25 Awesome Tips to Become a Successful Freelancer

Being a freelancer means a lot of freedom to plan your own days at work, but it also does require discipline and planning. Being your own boss, you need to be good at making the right rules to succeed. Most of these tips sound just like common sense, but actually remembering everything when it’s needed isn’t necessarily as easy as you would think.

Different rules work for different people. Having worked as a freelancer on and off for over ten years, I’ve created this list of my best tips on how to succeed. Maybe you already use several of these or versions of them, great! Hopefully you will also find a tip or three that can help you to succeed in what you do! :)

1. Make a marketing/business plan

This should be the first thing you do. Even though you have all the info needed in your head, putting it on paper will give many advances and definitely be worth the extra work. Not only will you that way be «forced» to think through important issues and possible challenges before they occur, but it can also be a lot easier for you to get the needed help from potential business partners or investors when you have a good business plan to show them.

2. Plan your days ahead

Allow yourself an hour or so at the beginning of each work week, or the last hour of the previous week to plan the upcoming week. Then it’ll be easier for you to plan how to spend your hours to reach the deadlines you have upcoming. The more ongoing projects you have, the more important this is.

Picture by Hilde Vanstraelen

3. Use free software

Starting up as a freelancer can be challenging economically, and by choosing from all available and good free software you can save a lot of costs without necessarily having to give up a lot of functionality. Free doesn’t have to mean it’s not good software, there are more and more options available every day so make sure you check out what can be used related to your business. When you buy a computer, camera, tablet or printer make sure to check out the software that comes with it as well. You may be in for a positive surprise.

4. Create an eye-catching logo

To look professional and catch those potential clients in a tight market, requires hard work when it comes to branding yourself. Creating an eye-catching logo (or getting someone to do that for you if you lack the skills yourself) can make you seem more professional and easier to see. The power of a good logo and actually using it on business cards, websites and such will give you that professional look which could be the extra inch needed to catch the attention of a new client.

5. Learn to say NO!

If you don’t have the time for another client at the moment, it’s important to be able to realize it and say no. It is the most fair thing to yourself, your existing client and the new ones that knock on your door. Worst case scenario is saying yes to too many and it having consequences for existing clients. You always want to make sure you have enough time to give your current clients the best service you can. A client too many could be the thing that lowers the quality of  all your work.

6. Make a blog/website

In this Internet age that we are, having a website of your own can mean a whole lot. Not only does it make you look more professional but it is also a gateway to new clients. Many do surf the net to find people for their next projects and if they can’t find you online they won’t know you’re there.

Picture by Claudio Sepulveda Geoffroy

7. Update your website regularly

Do you already have a website or blog? – great! But to maximize its value to you it’s very important to update it regularly. If new clients visit your site and see that you haven’t updated the content for a very long time, that might just be the reason for them to choose someone else instead. Updating regularly will require an hour of your time every now and then but can pay back multiple times rewarding you with new clients.

Picture by Ben Lancaster

8. Give your online visitors something free

Giving something extra to the visitors on your website always is a good thing. If you work as a designer you can for example consider putting up some free textures or buttons. This will give your site more visitors and potentially more clients for you. Or how about offering every visitor a percentage off on their first order with you? Again, this could be the extra thing needed to stand out to new clients.

Picture by Mario Alberto

9. Use social media

Social media is where many relationships are made these days. No matter which country you live in, using social media can connect you to potential clients and partners all over the world. Twitter is a must, and you should consider Facebook and also forums related to your business. If you are a designer consider having a look at deviantArt and YouTube aswell. In several of these media you can advertise for your own business as long as you make sure to not spam it too much.

Picture by Davide Guglielmo

10. Get allies

Having allies can mean everything. Connecting with people through social media or even spreading the word of your business through friends and family can get you just that word out there that you need. Also making relations with people who can do things for the clients that you can’t can help, you give the clients a more complete package of what they need. One day you are the one sending a client to an ally that can offer a more suitable service in that case, the next day you could be the one having clients sent your way.

