You may think that you can freelance successfully if you have marketable hard skills. The truth is, however, that you need the right soft skills to make it. It’s all about a few key skills and all the behaviors that stem from them.
This post is designed to help you identify those soft skills so you can freelance successfully on FreeeUp or anywhere else you choose to build your business.
First off, FreeeUp was designed and built and is being continually developed according to what clients need. And if you look at the other side of that coin, it reflects perfectly the core principles needed to freelance successfully.
This post is moreover written from the perspective of a career freelancer who has worked through FreeeUp almost since its inception. The writer has also hired other freelancers, both on and off the platform. The views additionally reflect the ups and downs of this journey of building and expanding a freelance business.
I now freelance successfully, but I started from scratch. I had zero freelancing or virtual assistant experience and took no courses or other training. I didn’t even have a lot of computer or internet savvy back then. I simply began with a few hard skills and learned how to freelance successfully along the way. I know what clients are happy to pay for – both from my experiences working with them and from hiring freelancers to expand my offering.
If you are finding it difficult to build your freelance career and/or want to level up your freelance business, this post is a great resource. We’ll start with the key areas and qualities that define a successful freelancer. Then we’ll move on to tips for developing in these areas.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are difficult to quantify, but we can define them as personal attributes that support work. They are what give you keen insight and enhance your ability to perform your tasks at a high level so you can freelance successfully. No matter what hard skills you’re offering, you will use the same basic range of soft skills to get and keep clients.
Below are the soft skills that clients love. Clients who are experienced at hiring look for these qualities. Those who haven’t done a lot of hiring usually can’t quite put their finger on why, but are impressed by candidates who possess them.
There’s an overlap here with having the right attitude for freelancing successfully. This is because attitude has elements of emotional intelligence, and soft skills are often equated to this. They work together, and you may also find that some of the more specific soft skills mentioned are components of your general attitude, or qualities that you aim to develop. You will also notice overlaps among these specific skills because they, too, work together to enhance the greater whole.
Soft Skills to Freelance Successfully
Freelancing successfully depends on steady work. But this doesn’t mean spending 90% of your time trying to land new clients so you can fill up your work hours. An accurate indicator is when you have clients who don’t want to let you go.
We focus a lot on hard skills – web development, content writing, marketing. This is what clients hire us for, right? Yes, but what isn’t often mentioned is that it’s the soft skills that make you stand out as an A-player. And this is what makes clients keep coming back.
For each soft skill listed, ask yourself: Do I have this attribute? If not, how can I develop it?
This is another word that we hear a lot at FreeeUp. On the surface, communication is basically giving information. Quality communication, however, is what you need to freelance successfully.
Quality communication is measured by what information is given to whom and how, the reason and timing of it, and the channels used. When asked how you communicate, it actually means all of these factors.
Of course, a prompt response is best; definitely within 24 hours as recommended by FreeeUp, even if it’s just to say you got the message and will work on it.
Pro-active communication, however, is better. This means anticipating any situation that can possibly affect your ability to communicate and making communication possible through other channels. For example, you can check for heavy traffic at the time you’re expecting to travel to your workplace and give a FreeeUp assistant a heads up via text. You can also check on and give clients advanced notice of possible internet service or power interruptions.
Freelancing successfully – not just surviving as a freelancer – goes deeper into the key communication factors.
Giving it extra effort shows that you are giving your client and the work your best.
Here are a few situational examples that are common tasks in various types of work:
- creating reports on collected data
- presenting a draft for approval
- attending regular meetings
- submitting completed work for implementation
Let’s break the first one down into its component factors.
A client may ask you to take care of that Analytics report, but may not tell you who to give it to or how often to generate it. Obviously, you should ask. Stellar performance, however, is first theorizing the most logical answer, then presenting that as a possible solution in the form of a question. This extra mile is the key because the client needs someone to rely on. This is why they hired you – and because you know more about what’s best.
High-level communication means going above and beyond the black and white of what is required. You need to take this initiative and be responsible to freelance successfully.
For instance, you might consider who would benefit from the report, and how often it makes sense to create and share it. Then you might think about the most efficient place for them to access it and how you will introduce that information. The how is the most complex aspect.
Being accurate and following up is important.
A big part of good communication is accuracy, which means that it’s important to give the correct, relevant information in the way that it will be most clearly understood. The goal is not to check that task off your list, but to do it in such a way that it makes everybody else’s work easier and more pleasurable. It’s about doing more than just okay work but about spending the time needed to present exemplary customized results.
Going even further, good communication does not stop when you have sent that message. Was the report received? What kind of response did you get to the accompanying message? Following up shows that you take your work seriously and respect everyone involved. And it should be done politely, of course, in a non-aggressive manner. Again, it’s not all about getting your task done, but about helping everyone involved work better together. That’s top-shelf.
Try your hand at one of the examples above, or think of a recent interaction from your own experience. Apply the components of stellar communication and see how much better you can make that interaction the next time around.
Interviews for roles that involve other players often include questions that revolve around a candidate’s ability to work well with others. This is because getting along improves performance, as discussed above.
