The business side of freelancing and the 6 traits of those who succeed

You're great at your skill, it's what you do. If your business side isn't great at what it does you might find you just created a needy job, not a livelihood.

At some point in the past you’ve likely been an employee of someone else’s business. You had a skill that served them and felt you could take that skill elsewhere, to serve yourself.

That was the plan at least.

You left that 9-5 incarceration for a reason but somewhere along the way you lost sight of it. That fire of ambition flickering inside all of us has the potential to fade into the darkness of day-to-day work.

Clients get in the way, life gets in the way, the days weeks and years slip through our fingers like a waterfall of lacklustre performances.

You slip into employee mode, allowing clients to be the boss and put up with this ‘day job’ swallowing you whole. If you’re lucky you might just earn as much as you did when you were an employee; those without such luck will give up.

Another way

I believe that with just a small amount of direction, accountability and focus we all have it within us to make real change. To find better clients, work better and earn more to support the lives we want to live; in the process working more ‘ON’ our business than ‘IN’ it.

That’s why I’m sitting here writing you this post, and why I’ve poured the last two years of my life into Freelancelift.

So which traits do the people who do make it have that most do not?

Put simply, they understand the business side of freelancing. They work deliberately, purposefully and with the understanding that it’s no longer somebody else’s job to do marketing, no longer somebody else’s role to bring in sales, or account management or quality control.

A mission

I’ve made it my mission over the past two years to build the biggest, most in-depth resource on the business side of freelancing.  I’ve learned from the numerous community success stories that there are 6 main traits demonstrated by that nouveau-successful army.

Moreover, I now have a set of peers who have equalled or improved upon my own successes whom I’ve studied to bring you the traits that make them tick, recording several of those conversations for the podcast.

You left the 9-5 herd for a reason, consider how you might rekindle that ‘fire of ambition’; the thing that started you down this track in the first place. Here are 6 key traits you can improve upon to get you there.

1. Positioning

They understand ‘positioning’ and use it to their advantage

Are you clear on what clients are really looking for? Do you know what to say at the right time? Do you find yourself over-complicating discussions with clients or do you speak in a language they can understand? Do clients tell you how much your messaging (on your site, on email, in proposals) resonated with them?

Do you put yourself out there as unique, delivering a solution to the client’s problem or are you ‘just another’ freelancer providing XYZ service?

If you’re finding yourself with a succession of ‘bad apple’ clients you probably have a problem with positioning, unfortunately it is attracting the wrong type of client.  With a strong message (in your website copy, proposals and everywhere you are online) which repels the ‘I need it quick and cheap’ client you build a perception of professionalism.

Perception is vitally important and the successful freelancers, consultants and solo businesses know that. How could you improve yours?

2. Value

They provide value in the wider community to peers and potential clients

Are you known in your field, or is the limit of your ‘fame’ a website and social media profiles? Are you active in your community of peers, do you seek to provide value with new ideas on social media, Q&A forums, communities?

On your site do you have a blog or insights a potential client could find? How much value do you provide to prospective clients and peers before they pay you? We’re not talking about giving your work away either, just being visible and known to an audience.

When going to market for a freelancer, consultant or small agency; businesses at the smarter end of the spectrum (the ones you really want to do business with) will do their own research as to expertise level, your credibility and your past work. This is particularly true in the design & development fields with Dribbble and StackOverflow replacing a more traditional resumé.

That is to say if you have a particularly strong online voice and are regarded as an expert in your field you’ll have yourself a competitive advantage (with all the fee benefits that brings, nudge nudge) over your peers.

Further Reading: Check out the free book ‘Why Nobody Knows Your Name’

3. Focus

They know what they want, focusing on what’s important to get it

As one-or-two person businesses we’re spinning lots of plates just to survive the month or week. Do you suffer from the ‘squeaky wheel’ syndrome or are you crystal clear on what’s important, stopping immediately everything that doesn’t contribute to your goals.

Do you tend to procrastinate or do you have a clear breakdown of exactly what you’ll do today, tomorrow, this week and stick to it vigorously?

Consider this; every time you procrastinate or fail to ‘get around to’ fixing the business side of what you do you are sacrificing your own long term progress.