Picture by Glenn Pebley

11. Save for rainy days

Even though your business may go really well, there can and probably will come a bad month or two every now and then. Being a freelancer is being vulnerable to changes in the market. My advice would be to save up a little bit of your income each month, save it in an own savings account so that you have it as a safety buffer for when times get rough. You sure wont regret doing that. It would be a shame if a couple of small bills would ruin everything for you in a bad month.

Picture by Marcelo Moura

12. Be creative

There are many ways to be creative, to get new clients or to make better use of equipment and office space. Some examples can be to upgrade an existing computer if you can’t afford a new one, redecorate a spare room if you can’t afford the rent for an office outside of your home. Add a new product or service to your current list or ask friends or family if they know anyone that may be in need of your services. The options are many, all you need is to try think a bit out of the box.

Picture by Ayhan Yildiz

13. Reward loyal customers

If the market is tight you need to do what you can to have your customers back a second and third time. Being friendly and service minded is always a must, but what about giving them a discount the second time? Or sending them special offers of various kinds. Use your fantasy and implement these things into your business plan. Make customers want to come back and you will have the best possible chance to survive.

Picture by Deb Walker

14. Treat every client as if he is the only one

Giving existing customers good offers as mentioned in the previous tip is important. But remember to be service minded. If a customer feels important that will make him more loyal as well. Use positive language when you talk or write to him. Don’t be afraid to say that you will go out of your way to make sure he is satisfied with the product/service he is getting. And remember to let him know that feedback is appreciated. That way you can keep making your services more and more attractive and get happier clients. Don’t forget that existing clients can be the best advertising you ever get!

Picture by Shlomit Wolf

15. Work when you are at work

If you have decided to work from lets say 8am to 4pm every day, then do so. If you have errands to run, private mail accounts to check, private phone calls to make and so on, these will quickly eat of your much-needed work time. Make a promise to yourself to only do this when you are not supposed to work, as in before or after work or during your lunch break. It may not seem that much to you, but I’ve seen several great freelancers getting their days completely messed up because they were not good enough at managing their time properly.

Picture by Zsuzsanna Kilian

16. Know when to start and stop

Just as important as actually working when you are at work, is starting when you should and stopping when you should. You may have to prepare yourself for working extra hours every now and then to keep your business alive, but it is very important that you have free time too. You need to recover and get your mind filled with other things or you will get burned out and ruin things for yourself. The more hours you work at once, the less productive you get. So remember to follow your own rules on when to start and stop the day at work.

Picture by Nick Colomb

17. Keep your finances tidy

Keeping your finances tidy probably sounds easy, and it can be – as long as you keep an eye on them regularly. No matter how small a business you are running you will run into trouble if you only spend time on billing and accounting once or twice a year. Set up dates for when you pay your bills, when you send out invoices to clients and to make monthly budgets. Not only will this make it easier for you throughout the whole year but you will be able to fix errors quicker, do adjustments if needed and so on.

Picture by Michal Ufniak

18. Remember to breathe

Breathe you say? Yes ;) And by breathing I mean that you need to take care of yourself. You may be freelancing using a computer or two, a camera or other tools, – but the most important tool will always be yourself. And just like any other tool you will be in need of some defragging and polishing yourself. Remember to continue to spend time on your hobbies, friends and family even if you have a busy work schedule.

Picture by Alex Bramwell

19. Get out of the house occasionally (especially if you work from home)

If you have a home based office it’s important to get some fresh air. Book some of your meetings somewhere else, meet business partners for lunch, or spend an hour or two working from a library or coffee shop with your laptop if you can. The change of scenery may boost your energy level/creativity and give you a lot back.