Collaboration is one of the most in-demand soft skills because it’s rare. It’s easy for a person to just do their work well, applying their skills and providing good outcomes. It’s not so easy to work with other people to produce equally great or even better results.
Collaboration is a given.
Sure, there are a lot of tasks that can be done without needing help from others. Don’t forget, however, that you will always be in contact with at least one person that you have to work with – the client. Most of the time, you will also have to interact with a few other people in the course of working to make the work possible in the bigger scheme of things.
Take these situations for example:
- a client didn’t officially hire you and the project is due in two days
- another freelancer needs access to a few designs you created for social media
Getting Work Done
In the first example, you can always gently remind a client that they need to hire you before you can start work. If you aren’t getting a response from the client, however, you need to find an alternate way to get in touch with them. The most logical step on FreeeUp is to ask an assistant to help you. (On other platforms, there are similar ways for you to get connected, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with the system.)
Good collaboration in this situation means giving the assistant all the information they need to fill in the missing pieces. Give them the client’s name, or even better, look up the introduction email and send them the ticket number.
In the second example, you can very easily attach those designs in reply to the social media manager’s request. Even better, you can have all the designs uploaded to organized Google folders before anyone asks. Then all you need to do is send a link to where the specific designs can be found.
Going the extra mile for everyone involved helps.
Going further, you can also send the general link to all the other designs, just in case they are needed. Moreover, that link is better shared somewhere it won’t easily get lost, like on the project Trello board. So, in addition to pasting in into the email where communication was initiated, add it to whatever collaboration tool you are using.
Good collaboration in this situation means making it easier for the social media freelancer to get their work done. You can be a great collaborator by anticipating needs and taking the next step as well. For instance, you might notice that the designs aren’t really suitable for social sharing since they were created for another purpose. You can suggest edits right away without stepping on anyone’s toes, which will improve the results of the social posts and ads.
Plus, you’ll save a lot of time in the process, and shield the client from the stress of seeing the strange images posted and having to ask what happened and get them taken down and edited and replaced.
Freelancing successfully is easier when you work towards the end goal, not just making your required individual contribution.
The extra mile here is making connections and extending valuable help even when it’s not absolutely necessary. You might strengthen your relationship with that client by asking an assistant for the quick link to the hire button, for instance. Your designs might be more effective with a few tweaks that you can ask the social manager to weigh in on.
In addition, great collaboration is about adding a diplomatic and respectful as well as a friendly and easygoing touch to your interactions. Focusing on being an articulate communicator, for instance, can turn out to be very dry and clinical. Being more personable makes others more easily accept that information, although it is already valuable in and of itself. It facilitates better relationships, which leads to greater efficiency and better results all around.
3. Time Management
This one is mostly dependent on an individual’s ability to stay on schedule and meet deadlines. Time management can become very tricky, however, when outside factors get thrown into the mix.
Have you ever experienced:
- work disrupted by unscheduled client calls
- becoming distracted by goings-on in your work environment or personal life
- stressed by multiple deadlines for various clients
The key is to stay organized at all times – this is the essence of time management. Organization isn’t something that just happens or that you either have or don’t have a talent for. Anyone can do it, and the truth is, even the most organized people work at it.
When you’re working on a project, you can easily lose focus if your Skype alerts you to a call from a different client. You had no appointment to meet with that client, but they must have assumed that you are available and suddenly decided to hit you up.
To answer or not to answer unscheduled calls – that is the question.
You can’t expect to remain focused if you can be pulled off a project at any time. Sure, you might have developed a knack for multi-tasking. I have done that and survived. The truth is, though, that no one can really be efficient all the time that way.
The efficiency of juggling several tasks is often misunderstood. Yes, you can manage your time well by doing more than one thing at a time, but only if they do not require your attention at the same time.
Say you are running a website SEO report for one client – you don’t need to watch the software do its thing. You can be efficient by letting it run in the background while you take that call or focus on another project. If, however, you are sorting keywords to optimize a real estate webpage, you cannot be efficient if you are talking about creating a tablecloth listing for another client at the same time.
Eliminating distractions is the first step towards efficient time management.
The same inefficiency can happen when there’s a lot going on around you. Say you decided to work at a café one day. If it’s crowded with college students quizzing each other for a test or happens to be a regular hangout for football fans, it’s not a good place to be when you need to work. The same is true if you’ve decided to plop down on your sofa for work while family members are watching a movie or playing a game.
It’s important to take a serious look at how you spend your time at work. And what factors are making that time inefficient. Clients will always figure out sooner or later whether or not you are worth the hours you bill.
Furthermore, clients who have a lot of experience hiring can be some of the best ones. They have the management thing down pat and are used to dealing with remote collaborators. These clients won’t call you out of the blue or tell you to do a task yesterday. But they are also the ones who can tell if you’re not giving them your best for the hours you’ve spent.
Managing Multiple Clients
To freelance successfully, you need to develop mad management skills. For starters, successful freelancers serve clients on a first-come, first-served basis. You might have tried taking on urgent work, but then you have also probably noticed how stressful this can become.
