Freelancing isn’t for everyone. Some people are in their element with the autonomy and flexibility of an independent lifestyle. Others are much happier as part of a bigger team and organisation, with the security of a permanent role. So, if you’re wondering whether freelancing is right for you, it helps to understand the character traits and skills that successful freelance consultants tend to share. Below are our summarised experiences from having matched white-collar, expert freelancers with demanding clients across Asia and Africa over the last few years.
In this article, the focus is more on what might be known as ‘soft skills’ – that’s those attributes that will help you to effectively manage the inevitable ups and downs that you’ll face on your freelance journey.
Here are the seven critical skills and attributes that you’ll need to make it as an independent professional.
Freelancers are experts at self-management, with buckets of self-motivation and rigorous time management skills to ensure they hit their deadlines – every time. While freelancing does offer a degree of flexibility that the nine-to-five doesn’t, you do still have to complete tasks within a given timeframe – and you’re unlikely to have colleagues to fall back on if you run out of time. We live in a very distracting world, so iron willpower and self-discipline are essential.
Freelancing can mean working alone or being contracted as part of a team, but either way, you need a degree of self-sufficiency to succeed. As a freelancer, you have to be your own advocate, salesperson and coach, with the ability to work alone, source projects and have the courage of your convictions when the going gets tough. An independent mindset, coupled with the confidence to publicise and ‘sell’ your skills, will carry you a long way.
The ability to diversify
Freelancing isn’t just about doing the job you’re paid for – you’re also running a mini-company on top. As well as your actual work, you need to stay on top of your accounts, file your taxes, market yourself, negotiate with clients, keep abreast of developments in your industry, and more. Consequently, a can-do attitude towards things you’re not familiar with, and an ability to multi-task, are big plus points.
Freelancing can be lonely, stressful, and you’ll inevitably face occasional dry months along the way. So, the more resilient you are, the better you’ll manage. Luckily, resilience is something that can be built up over time. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not about ‘toughing things out’ – quite the opposite. Resilience is about recognising your limits, understanding when and why you’re struggling, and developing stress-management techniques which will keep your mental health on an even keel.
Ability to take criticisms on board
Absolute perfectionism is the enemy of a successful freelance career, so if you can’t bear the idea of something not being totally right the first time, you’re going to struggle. Clients will inevitably give you feedback and criticism (hopefully constructive!), and this should be welcomed, as it will enable you to cut the dross and improve your work. So, don’t be too precious about your craft, and learn to take criticisms on the chin.
Despite primarily working alone, freelancers are also frequently asked to collaborate with others on projects – often in distributed or remote teams. In these situations, clear and regular communication is vital to ensure everybody is on the same page and working together as efficiently as possible. That means keeping team members and clients updated on progress, flagging issues that arise, and collaborating to find solutions. Friendly, timely, and to-the-point communication is a must.
Finally, as in any job, things aren’t always going to go your way in the freelance world, however, when it’s your own business and livelihood on the line, dealing with setbacks can be a bit tougher. The ability to learn from failures, pick yourself up and get back on the freelancing horse is an enormously important trait.
There is no definitive freelance personality, but these should provide an idea of the character traits that could make it easier to succeed if you do take the plunge. If you’re a friendly, tenacious, self-motivated individual, with an independent mindset and can-do attitude, then chances are you’ll go far. And if you’re struggling with any of these attributes, don’t worry as with a bit of hard work, you’ll soon start to fill the gaps as you progress and develop in your freelance career.