Picture by Jesse Therrien

20. Make an inspirational string

Rough days come and rough days go. Simple as it may sound, having something around you to remind you of why you are working this hard can be what you need to get some extra energy on that one difficult day. Make your own inspirational string! Take a piece of string or use a cork board/whiteboard, whichever you have available. Add a picture of your kids, of the vacation spot you are saving to go to, or maybe a car you hope to be able to buy. Add some of your favorite inspirational quotes or pictures, whatever inspires you really. And there you go, your own inspirational string! Taking a look at it when you are close to giving up or when a day is extra stressful can work wonders for you. You should give it a try :)

Picture by Cristopher Bruno

21. Be humble

No one is born an expert or world champion. If things go well or you feel on top of things it can be easy to get a little bit too confident, which can be bad for your reputation and bad for the quality of your work. You should always aim to be humble, listen to your clients on what they want. Give them your professional opinion when needed but in the end it is the client that generates your paycheck. Also remember to willingly take advice from colleagues or others who have been in the market for a while.

22. Look professional, in every way possible

You have the logo, the website and so on and things are starting to look pretty good. Remember to also meet clients with respect, look presentable and be polite. Being your own boss doesn’t mean you can talk or act in any way and still keep your clients. Remember that.

23. Ask for feedback

Not only should you have comments enabled on your website but you should also ask your friends/family/allies for feedback on your work. And most important of all, after you have finished your project – ask the client what he thinks. Not only do you get a great chance to improve but the client also feels important. Getting someone else’s opinion is always good and this will help you to become even more successful.

Picture by Dominik Gwarek

24. Always carry a notebook around with you

It being a normal notebook, your iPhone or any other digital form of “notebook” you should carry it with you and remember to take notes. This is for many reasons. Not only can you unexpectedly run into a potential client or an existing one, but you may come up with valuable ideas when you are on the bus, on the plane or basically anywhere else. Several times have I had amazing ideas, not had a notebook, forgotten the ideas and seen them used somewhere else a year later.

Picture by Typofi

and last but not least

25. Take the time you need!

This is so important, it can’t be mentioned enough. Same as with the tip about learning to say no. Once you have said yes to a project you need to make sure that you take the time needed to do the best you can do. Handing over a project that is half done will not only give you a client who won’t come back, but it can give you a bad reputation. Your clients are your best references to show in the future and no one want a freelancer who leaves the work half-finished.

Picture by Kriss Szkurlatowski

That was my first article here on 1stwebdesigner, and I hope you enjoyed it and found the tips useful.
Feel free to leave your own tips or feedback using the comments, and good luck in the world of freelancers! :)

Hilde Torbjornsen

A girl with passion for design, photography, business planning, freelancing, inspirational art and Photoshop/Illustrator. She runs the website Designer77 and you can follow her on twitter here: @Hildy77

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Comments

  1. says

    Great tips – in the ‘Learn To Say No’ section, I would also add not accepting (or getting rid) of difficult clients. Sometimes I just get a gut feeling that some client’s going to be a pain in the a$$ when I meet them and so wriggle out of working with them before I’ve started lol

  2. Jason Dicosta says

    You completed several nice points there. I did a search on the issue and found mainly people will agree with your blog.

  3. Kohlen says

    Yes for sure, as freelancer we have to really calculate all of our expanses and make it tight just for starting point once we have loyal customer we will really enjoy what we have choose as freelance

  4. Oliver Classen says

    Thanks, some useful tips here, planning is really important as you mentioned, and keeping content updated. Just sometimes its hard coming up with fresh content…

  5. Torry says

    Wow,very useful!
    I really enjoy looking at on this site, it has got great blog posts.
    Thanks

  6. Pipay says

    takes time and process to be successful, a process that begins with ourselves, a good article could be one of my inspirations . Thank you :)

  7. Peter says

    I think the things you covered through the post are quiet impressive, good job and great efforts. I found it very interesting and enjoyed reading all of it…keep it up, lovely job.

  8. Bettie says

    Thanks Hilde for posted the useful and informative article, it’s a good reference for all freelancer :)

  9. Sten says

    Wow, that was one in-depth article you did there. I think I read every word too, it was packed with fine tips. Thank you blog owner.