If you’re in to concentric circles, here’s another one which explains how stuff really gets done:

4. Pricing

Understands value and prices their services optimally for every opportunity

A price is not just a price. It’s a reflection of the value your service provides. Do you find yourself sticking to a similar ballpark each proposal because that’s ‘what worked last time’? Or do you price the absolute maximum for each client situation? Are you great at negotiating or do you cave in when a client shows any sign of wanting it for less cost.

Are you comfortable with the price you charge, or do you feel it could be improved? Do you cascade a strong argument right through your proposal document or are you guilty of overcomplicating?

Further Reading: Check out the free book ‘Hourly Rates Don’t Matter’

5. Desire

Closes the sale efficiently by building desire

When clients go cold, or silent, do you know what to do? Are you good at building desire in clients so that they’re begging you for a proposal or do you send it too early, only for them to judge you on price alone.

Do you find clients take months to agree to work with you (and pay) or do you generally get the clients to commit, pay and start quickly?

The successful among your peers know what it takes to build desire in what they’re offering, to put together a proposal which is too irresistible for a client to turn down. Do you?

6. Longevity

Grows long-term partnerships

How many clients have you had stick around for longer than a year, two years, more? Do you find that you continually have to go and find new clients after projects are complete, or could you survive on ongoing work alone?

Do you manage projects well with the long-term partnership in mind or are you glad to see the back of clients once they’re complete? How much long-term client focus do you have?

It’s possible to build enough goodwill, enough recurring client revenue that you never have to find another client again. How much emphasis are you putting on improving that skill?

It’s your responsibility, nobody else’s

Unfortunately, when you decided to work for yourself you signed a contract to work under the most erratic, busiest and complicated boss you could ever encounter. Without accountability (tough love from a mentor and peers), without direction (from someone who has been there before, to show you the route) and without focus (guided periods of concentration to get it done) you’ll find yourself in a constant battle with your own skillset.

The technician vs the business owner; you’ll need to be both.

Brush up on those 6 key traits and you’ll be getting closer to your goals with every day that passes.

Improve just 1% each day and in a few months you’ll be twice the person you are today.

I’ll be cheering you on.

Learn anything? Please share

When you’re held ransom by client work and income instability how are you supposed to find time to work on “growth” (whatever that means).

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  • BeatrizC

    This was such a great article! Thank you so much for sharing, I feel I really needed to read this right now.

    • Liam at Freelancelift

      Thanks Beatriz; I think that’s the feedback I’ve been mainly getting that it gives them a bit of the ‘kick’ that they need!

  • bluebridgedev

    Great article Liam. I thought your headline was dead on for the situation that many “successful” freelancers end up in. I also liked your points on providing value to the larger community. Smart!

    • Liam at Freelancelift

      Awesome – thanks for that. Yeah I mean it seems a no brainer when you think about it, to leverage the expertise you already have for the good of the wider community. To grow your network, lay breadcrumbs for potential clients to follow and just generally be helpful (with a view to having that grow your profile)

  • Shawnna

    I just started my business officially two weeks ago, and each day I’ve already been thinking about the growth part. Maybe I’m just scrappy by nature, but I’m trying to embrace the impermanence by continuing to put feelers out and making connections every chance I get. I’m just getting started so maybe this question is premature, but what do you do if you get into a situation where there’s too much work?

    • Liam at Freelancelift

      YES THIS IS PREMATURE! It’s one of those ‘nice problems to have’ – ultimately it’s supply and demand; if you have too much work you have the scope to raise your price a little until there is a balance.

      Of having a manageable workflow at the highest possible rate.

  • Al

    Why on earth do you use very light blue text on a white background? why is this so in vogue? Makes your opening title almost impossible to read. What is wrong with plain old black on white?
    One thing you left out of your list is finances. How to manage the ebb and flow of money coming in and money going out.

  • Summer Edwards

    Fanastic article. Gave me a lot to think about

    • Liam at Freelancelift

      Great to hear – glad it helped :)

  • Jane Love

    Brilliant article. Very thought-provoking.

  • Achieve Online

    I must say I am finding this site a great resource and it’s not just for freelancers but has provided some great advice as a Business Owner. Thanks for the great content!

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