What Successful Freelancers Do Differently

More than a quarter of the global workforce does some freelance work— from writers and designers to coaches and delivery drivers. Though the majority of freelancers are based in Europe (35%) and Asia (28%), the gig economy has an exciting and attractive future in the U.S. as well.

With 45% of hiring managers putting a freeze on full-time jobs this year, and 72% increasingly using freelancers to augment their workforce, the sector is only growing. The corporate world seems to be catching up with this trend, as freelancers continue to gain more rights globally. By 2028, more than 90 million Americans, or one out of every two workers, are expected to hold a freelance position, and many believe that the industry has a bright future.

As an increasing number of people enter the gig economy, we’ve become curious about what it will take for them to succeed. What are the best practices for thriving as a freelancer and how can new workers take advantage of the many benefits this path offers, including better work-life balance, flexibility, and more time with loved ones?

We sought answers to these questions through our forthcoming research. We initially surveyed 218 freelancers in the U.S. between February and April of 2021. Our respondents included workers from various backgrounds and industries, including writers, designers, virtual assistants, event coordinators, publicists, coaches, fitness instructors, and delivery drivers, among others. Next, we spoke with the companies who hired them to better understand what made each freelancer a desirable candidate, gather feedback on the quality of their work, and determine how likely the companies were to recommend them to others. As a last step, we used our responses to measure each freelancer’s success by identifying how often they were rehired (and why) and how much money they earned.

If you’re looking to join the freelance revolution, or develop your already existing portfolio career, this what we learned about how to thrive in the industry.

Know your worth.

It’s in the name: As a freelancer you have more freedom than a traditional corporate employee. When freelancing, you can decide when to work, where to work, and your rates — essentially, how much you’re worth. When starting out as a freelancer, it can be challenging to know where to price yourself based on your knowledge and your skills in the market. To work this out, we suggest you:

Find your niche. Shahar Erez, CEO and co-founder of Stoke Talent, a freelance management system, told us that freelancers need to figure out what they’re good at and become an expert in it. This is the value freelancers bring to many companies to help meet their needs. Once they’ve developed an area of expertise, they need to learn how to communicate their value, clearly and concisely. This can be done by keeping your website up to date, showing a portfolio of previous work, and highlighting referrals or recommendations from your clients.

Learn the market. After all, there’s no fun in marketing a skill that nobody wants. Do your research to find out what people are looking for. Try looking into online forums, like Freelancing Females, to see what types of projects people need support with. Or try and identify postings of particular job that seem most in demand (something 85% of freelancers we spoke to did). For instance, digital-science jobs are currently highly sought after, including artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, and computing.

Monetize your skills. It’s no good freelancing if you can’t make money. Turn your talents into products or services that people can buy. Look at the job market to see what other people are charging for similar work and use that as a reference point to work out your rates, which 89% of freelancers we spoke to did. You can use websites like freelancermap or the regular freelance websites like Upwork or Fiverr to check the going rates for your area of expertise. Our research found that the two most popular rate structures were either charging hourly (58%) or by the project (31%). To work out your pricing, we recommend the cost-plus method where you take into account your costs but also the ongoing market rates.

Tap into your confidence. Know that what you can offer is crucial and own it. Most (73%) of the organizations we spoke to lack the complete set of skills and experiences they require, so they need your skills. Even if another freelancer has a similar talent, they’re not you. So, don’t just market your skills — market yourself.

Build loyalty.

When you are your own company, you don’t often have the support and prestige that other, more well-known firms will enjoy. Therefore, you have to put extra work in first to get the clients, and then keep them coming back for more. Repeat work is often considered a goldmine for freelancers because it leads to both consistency and referrals. In fact, 81% of the workers we spoke to have achieved loyalty with more than three clients. To keep your clients returning, we suggest you:


Interact with your clients in a personable way. Don’t just focus on the results; build your relationships. Get to know your clients, their challenges, and what their goals are. The better the rapport you develop, and the more interest you show in them as a human rather than just as a client, the more they’ll remember you — and keep using your services. To do this, you can have initial scoping conversations in order to elicit your clients’ needs. Be clever at digging into the details to uncover the real benefits that the project is meant to deliver. Clients may not always know what they need until you elicit it from a deeper conversation.

Find out what other projects they might need help with and offer support. If you don’t hear of any follow-up opportunities during your initial stint, take initiative and tell your employer that you’re open to working on more projects in the future. From there, follow up after, say, one month. We found that 89% of freelancers with high retention rates followed up with their clients at least one month after the project was completed. You can use various channels like social media, direct emails, site visits (where possible), or telephone calls to stay connected.

Use your expertise to improve other parts of their business. If they don’t have anything that needs working on, suggest other areas that you could improve. Chances are they haven’t even thought about what you’re offering and where else your skills can be applied. (Remember, you’re the expert.) For example, one of the freelancers we surveyed made suggestions for improvements on his client’s website when his main job was to build a database; he got the job and did a new website build.

Never over-promise and then under-deliver. Delivering great work on time is paramount to building trust. Don’t get yourself into a situation where you can’t follow through on your promises. Build in extra time where you can and be upfront about what is needed. If you’re clear and direct, companies will understand and respect this. It’s always better to promise less and deliver more than the other way around.

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