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How to be a successful freelancer in the gig economy

January 31, 2017

The gig economy is one of the UK’s fastest growing ways of working. According to IPSE, the body representing UK freelancers, there are now around 1.9 million freelancers in the UK alone. And the global figure is upwards of 50 million people earning a living from freelancing.

The rise in popularity of freelance working is creating more opportunities for those looking for more flexibility and control over their own lives, but joining the growing ranks of the self-employed does bring its challenges.

So if you’re thinking of going it alone and starting up as a freelancer, here’s what you need to do to be a successful freelancer in the gig economy;

Rapid growth in freelancing fuelled by demand

The reason for the rapid growth in freelancing, as a way of working, is a result of a number of key factors:

Technology

High-speed internet, file sharing and video conferencing means it’s easier than ever before to collaborate with remote workers.

freelance gig economy

Social

Socially, today’s workers want more from their working lives. Freelancing offers complete flexibility over how and where a person works.

Competition

Talent shortages are forcing businesses to look at more creative ways of acquiring skills and getting things done.

Levels of competition like never seen before

Ultimately, it’s this demand that’s fueling the growth of freelancing. But with growth and demand comes competition.

In the good ol’ days of traditional recruitment, a freelancer would apply for a job and face competition from a relatively small group of equally qualified peers within a commutable distance.

But remote freelancing has removed the constraints on location and negated the commute completely. In the freelance gig economy, competition for freelance work can come from anywhere in the world.

So, with a more competitive freelance marketplace, what do you need to do to be a successful freelancer?

4 things every successful freelancer masters

There are 4 things you need to master in order to become a successful freelancer:

  1. Play to your strengths
  2. Make your clients happy
  3. Focus on building a reputation
  4. Set aside time for yourself

1. Play to your strengths

The freelance economy is full of exciting opportunities. Everything from logo design to social media management to software development. For the hungry, ambitious freelancer, it can be extremely tempting to try and dip into a bit of everything.

But it’s important to play to your strengths. If you don’t do this first one, you’ll never get around to mastering a reputation or creating happy clients.

In other words, you need to focus your efforts on winning the projects that a) you have the skills for and b) you will enjoy working on.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, you should concentrate on the sorts of projects that fascinate or motivate you. If you have good design skills but it’s designing mobile apps that really gets you excited, you’re more likely to be successful focusing your efforts there.

2. Make your clients happy

It’s obvious, but it’s easier to convince an existing client to hire you for another project than it is to find a new client.

Many veteran freelancers will turn a very respectable profit by simply servicing a small handful of regular clients.

Your existing clients’ happiness should also be paramount when you’re looking to add new clients. It’s easy to forget but clients are business people, and they have connections. Connections with whom they frequently network and recommend suppliers.

If you’re a freelancer, a dream scenario would be for your current client to recommend you to their colleagues. This peer-to-peer recommendation immediately stands you in good stead to win the project, regardless of the level of competition.

RELATED: The 4 Rs of getting more business from your existing customer base

3. Focus on building your reputation

First and foremost, deliver great work. No cutting corners. No scrimping. Deliver on your promises.

Then there are additional techniques you can layer on top:

Make sure you have a consistent, professional digital profile

In addition to having a portfolio site, you also need to pay attention to the information, reviews and portfolios you have on social networking and freelance marketplace websites.

Some tips here are:

  • Have a decent profile picture. No selfies or cropped photos of your wedding day.
  • List relevant skills and experience. You can tailor this to the social network or marketplace. For example, if you are a full-stack developer but you create a profile on a design forum, it’s best to focus your profile on your CSS and JS experience.
  • Have a portfolio. Show examples of your work, even if you have to list examples of DIY projects. “Can you show me any examples of your work” is a question you’ll get asked constantly as a freelancer looking for projects.
  • Ask your clients for reviews and recommendations. Many freelance marketplaces heavily rely on client reviews and recommendations when matching projects with workers.

Be active in your community

Reputations are hard to come by because it’s ultimately other people who control them! The best way to get a reputation for being a decent freelancer in your specialism is to contribute to that community.

For example, if you’re a developer, a good place to start is helping others on Stackoverflow or contributing to projects on Github.

4. Set time aside for yourself

“Don’t work all the time” may sound like bad advice when you’re figuring out how to be successful. But in the long-term it’s the thing to do for a number of reasons:

Keep your skills up to date

Clients hire freelancers because they need to access a particular skill the freelancer has. If your skill set is outdated or rusty, you’ll fail to create happy customers, so make sure you find some time each month to keep current with tools, technology and trends in your niche.

Stay creative

Clients hire freelancers to solve problems. This takes creativity. Working flat-out makes it very difficult to learn new tricks or different ways to solve a problem.

Reading up, testing, experimentation and learning is important and you should budget some time each month to keep your creative edge. It’s often the only thing that will separate you from other freelancers in a project tender process.

Health

Eating the right foods, getting enough sleep and being active takes time. Whilst it may be necessary to skip a meal or pull a late nighter every now and then to meet a deadline, it shouldn’t be a habit.

Staying healthy will ensure you’re unlikely to miss out on a project because you’re too ill to pitch for it.

Make the marketplaces work

After you’ve focused your efforts, an excellent way to find clients, get reviews and recommendations is to look for projects on freelance marketplaces, like weliketowork.com.

Here are some must-dos when looking for projects on freelance marketplace sites:

  • Create a relevant profile
  • Be very selective and only apply for projects you can do and are interested in
  • Submit excellent, considered proposals
  • Respond to questions from clients quickly

Following the guidance above won’t guarantee you fame and fortune, but doing the above consistently will set you apart from most of your competition and improve your chances of winning more freelance gigs.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Gary Elliott Marketing Director of weliketowork.com, the UK’s freelance marketplace, where we believe high quality work deserves a fair price.

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