Since the spring of 2021, about four million American workers have quit their jobs each month, according to the OECD. There are now about three workers for every job opening, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One reason for the Great Resignation’s longevity: Workers bruised by the pandemic and years of slow growth before know that a steady paycheck isn’t all it’s cracked up to be–and that “steady” often doesn’t live up to its promises anyway.
Many once-loyal corporate employees are taking matters into their own hands and taking more control over their professional destinies. They’re turning to freelancing–doing for many different clients what they once did for a single employer, or perhaps reskilling and pursuing an entirely different path.
It’s an exciting shift, and a daunting one. Because even the most capable, most driven freelancer can’t do it alone.
3 Essential Tips for Freelancers
Maybe you’re ready to join the Great Resignation and see what you can do as a free agent. Or maybe you’re already in business for yourself and eager to scale.
Either way, the following tips will help you maximize your productivity and set yourself up for long-term success.
1. Think Like a Business
Make no mistake: Freelancers are entrepreneurs. Even if they never hire any help, and yes, even if they don’t formally incorporate their business.
This means you need to think like a business owner. According to this guide from Harlow, a freelance management tool company, your freelance business needs to have some parameters in place before you ink your first contract:
How much your work is worth, whether that’s an hourly rate, project fee, or something else
When and how you’ll get paid–when you’ll invoice, what payment methods you’ll accept, whether you’ll take a retainer, and more
How you’ll market your freelance business and sell your services to clients
How you’ll track and organize your business expenses to ensure you’re not leaving money on the table at tax time
It’s tempting as a budding freelancer to focus on delighting your clients at the expense of professionalizing your operation. But you can do both–and if you want to do this for the long term, you must.
2. Manage Your Time Effectively
If you want to freelance for the long term, you also need to manage your time effectively.
Per The Corporate Finance Institute’s time management guide, poor time management has serious consequences: loss of control in your day-to-day, a broken workflow that makes you even less productive, and of course poor work quality.
As a freelancer, there’s no one to hold you directly accountable for managing your time. It’s all on you. Here’s what you can do:
Follow a workday routine.
Keep to a morning routine that works for you. Arrive at your desk around the same time every day. Try to schedule calls and meetings one after the other so that you’re not jumping from one type of task to another. Take a lunch break and some time to clear your head. Set aside another uninterrupted work block in the afternoon. And if you work in the evenings–as many freelancers do–do so in a distraction-free environment, not in front of the TV.
Plan your week in advance.
On Sunday evening or early Monday morning, draw up your schedule for the week in as much detail as possible. Set daily goals as well–tasks and milestones you want to hit each day.
Set time limits for specific tasks.
On your weekly schedule, include a time limit for any task you can. Realistically, some tasks will take more time than expected and some will take less, but this helps you hold yourself accountable and beat Parkinson’s law.
Use a workflow management app.
Use a productivity app that’s free for individual users to manage your work on longer timescales. Within each project you’re working on, give each major milestone or deliverable a due date.
Review your productivity every month or quarter.
Hold frequent “employee reviews” to analyze how well you’re meeting your time management goals. Do you often work longer than budgeted on specific tasks? Do you regularly fail to meet daily goals? Are you missing longer-term deliverables? Identify what’s holding you back: digital distractions, writer’s block, family obligations, and so on. Then make a plan to address whatever issues you can–lock away your phone when you have to hit a deadline, for example.
3. Build Your Network
You know that networking is essential for a traditional career. It’s arguably even more important for freelancers and small business owners, many of whom get the bulk of their business from referrals and word of mouth.
When you freelance, every interaction is an opportunity to reel in a new client–or at least get in front of someone who can recommend you. So take these steps to grow your professional network and maximize its value as it expands:
Get business cards.
If you don’t have them already, design and order your first batch as soon as possible so you’re ready to hand them out as needed. Bring them to in-person mixers, conferences, interviews–anywhere you might encounter new clients.
Ask for references.
Don’t be afraid to ask past colleagues or other professional contacts for references and introductions. You might be expected to reciprocate, but that’s fine.
Publish professional testimonials online.
If you have a professional website, ask your contacts for permission to publish their testimonials there. On freelance marketplaces, make sure past client reviews are publicly visible.
Keep an active LinkedIn presence.
Even if you rely heavily on freelance marketplaces to find and work with clients, many would-be clients will find you on LinkedIn. Set aside a few hours each month to update your profile with recent examples of your work, solicit references and endorsements from past clients, make new connections, and respond to contract job postings.
Get Ready to Grow
Think like a business–because you are one.
Simplify your working life–because you don’t have a minute to waste.
Build your network–because your network is your net worth.
These three essential tips helped countless freelancers cut ties with W-2 employment for good. If you’re ready to scale your freelance business, keep them front and center.