  10. says

    Very well done article. I love the notebook part, but i change it to Google doc. Sinche i’m a forgetful person and always stay online, put it in Google doc will save paper and have search function :)

  11. says

    Some very good tips in this article. I like the idea of giving out freebies to potential clients, and I also like the idea of getting involve in a social media. Marketing your services on those sites is beneficial since you are interacting with people in all walks of life.

  12. David says

    Hey Hilde,

    Gr8 tips !!! Very Interesting too…!! It will surely help me for my future plans…
    Thx a lot. I even enjoyed your 33 – Out of the box -Inspiration.

    Very Inspirational post.

    Hoping your colorful thoughts/ideas come to LIFE !!!

    :)

    Cheers,

    David.

  13. Cristy Romero says

    Hi Hilde!

    It’s really amazing!!!!…I am from Central America. I found this site, and in everything I see, I’m stunning!….I wish I have the opportunity to learn this fabulous career!….Can you recommend me free program to start design my owns creations? I want to use a logo that I have, but tranform it in something spectacular!….jejejejeje Maybe I dream to much, and I have tha passion, but dream is free jejejeje :) Thank you very much. (apologizes for my english)

    Regards,

    Cristy

  14. minkim says

    I really like your design style and I checked some very good tips.
    These tips are very useful. Thanks a lot!
    Also The article is amazing! ~

    • Hilde Torbjornsen says

      Thank you so much for the kind words, I really appreciate it! :)
      Happy you found these tips useful! :)

  15. says

    great article. Ive just started out after leaving uni and im finding it very difficult to get new clients. A lot of points you make ive never thought of, so i’ll give them a go.

    cheers

    • Saad Bassi says

      Alan, use elance.com and odesk . If you are good at work, then definitely you will get new jobs.:)

    • Hilde Torbjornsen says

      Thanks Alan! Happy you enjoyed the article!
      And I wish you the best of luck :)

      /Hilde

  16. says

    These are great tips to follow and a great way to help stay on track! Getting finances together and on a schedule is important but also staying sane is important as well, get out of the house/office!

  17. says

    Useful tips. It’s hard being a freelancer, you control everything…if you become a full time freelancer you must have a definite plan with what you want to do. You can’t be a freelancer all the time, think ahead and improve your skills at all times.

  18. says

    Some really useful tips there. It’s easy to forget the obvious sometimes where you are immersed in a pile of work. Know when to start/stop was a timely reminder!

  19. D.Dušek says

    Hi! Can I translate this article to the czech language? I will bring the source :).

  20. says

    The article is amazing! But it’s so hard to go outside or make something for yourself when you think that this time could be spent on some good tech reading or learning new things, or looking for clients. Good point about the notebook, I always have it with me and write down all the crazy ideas that come to my mind

    • Hilde says

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Anastasia! :) very much appreciated!
      I agree with you on it being hard to be able to actually get out when you constantly think you can use that time to do something more “productive”. My own experience though is that I work much more efficient when I manage to take the occational “time-outs”. Im still not good enough at doing it, but working on it ;)

  21. Duane says

    Excellent tips. I would like to add tip #26. Be good at what you do.
    Nothing else will matter unless you can deliver the goods.

  22. says

    very nice article. Sometimes I find myself lost in between working. E.g. Browsing a website take me to some cool article, article take me to some other websites, from those website I get some idea and start searching for something. I totally forget what I was doing. I have to change my habit man!

    • says

      ROFL. You are my copy.lol. I am trying to write an article since 4 days and every day there are lot of emails to respond. I find something interesting in some email. Start googling and after 2hours, i come to know that I was writing article.oh. Total Fuck. Can’t find a way to go out. Hilde should give some suggestion.:)

  23. says

    These are some very well thought out tips, much appreciated.

