The Success Factors of Freelancing
Have you ever wondered what causes one freelancer to make more money (based on their claims) than a regular “day job,” while others struggle to make ends meet? Have you ever contemplated freelancing and wondered about those numbers?
I have been doing it for several years, and I didn’t want to be biased towards what I think is the key success factor. Instead, I went looking for the answer in some journal articles, to see what the research says about the topic and sub-topics. Before covering the research, I want to provide you with the ultimate guide.
The “Ultimate Guide to Freelancing”
If you have any inkling toward becoming a freelancer (if you are not one already), it is a good idea to see what is involved in becoming one. Even if you are just “checking it out,” it helps to understand everything you can about freelancing. This is especially true if you are considering dropping a “day job” to pursue it.
Recently, a friend told me about a great article that was specifically written for the average freelancer, called the Ultimate Guide to Freelancing. It was put together by the team of John Rampton and Murray Newlands at their site, Due.com. The site offers software that helps you to manage projects, time tracking, and, most importantly, invoice your clients. Obviously, these are needed functions for a freelancer to survive.
The guide includes many important factors that should be considered before becoming a freelancer, but also a good refresher course if you are already freelancing. I wish that it had existed when I started!
I’d like to highlight a few sections for you but also relate those back to the research that professionals have done on the topic of freelancing. This gives some real-life analytical data that supports what the authors of the guide (John and Murray) already know and what they are sharing with you. So, here we go…
What Causes a Freelancer to Be Successful?
In a journal article that appeared in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, there was a study about freelancers and what the driving factor of success is. In fact, the article was called Drivers of Freelance Career Success (written by Born and Witteloostuijn). Interestingly, one of their findings was that freelancer success was about the environment. That isn’t only the environment (i.e. office space) where the freelancer works, but also the environment that is created by networking and their relationship with clients and other employees.
The researchers determined that freelancers are also a sort of employee since they report to a company as a contractor. Even though the article was based on a survey of 1.6K freelancers and 51 one-on-one interviews in the Netherlands, there is still quite a bit of relevant results that confirm much of what we have observed.
In the freelancer guide, there is a section that talks about “Setting Up Your Workplace” that also highlights the advantage of being able to work at your favorite place, even a coffee shop. An example of an environment not only includes the interaction with the existing client but also your interaction with potential other freelancers that you may meet up with at the coffee shop. This can be a rewarding experience, as well as a networking opportunity. The research supports this within the context of what they observed as the work-life balance that their subjects mentioned.
More recently, I have been studying ”branding” and “messaging” with a little more scrutiny. I have even hired a coach who specializes in that area. One of the things that I am learning that is often missed is how to describe oneself, even as a freelancer. For example, you wouldn’t want to only call yourself a “freelancer” when trying to get a gig with a client. You are likely calling yourself a writer or designer or whatever area it is that you are covering. But, let’s think outside the box and bit and realize what it is that you offer, as far as a solution, and also what your value proposition is. Don’t think in terms of job role or title, but think in terms of the “brand of you.” Fortunately, the Freelancer Guide gives you some direction on that in the section called, “Branding Yourself.”
Another important point is that the Ultimate Guide to Freelancing operates as a sort of checklist for you, and if you are contemplating whether you want to quit your day job and start freelancing, it also gives a checklist of considerations. However, you do not have to limit yourself to only the bullet items there. The guide is meant to be digestible and not overwhelming. An example is that I took a step further, personally, in hiring a business coach who specializes in areas like helping a freelancer to brand him or herself. You can do the same, going a step further in any of the topic areas.
Joining a Community of Freelancers (and the benefits)
Another study, appearing in “Qualitative Sociology,” about eight years ago, talked about “Individual Needs Versus Collective Interests: Network Dynamics in the Freelance Editorial Association” (written by Debra Osnowitz). The article was based on the personal experience of the author (one of the founding members), as well as qualitative interviews with six former members). Fortunately, even though it is not considered “current” (by the five-year standards), it still contains relevant and interesting research in the area of freelancing.
The article itself describes the differences between an individual freelancer approaches a gig and how a collective group can assist in many areas. For example, the area of confidence. Though the freelancer may be highly qualified for the gig, he or she may not feel that way, feeling like they are alone and have to represent their skills as an island, all alone. That same person can sometimes be more confident when working as an employee, representing the company where they are employed. With the example of the association, there is that feeling of support, and sometimes that is enough to help the individual to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and have more confidence. Obviously, this depends on many factors, as well as the personality type of the freelancer.
Sidebar: There may be some confusion in attempting to find “The Freelance Editorial Association.” According to the author of the journal article, the organization no longer exists. Interestingly, there is a professional organization called “Editorial Freelancers Association,” that isn’t the same but matches many of the models and structure, based on the article. In other words, the “good stuff” and it may be worth the look for any freelancers who are editors.
Back on the topic of joining a community…
This fits (in this context) under the category of “Where to Find Work.” The Freelancer Guide has a section on that and lists some great ideas like using specific websites that are set up for that very purpose. These listed freelancer sites are also communities in and of themselves, opportunities to network and meet other professionals as well as bidding for jobs with future clients.
The purpose of a specific community, like the one profiled in the research article, is networking on a specific area and providing community events, meetings, webinars, conferences, etc. This is yet another networking opportunity where you can 1) speak with your peers and encourage each other and work on paid projects together; and 2) get ideas on how to find clients, as well as professional job listings and directories (depending on the community or professional association).
A simple Google search for ”professional association” along with your specific area of interest will help to find a relevant community or association that appeals to you and your needs. Keep in mind that there are likely free communities (i.e. Google Plus Community and Facebook Groups), but the amount of ROI (return on investment) will likely be related to the cost. You may get a better ROI with a small membership fee with some of the professional organizations (associations).
A Project Manager’s View of Freelancing
A little more recently, there was an article in the “PM Network” entitled “So You Want to Freelance” (written by Margaret Rhodes). Many of the recommendations that Ms. Rhodes makes are similar to the Ultimate Guide to Freelancing. She includes such suggestions as “volunteering during the lulls,” and keeping tabs on the continuing education arena, to ensure that you are keeping up with your skill set. (This is also something that a professional association may help with, too).
Speaking of project management, the providers of the Freelancer Guide also have the software that I mentioned above that handles the time tracking for you, as a part of your own project management efforts as a freelancer. By using software like that, you can invoice your clients and not have to mess with the calculations. Your invoices can be set up to include a PayPal payment link for your clients.
As a bit of a sidebar, before we go, here is a list of startup resources that I helped compile, that will help any freelancer to find tools and resources that can assist them in being more effective and efficient. And, by the way, if you wanted to build on that list, here is an effective way to build a list article: The Quickest and Easiest Way to Create a List Post That Goes Viral by my friend, Dave Schneider of Ninja Outreach.
To review a bit, there are several different aspects to consider before getting into freelancing. Or, if you are already a freelancer, you might want to review these different aspects. An easy, free way to do so is to use the Ultimate Guide to Freelancing as a sort of checklist. You can also read the journal articles above, for in-depth discussions and research. However, sometimes the articles cost money to view, so free might sound like a good alternative.