The truth is that a freelancer must become the equivalent of a business owner in many ways, and there are a number of other requirements that extend beyond that job title as well. In this post, I will point out some of the hidden skills that a freelancer must possess or learn in order to fully succeed in their endeavors.
1. Business Owner
Right off the bat, a freelancer in essence becomes the owner of their own business. Whether making it official and incorporating or simply working as a sole proprietor, the responsibility of EVERYTHING that has to do with your business falls squarely on your own shoulders.
On one hand, this is a fantastic amount of freedom and opportunity to build and grow your business as you desire, rather than answering to someone else. On the other hand, this is an immense amount of responsibility that can quickly overwhelm the unprepared. This duty becomes the umbrella that all the other skills in this list fall under, but instead of reporting to the owner as a subordinate, the freelancer is the owner AND the employee.
Just make sure you don’t start having arguments with yourself about best ways to run the business. (At least not out loud when anyone else is around.)
This is one of my least favorite and therefore agonizingly acquired hidden skills. I do not like dealing with money, other than spending or saving it, so the realization that I now had to keep track of every expense, every receipt, every invoice, and every payment was not a welcome one.
A successful freelancer must find the best possible way–whether doing it yourself or hiring someone else–to manage the finances. Your taxes and consequently your livelihood depend on it.
3. Collections Agent
Another less popular role the freelancer must take on is the collector of unpaid bills.
Yes, at some point in your freelancing life you will have to become that annoying person who calls and emails and sends letters requesting unpaid balances. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be annoying–you can do your best to be firm and demanding while still maintaining a solid relationship and good communication with your client–but I don’t know anyone who likes to make or receive those phone calls.
Still, there comes a time when it must be done. Please just avoid making those calls around dinner time.
4. Human Resources Manager
A successful business must take care of its employees, and in the freelancing business that’s you. One of the most difficult things the freelancer must learn to do is find the healthy balance between work and time off, but you as the HR department must make sure you are taken care of.
You must also take care of your medical coverage and maintain good health with regular checkups. If you ever get sick, there is no sick pay for the freelancer. In fact, your down time not only doesn’t pay, it costs you money. So taking on the management of your human resources (AKA you) is a top priority.
5. Operations/Project Manager
Whether you come by it naturally or you have to study and learn it, this hidden skill is invaluable to the successful freelancer. Planning out your project timelines, managing what happens when and keeping the workload balanced is critical no matter what field you work in.
There are a number of software tools that you can utilize to assist in this task, but you must take on the role of Operations Manager to not only survive, but to succeed–or else lose your sanity.
6. Customer Service Representative
Client management is key to the success of a freelancer, and a hidden skill that many must learn. Communicating with clients from start to finish in a project is critical, and therefore mastering it must become a priority. Learning the best ways and tools that fit your communication style as well as your clients’ will greatly benefit you, usually on a daily basis.
Any freelancer that excels in the hidden skill of Customer Service Rep is almost guaranteed to have happy clients, and happy client make lasting business relationships that can often spawn referrals.
Another of my least favorites, but at some point the time will come to put on your polyester plaid leisure suit and pound the pavement trying to drum up business. The best freelancers know how to do this in ways that attract (not drive away) potential customers, and how to “reel them in” and gain their business. Without this skill you will be relying almost solely on word of mouth and others doing the sales for you, so it is an important weapon in your arsenal of hidden skills.
8. Social Media Marketer
This can almost fall under the same category as the Salesperson, but it is quickly becoming a specific field all its own and a necessity for the freelancer’s success. Most successful freelancers will utilize at least one, if not more, social networks to market, brand and publicize their business, so this is a new skill to master. Facebook Fan Page, Twitter profile, LinkedIn–whatever your flavor (or flavors) of choice, you must use social media to raise awareness and attract potential clients.
Most successful freelancers have some type of blog. There are various reasons you should be blogging, which I won’t go into here but this is a hidden skill that many freelancers don’t realize they need.
Add the responsibility of running, writing for and maintaining your own blog to all the other skills listed above, and it’s beginning to become hard to imagine when there will ever be time to actually do the freelance work you set out to do in the first place. Still, the value of a blog for a freelancer is priceless, so plan on honing this skill to your advantage.
I have toyed with putting the title “President and Janitor” on my business cards, mostly for the laugh of it but also for the simple truth. At the end of the day, I am the one responsible for keeping my workspace clean and organized. Understanding the importance of this–especially for the sloppiest of freelancers–will improve your workflow and encourage your creativity in the work area. Letting it slide will do the opposite. So throw on the coveralls, pick up a broom and take out the garbage every now and then.
What Other Skills Do You Depend On?
If you are thinking about starting or new to freelancing and did not consider these hidden skills you would need in order to succeed, you may be overwhelmed at the prospect. Rest assured that it is not necessary to be highly skilled in all of them from the onset. Still, you will need to work toward becoming a master of all of them throughout your freelancing career, and the sooner you improve the better the rewards will be.
If you are already succeeding at freelancing, what are some other “hidden skills” you depend on for your success? Please share them in the comments below so we all can learn ways to improve.
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Posted: 2010-05-18 07:30:08