Work on Your Business: The Key to Lasting Freelance Success

By Josh Hoffman, Contributor, on August 16, 2017

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The often-trodden path for many freelancers goes something like this: Decide to start freelancing, pick up a client or two, work hard, acquire a few more clients via word-of-mouth and get so busy that you barely have time to smell the much-needed coffee.

This may be an indicator of short-term success, but to develop a freelance business built for the long haul, remember: Don’t mistake motion for progress. Refrain from falling into the trap of getting so caught up with working “in” your business, that you forget to work “on” your business.

To work in your business means to facilitate the day-to-day tasks that keep your business afloat, like client and project management, accounting and achieving “Operation: Inbox 0.” Conversely, to work on your business is to focus on tasks that may not make any money now, but will put you in a position to grow and find new opportunities in the foreseeable future.

Finding a balance between working “in” and “on” your business is important, but most freelancers tend to sacrifice (consciously or subconsciously) the on for the in. I used to be one of those freelancers, but I eventually made a decision to change the way I approach my work. I start each day by spending one hour working on my business, before I work in it.

Previously, I would start each day by knocking out all of my “in” tasks, only to realize that I was tired and less motivated when I finished several hours later. So, I’d put off the “on” tasks day after day. By spending one hour at the start of each day working on my business, I can successfully complete both “in” and “on” tasks — without tiring myself out.

Proactively Market Yourself Online

As any truly successful freelancer will tell you, marketing is the name of the game. But, I’m not talking about word-of-mouth marketing, which can be hit or miss. Instead, true marketing is a systematic series of methods that work according to a fixed plan. You can’t plan for word-of-mouth; either it happens, or it doesn’t.

To get started, set up a LinkedIn and an email marketing campaign, since the vast majority of your potential clients (i.e., businesspeople) use these channels. If your freelance business falls into a niche, know where your audience lives online. Photographers, artists, graphic designers, landscape designers, interior designers — these and other visual fields could find the perfect homes on Instagram or even Periscope. Your time is valuable, so know where your marketing efforts will go furthest.

Proactively Market Yourself Offline

Even though the internet is your most cost-effective way of reaching the largest number of potential clients, there’s still great value in face-to-face interactions. Sure, networking events are okay, but at the end of the day, you’re just one of many at these events.

To develop a trusted reputation offline, consider hosting local lectures or seminars about how your services and expertise can impact potential clients. Hosting an event can be daunting, so to relieve some of the stress, I’d recommend partnering with local organizations that already have a built-in audience, like coworking spaces, meetups, exclusive networking groups, country clubs and places of worship.

Build a Strong Personal Brand

In a world where tons of freelancers can be found through all sorts of online platforms (Freelancer, Upwork, LinkedIn ProFinder … the list goes on), a strong personal brand is the key to attracting ideal clients at the prices you want to charge.

When you’re one of many (as is the case on these platforms) you become a commodity, in which you have to compete on price. It’s a hard feat when you’re jockeying with freelancers from around the world, whom can often get away with charging much less than you’re willing to. When you build a strong personal brand, however, clients won’t compare you to others. They’ll simply ask: “Where do I sign?”

How much are you working on your business? How about working in your business? It’s an important balancing act for anyone running their own show. By leveraging online and offline resources while staying true to your personal brand, you’ll be on your way to a more even playing field.

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