Stay in business long enough and you’ll be subject to all sorts of independent contracting advice. Some will prove useful, a few tidbits will surprise you, but most of what you hear will be nonsense. The greatest lie of all? Talent will take you places.
It really won’t. Even if you’re the most talented interior designer in your network, you’ll still have a tough time keeping yourself and your family fed if you can’t hit a deadline, price your service properly or market your offering to the right people. Freelance Writing Jobs offers some wise advice everyone should follow: “You need to take whatever level of talent you have and combine it with other skills if you are going to do well in this business.” Mark that down. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better piece of independent contracting advice.
4 Learned Skills More Important Than Talent
What skills matter most? The best independent contracting advice I can give you — born from my 14 years of experience as a freelance writer and marketing and communications consultant — is that you need to cultivate four habits to keep money coming in and clients coming back for more:
Perseverance. Most companies prefer relying on employees rather than hiring contractors. Know this going in. Know that to win work you must demonstrate unique skills and expertise and be, as comedian and actor Steve Martin says, “so good they can’t ignore you.” After that, pitch, pitch and pitch some more until the clients you want either flat-out refuse to work with you or refer you to someone else who has a need, which is how you grow a network.
A plan to handle volatility. Freelancing is a naturally cyclical business. Even if you don’t lose all your clients at once, you can still drop a big account and suffer a critical hit. Much of the independent contracting advice I’ve received in all my years in business ignores this truth. I’m not sure why, but I implore you to take this more seriously than I did when starting out. Plan for the down cycles by putting money away into an emergency fund. Keep enough to cover six months worth of bills if you can, but even a month’s worth is a solid start. That cushion will allow you to keep pitching for lucrative work and avoid the temptation to eat up your time with terrible, low-paying assignments marketed to the desperate.
Self-discipline. Do the work. On time, always and with as much excellence as you can muster. Don’t wait to be told, and certainly don’t wait to be nagged. Keep a good calendar and list deadlines for every project, and then strive to meet them all. And if you can’t, make sure your clients know why you’re going to be late and what you’re doing to make sure the project is still a success.
Salesmanship. Have you taken the time to hone your pitch? What makes you unique? What can you offer that others can’t, and why should clients hire you over competitors? Freelancing is selling, plain and simple, so be clear about what you offer and pitch to the prospects with the greatest needs. Say you’re a freelance graphic designer with a deep understanding of how complex technology works. Scour the news wires to find companies working on new technology and check to see if they’ll produce ads, infographics, glossy collateral or anything else that may require your unique set of skills.
Get Down to Business
When it comes to freelancing, success comes to those stubborn enough to endure the necessary drudgery of planning, selling and managing every moment, every resource and every relationship. The truth is, for clients, talent barely registers as a requirement for hiring a contractor. They expect every candidate has talent on some level, and the variance between you and your competitor is too little to concern them. What they need to see is a track record of satisfying clients.
Even better is a robust record as a successful freelancer. For that, you’ll need perseverance, a plan to handle volatility, self-discipline and a heaping helping of salesmanship. Everything else is a bonus.