Anyone can become a freelancer. Make a website, tell people what you do, and then go hunting for clients. Simple. Easy. You can even just create a profile on oDesk — no need to bother making a website of your own.
But there’s a big difference between the freelancer that’s scraping by, living on instant noodles and ham sandwiches, and the one that’s making so much money that they don’t even need to think about where their cash goes.
The well-paid freelancer can enjoy simple things such as working from a coffee shop and staying there to have lunch. The poorly-paid freelancer has to stay home, drink instant coffee, and hunch over the cramped desk in their bedroom.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can instantly become a well-paid freelancer if you’ve got these 4 traits down. What I am saying is that you can become better paid if you actively work on improving these 4 areas.
This is the obvious one. In order to become a well-paid freelancer, you have to be good at what you do. The better you are, the more you can charge. Fortunately, this one’s an easy fix. If you’re actually interested in what you do, it should be no hardship to pick up a book on the subject from time to time, maybe take a course or two further down the line. Learn as much as you can, and then implement what you learn.
The thing is, if you’re not confident in your own abilities — even if you actually are pretty talented — you’re going to have a hard time convincing others that you’re as good as you are. Note how I didn’t say ‘as good as you say you are’? That’s because you’re probably not actively telling people that you’re worth the money. And if you are, and you’re still struggling, you’re probably not very convincing. Quavering lines such as ‘Well, I normally charge this much, but I’m sure we could work out a deal’ do not instil confidence. People are going to smell blood, and they’re going to knock you down to a fraction of what you’re worth.
You know what? People who aren’t as good as you are making more money than you, simply because they have the balls to shout about themselves. This one isn’t such an easy fix. I guess the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ thing works, or, as Amy Cuddy likes to say, fake it till you become it. (See video below or click that link — totally worth the 21 minutes of your life.) This is much easier to do via email than over the phone, so if you can, correspond with prospective clients that way.
If someone insists on hopping on the phone before they work with you, sure, maybe you won’t get the job. But don’t let that stop you getting on the phone in the first place, for Christ’s sake. Accept the fact that you might not land this client, and get on the phone anyway. If nothing else, you will be better prepared for next time. Practice confidence, experience confidence, become confident. Bingo.
So you’re good at what you do, and you’re confident in your own abilities. But if nobody knows it? That’s right: you’re still going to languish in the bottom of the bargain bin. So you need to be able to communicate well. And I don’t mean your ability to send out 500 cold emails a day. I’m talking about interacting with people in a real way, and in a professional, timely manner.
If your cold email lands in somebody’s inbox, and they actually respond to you, don’t sit around umming and ahhing about what to say back — don’t delay any longer than you have to. I certainly find it one of the least fun aspects of my work: negotiating rates and scope, trying to land the client, all that business. But you’ll find it much easier to land the client if you respond quickly and efficiently. Answer any questions they might have, be conversational and friendly, and just, you know — actually seem like you give a shit.
This doesn’t just apply to prospective clients, either. Get to know your your current clients, too, instead of just going through the motions. Build rapport. That way, when they need someone for a piece of work, you’ll pop into their head. ‘Oh, hey! Karen’s a delight to work with, and she always responds promptly! I wonder if she can write this for me?’
See how that works?
The final thing that can determine your success? Your integrity. The ability to deliver what you say you will, when you say you will. Your reputation hinges on this. If you’re absolutely fantastic at what you do, you can persuade people to work with you, and your middle name might as well be Rapport… but then you don’t deliver the goods? You’re screwed. And not in the good way. Your reputation will be left in tatters. Past clients may actively dissuade others from working with you, and they certainly won’t be sending any new clients or praise your way. And hello, bargain bin, once again.
This one is easy to change. And it’s impossible to change. That all comes down to you. Integrity has gotta come from within. You can either give a shit about doing a good job, or you can try to make a fast buck. But fast bucks are not big bucks.
They are good for buying instant noodles though.