The freelance lifestyle comes with some pretty big advantages. For example, freelancers are free to decide when and where they work, and which projects they take on.
When you work as a freelancer, you get to work with different people every day.
That allows you to build your network and exposes you to a huge variety of different viewpoints — which makes for an interesting and rewarding career.
But here’s the thing: freelancing also comes with its challenges, and no one should go into it without proper preparation.
Whether you’re still thinking about making the leap into a freelance career, or you’ve been freelancing casually on the side for a while, this article is for you.
In it, we share our top tips for beating the odds and becoming a successful freelancer in 2023.
What makes a successful freelancer?
What exactly do we mean when we say a freelancer is “successful”? Well, the key factor is money, of course.
Depending on the career you choose, there are opportunities to make a very good income as a freelancer. And increasing their take-home pay is a big reason that many people turn to freelancing in the first place.
But money is not the only measure of success. It’s equally important that freelancers enjoy the work they’re doing, and find it interesting and rewarding.
A successful freelancer should also have enough free time and feel that their work-life balance is healthy.
After all, there’s no point in being a high-earning freelancer if you don’t have the time or energy to enjoy the rewards of your work.
How to become a successful freelancer in 2023: 9 tips to follow
Could 2023 be the year you finally make it as a successful freelancer? Follow these tips for the best chance of success.
1. Get your paperwork in order first
If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, it can be tempting to simply start looking for clients before sorting out your paperwork.
But think about it: would you rather deal with a legal or tax compliance issue now, while you have time on your hands — or in a few months when you’re (hopefully) rushed off your feet with client work?
Once you’ve done this, you can invoice clients and declare your income through a self-assessment tax return.
2. Niche down as quickly as possible
Many new freelancers make the mistake of offering a wide range of services in the hope that they’ll get more work.
But in reality, most clients prefer to work with freelancers who are knowledgeable in one specific area. While this might mean that your pool of potential clients is smaller, it makes you more valuable to those clients — which means you can charge more.
So, what do we mean when we say you should niche down? It’s all about making your offering as specific as possible. Instead of marketing yourself simply as a graphic designer, why not say you’re a graphic designer specialising in food websites?
Instead of just being a freelance writer, be a copywriter specialising in personal finance, for example.
This doesn’t mean you can never work for clients outside of those niches — it just means you’ll be more attractive to those within them.
3. Expand and nurture your network
Your professional and personal networks are probably the most important tools you have when you’re first starting out as a freelancer.
By telling everyone you know what you’re doing, you’re building a huge pool of potential clients. Remember: it’s not just that the people you know might need your services, but that the people they know might too.
As you advance in your freelance career, you should continue to build your network.
This might mean reaching out to people on LinkedIn, or even attending online or in-person networking events to make new connections.
And who should you have in your professional network? Ideally, you should aim for a good mix of other freelancers, who can be a good source of advice, and people in your industry who may be potential clients.
4. Build an online presence
These days, it’s almost impossible to become a successful freelancer without some kind of online presence.
This might be as simple as setting up a LinkedIn profile, and making it clear that you’re a freelancer who’s open to opportunities.
Posting regularly can help show your expertise. It also ensures people remember your name — which might come in useful down the line when they’re looking for a freelancer in your field.
You may also need a website to promote your services. Depending on the type of work you do, setting up profiles on different, specialized websites could be useful too.
5. Don’t expect work to come to you
If you’ve never worked as a freelancer before, the shift in mentality can take some getting used to. And a big part of that is realising that work is probably not going to come to you.
Networking and building an online presence are both important, but actively marketing your services is even more crucial to success — especially at the beginning of your career.
Usually, this means reaching out to people and asking them if they need your services. At first, this might be people you know (or friends of friends), but eventually you’ll move on to pitching people or companies you don’t know.
You might start to get some inbound leads that result in work as you advance in your career. However, even experienced freelancers usually need to continue marketing their services.
6. Don’t undersell yourself
Setting prices that are too low is one of the most common mistakes that newbie freelancers make.
Part of the reason for this might be a lack of confidence, but a larger part is that many misunderstand how freelance pricing works.
Look at it this way: as a full-time employee, the salary you receive is only part of your compensation. Depending on where you are, you may also get paid holiday, sick pay, healthcare, pension enrollment, and other benefits. When you set your prices as a freelancer, you need to incorporate all of this into the figure you land on.
Of course, you might not be able to charge a super-high rate as a beginner, but there are disadvantages to setting your prices too low too.
For one thing, clients might not take you seriously if your prices are too much lower than other freelancers’ in your field. It can also be more difficult to raise your prices over time with a client if you went in too low to begin with.
7. Be prepared for dry spells
All seasoned freelancers know that dry spells are inevitable — and that’s it’s important to plan for them.
Setting aside money in times of plenty means that you won’t be in trouble when you have a lower-income month.
Over time, many freelancers learn to embrace quieter periods and use them to market their businesses, learn new skills or even take time off.
It can take a while at the beginning of your freelance career to start making decent money. But take heart and remember that it is possible to make a good living as a freelancer.
In fact, according to data from Upwork, 75% of freelancers make the same or more than they made at their last traditional job.
8. Always request referrals
As you begin to build a list of happy clients, don’t be shy about asking for referrals. After all, they probably know people in the same field who could also benefit from your services.
And if they enjoyed working with you, most people would be happy to recommend you.
LinkedIn can be a great help here, as it allows you to explore your satisfied clients’ connections.
If you see that a client you’ve worked with is connected to someone you would like to work with in the future, don’t be afraid to ask them for an introduction.
This allows you to make a warm pitch to your prospect, which makes them much more likely to respond favourably.
9. Take on work outside your comfort zone
Most freelancers find themselves repeatedly working on the same types of projects.
And this makes sense: it’s totally logical to stick to the things you know you’re good at. And we did tell you to find a niche, after all.
But if you never take any chances, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.
Try to take on the occasional project that’s outside your comfort zone (as long as it’s still work that that interests you).
This can help you to build new skills learn about new types of work, and may even provide you with more opportunities in the future. Ultimately, it can make you a stronger and more skilled freelancer.
Learn more about freelancing
At CXC, we love sharing content that helps freelancers, contractors and other independent workers to make the most of their professional lives.
If you’re still unsure if freelancing is right for you, read our list of the pros and cons of freelancing to help you decide. And if you think 2023 could be the year you take off for your freelancing adventure overseas, our recent post on remote work visas could help you get started.
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