    I really like the idea of the extra incentives for long term clients. When I do a bit of freelance writing, I like to top off the end of the project by surprising the client with 5 or more additional articles – this always has them praising my services and leaves me with some really great feedback.

    I think it’s absolutely essential to take some time to yourself and reflect. You have a very rough job, it has its ups and downs and you’re putting it all on the line but the freedom really is what its all about. Get out of the house and have some fun, reward yourself along the way to keep you motivated and don’t be afraid to take some time off to clear your head, a day spent relaxing could mean you complete your projects at a much more proficient rate.

  24. says

    tell you the truth, i am still not very successful in this field but i will learn many things from this article. useful info

  25. Omer Greenwald says

    I would also add – learn to outsource your work.
    Even if you don’t plan to expand in the future (starting your company), it’s a good thing because this way you can have more projects, build customer relations and eventually increase your income.
    If you do plan to hire employees, you can learn a lot from outsourcing.

  26. ChrisDigital says

    This is a great and comprehensive list. It’s all true, especially getting out of the house :-). I wrestle with starting and stopping too, it’s actually critical for creative types to day dream and recharge. Thanks for posting.

    • Hilde says

      Thanks for your feedback Chris! Much appreciated :)
      Good to hear you enjoyed my article :)

  27. Amberly | Web Designer says

    Interesting Read.
    I think that is some sound advice. In the planning stage, developing a long list of potential clients is important.

    • Hilde says

      Hi Amberly! :) Thank you for the feedback. Yes. I agree with you on making a list of possible clients aswell. Good point! :)

  28. Melody says

    One of my biggest challenges is taking on a project and not stopping until it’s finished..I go into my “zone” until it’s done, but I’m learning with that. I think it’s awesome for designers to be humble, sometimes I just don’t see it though..

    • Hilde says

      Thanks for your feedback :) Very much appreciated. I have that little bubble I go into aswell sometimes, but good thing is that with some work Ive been better at managing my time + taking the needed time off aswell :)
      And yes, the part about being humble is in my opinion so very important. Not only as a freelancer. :)

    • Hilde says

      Thank you Suzy, for the feedback !
      Im very happy to hear you enjoyed the article :)

  29. says

    Very nice article, thank you so much! It is a very hard job but also rewarding. You definitely have to be a certain kind of person to be successful but that is never a bad thing. Keep up the good work, and thank you!

  30. says

    Being a freelancer is a lot harder than most people think simply because working from home has so many distractions. I ended up contracting because home working as a freelancer was impossible when they wife couldn’t understand just because I’m there didn’t mean it was fine to leave me with the kids while she went shopping and so on.

    One thing that did work well for me was dressing the part. I always produced my best work when I was smartly dressed. It’s something about being in “work mode” and my dress code helped me reinforce that.

    • Hilde says

      Hi Simon! Thanks for your feedback, I sure do agree with you. Sometimes things like the dressing part, that may sound like such a small detail, can be the extra thing needed to succeed. Weird for those who haven’t been there, but still so logical. And it works!

    • Hilde says

      Thank you, Ganapathy! :)
      Happy to hear you found the article useful, and the best of luck with your new venture! :)

  31. Bill says

    Absolutely awesome article! You nailed it! Thanks for the reminder and for the practical tips.

  32. says

    I’ve read the opinion that promoting of one blog is not enough to become a successful blogger-freelancer: I mean that the most talented guys build the networks of their own blogs any certain theme-related and provide the traffic circulation between them. Frankly speaking, I can’t approve this, because it could restrict the freedom of surfing.
    In case if one have too many blogs reasonable planning becomes the most important part of freelancing..

  33. says

    Hi Hilde,

    well written and good tips.
    I will add: try to keep on learning: especially in the world of web design, new things (techniques, standards, trends, …) appear every day, I’ll try to learn from the others, increase my knowledge and then develop my own path (and maybe do something useful for others to come).
    Good luck to everyone in the freelance world! :-)