancing skill (and life skill): being determined to succeed. With this determination guiding you, you’ll remember that it’s possible to figure anything out, and you’ll keep moving forward on the path to success.
#6 – Responsibility
This freelancing skill is critical to your success as a freelance business owner. There’s a huge amount of freedom that comes with freelancing, but, that can also be a downside. See when you’re free to do whatever you want, there are days when you have to make yourself work when you’d rather be at the beach.
The new design you owe the client is due tomorrow, it’s up to YOU to take responsibility for ensuring it gets to them on time. No one wants to hear your excuses.
This is another freelancing skill that many freelancers get wrong. They push back with clients too many times, let deadlines pass, and get a reputation for not being on time. This causes thousands of dollars in potential work lost as clients then won’t refer them on to others in their circle.
#7 – Flexibility
This is one of those freelancing skills that will come in handy on a daily basis. As you design your freelance business, you’ve got to be willing to go with the flow. Things change constantly and you need to be willing to adapt.
You may start your business with an idea that you’ll be doing social media marketing (partly because that’s what you notice everyone else doing). Yet time and time again, you may notice that your clients have a need for graphic designers to create engaging content for their blogs.
If you stubbornly cling to social media marketing (even though it’s not your passion, it’s just what you saw your friend Ashley doing), then you’re missing out on the opportunity to jump into a ready-made market with clients you know need your help.
More than just flexibility in your service offerings, you have to stay flexible in your approach to, well, everything. Algorithms change. Clients’ needs change. Tools become obsolete and new ones replace them. There are constant fluctuations in the freelancing world no matter what industry and you need to be prepared to embrace them.
#8 – Continuous personal improvement
Not only are things changing constantly in the market, but you as a person, should be committed to growing and changing personally.
Again, this is another one of those life skills in addition to being a freelancing skill. You want to continually be learning for your own personal improvement. Whether that is honing a tangible freelance skill like copywriting to become absolutely stellar in what you do, or reading books that will make you better as a person and in your business, a strong commitment to continuous personal improvement will serve you for the rest of your life.
It doesn’t just have to be in the business realm either. Listening to podcasts and talks that will improve your personal life, practicing meditation and breathwork, keeping up with your health, and strengthening personal relationships, all of these things will help you to go far.
#9 – Strong personal values
One of the saddest things I see out there is freelancers who have discarded this freelancing skill and grabbed at the quickest, easiest thing to come along.
They don’t have strong personal values so they fall for whatever work comes along, even if the client sucks and treats them terribly. Or they’ll work on stuff they don’t agree with just for the money.
Having a strong set of personal values will help you to be properly picky about the types of work you do, and the types of people you’ll do it for.
#10 – Confidence
Confidence in yourself and your freelance skills will help you to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this freelance journey. The good news…? Confidence can be learned, it’s not necessarily something you have or don’t have.
Like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets. I’ve found that the best way to grow your confidence is to note and celebrate the times you use it.
Sent a pitch to a client even though the idea made you sick to your stomach? Celebrate it. Whether you get the job or not isn’t the point. Celebrate the fact that you did something that scared you, and you’re still alive. Do it again, and again. It gets easier.
Got a client to book your services? Celebrate like crazy. Track all the things, big and small, and each time you’re nervous about doing something new, pull out your list of all the awesome things you’ve done… and remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
Well, here we are at the end of 10 freelancing skills. How many do you have? The good news is, they can all be strengthened as you go. When I look back today, I’m glad I started where I was and have grown in all of these areas continually over time.
I did my freelancing journey alone, because I had to. You don’t! If you’re interested in the A – Z guide to freelancing — taken directly from my journey from broke middle school teacher to 6-figure freelancer — check out my course The Escape Hatch. It’s designed for the newbie who has a lot of freelancing skill #1 (willingness to work hard) and is ready to learn!