Accepting rush work orders from clients at random times is a dangerous game. (The expanded version of receiving sudden phone calls when you’re busy with a completely different task and client.) You may not always be able to take on a new project while others are ongoing, even though your deadlines are far away. You have scheduled specific time slots for your current projects – the time that you needed to get them done. Messing with that is not a good idea.
It’s hard to turn down work that could bring in more money, and it’s hard to turn down good clients who ask for your help. It’s also hard, though, to freelance successfully when you can’t guarantee that you can deliver your best at all times. You wouldn’t want to hurt your reputation with a new client or disappoint an old one so much that they let you go.
Design your work schedule as first come, first served and stick to it.
Freelancers are free to take on as many clients and projects as they want. However, this freedom also means a responsibility to manage several clients who may be assigning work all at the same time.
You can always tell a past client who comes back after a while that you are not available right away to do their project. They will appreciate your honesty more than your eagerness to say yes when you won’t be able to deliver what you promised (either in terms of timeframe or quality.) Talk about when you can do the work and block out those hours, even if they are weeks away. If they can’t wait, don’t force it.
You can also turn down a client without sacrificing your relationship. Tap into your network and introduce them to a different freelancer that you trust to deliver the same quality as you can. On FreeeUp, you can also reach out to an assistant to help the client find an alternative if you can’t make a recommendation.
Being proactive with clients also helps a lot. If a client falls off the radar or hasn’t assigned work in a while, it can cut a big hole in your hours. You are free to fill up those hours with other work, as long as you’re not on a retainer. In these cases, you can inform that absent client that you are going to be taking on other work so that they will know to check your availability before suddenly popping back up after two months, sending you a dozen designs to finish in three days.
As with every rule in life, there are always exceptions. It’s good to hold yourself to a high standard when it comes to your work attitude, communication style, collaborative efforts and time management. You cannot expect clients to always follow your lead, however. You can do your best to inform clients and collaborators of the way you work, but there will always come a time when they push to bend those guidelines. It’s just part of life.
Take for instance:
- a client asks you to design a logo, but their ideas don’t match yours
- you are tasked with increasing traffic to a website, but the client’s preferences go against your research
You can be flexible without compromising your reputation.
You don’t have to be the one who always gives in, but you can at least consider their standpoint and whether or not you can give a little and come to an acceptable compromise.
As you develop your ability to adapt, you will also notice your creativity and problem-solving skills getting better. These are secondary soft skills that are also valuable assets when you can develop and use them in accordance with adaptability.
Your innate creativity may be a talent for design. In the first situation, however, if you can’t adapt to a client’s preferences, you can’t hope to freelance successfully across the board. Being flexible enough to express yourself and please a wide range of clients at the same time is the key.
In the second situation, you know that your solution, based on your skills and experience, will work. Your client doesn’t accept your suggestions, however. This will always tend to bring work to a standstill, and possibly even an uncomfortable experience that leads to a damaged relationship and reputation. You might have explained the logic behind your solution, but the client still wants to do it their way.
Giving in a little to get things moving is better than being stubborn because you know you’re right. After all, they are paying you to do what they want done. Just make sure that you have documented your suggestions and the client’s refusal in case you get blamed for less than stellar results. A disclaimer is sometimes a freelancer’s best friend.
You may not be in a leadership role as a freelancer. Nonetheless, you need the qualities of a leader to freelance successfully.
Independence is the first of these, because you are a business owner, not an employee who simply takes orders. There’s little possible advancement in that type of follower role, so you need to take control and responsibility to freelance successfully.
Leadership also denotes initiative. As an independent contractor, you have to be on the front lines because there isn’t anyone there to throw work on your desk or tell you how or when to do it. As above, if a client asks you to give them an Analytics report, don’t simply send it on Skype because that’s where they asked you for it. Go a step further. You might suggest that it is also a useful report for the content writing and marketing groups. Then think of where it’s best for those groups to access it and ask if you can share it there as well.
Passion is an important leadership characteristic that is essential to freelancing successfully. The freelancers who never run out of clients are usually the ones who are the most enthusiastic about their offering. Moreover, because they love what they do, they are extremely determined about getting work done well. They are ambitious because they are driven to succeed, and they are confident because they have put all that they have in them into their work.
You can start freelancing with just a single hard skill. It doesn’t even matter what it is, as long as someone else needs it. If you want to freelance successfully, however, these primary soft skills are the key.
Marketing a hard skill will get you clients. It will most likely be a herculean effort, however, unless you have a skill that only 1% of the world’s population has. You may also suffer from poor client retention without these accompanying soft skills to help you.
The most successful freelancers will tell you that they don’t need to hustle so hard to get clients – they may even say that clients come to them. They will also probably tell you that their clients love them so much that there’s an overflow of work. If you want to get to that point in your freelance career, work on these soft skills.
Start by signing up to freelance on FreeeUp – it’s the best online marketplace I know to land quality projects.
Julia Valdez is a professional teacher and decades-long lover of the art of words on paper, the stage and the big screen. She spends most of her time doing freelance eCommerce content and project management, adventuring with the Greenhouse Christian Fellowship, volunteering with the Philippine Advocates for Resilient Communities, and sharing lots of laughs over little crazy things.