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20 Tips to Improve Your Freelancing Game

by Bethany Good | Oct 11, 2022

(Note this article also appears on the Cowork Frederick blog)

With more people leaving traditional 9-5 jobs in favor of choosing their own work, freelancing has become more popular than ever. The number of freelancers has been increasing since 2014. According to Statistica, in 2014, about 53 million people freelanced in the U.S., but by 2020 that number had risen to 59 million.

 If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, you may be looking for tips on how to run and maintain your business. I talked to some members of Cowork Frederick to get their best advice on how to set yourself up for success. Read on for their tips and tricks.

Write a Business Plan

Liz Van Brunt is the founder and president of Your Third Hand, which provides executive assistant services and virtual office management to small and medium businesses. Liz has been a “solopreneur” and small business owner for over 23 years, which means she has a wealth of knowledge and experience.

She shares some of her tips and tricks below:

Tip 1:  Keep a network of other business owners. Maintain relationships with freelancers or companies that you can turn to for ideas, backup, or refer your clients when they are looking for services you can’t or don’t provide.

Tip 2: Write a Business Plan. You should create a business plan even if you’ve been in business for a few years. I’ve done this every year since I started my business in 1998. Writing a business plan helps me better define my boundaries to check in with myself when a new client comes along. I can more easily determine if it is a good match with my goals.

Tip 3: Keep an eye on your market rates and stay current. If we all charge within the same range, then we help our industry as a whole.

Build-in Downtime

Scott Harris is an award-winning writer, editor, and journalist who has been honing his skills as a freelancer for the last ten years. Scott has written for CNN, Vice Media, and Healthline, to name a few. 

Here are his tips:

Tip 1: Work for free (sometimes). There are different schools of thought on this, but I believe that if you have the right opportunity, you should go for it, even if there’s little or no compensation. Don’t work for free indefinitely or let yourself be taken advantage of, but if you enjoy it and get some good work samples out of it, then it may still be worth your time.

Tip 2: Build in downtime. I’ve been at this for more than nine years. Initially, I worked around the clock, including nights and weekends. After all, if freelancers don’t get the work done, they don’t get paid. If you don’t draw boundaries around your time, no one else will do it for you. When the clock hits a particular hour, or you reach a natural stopping point in your work, make a point to close the laptop, put down the phone, and allow yourself time to recharge. Everyone needs self-care, even (or maybe especially) those with the most dedicated work ethics. Those deadlines can wait.

Tip 3: Write in active voice instead of passive voice. Instead of “X was done by Bobby,” change to “Bobby did this.” It saves words, frees up your verb (the hidden powerhouse in any sentence), and moves the sentence’s subject to the front. If I could suggest one “magic bullet” writing or editing tip, this would be it.


Don’t Do Any Work Without a Contract

Bethany Good owns Good Writing Co., which provides freelance copywriting, editing, and digital marketing services. 

Here are my tips:

  1. Trust your instincts and intuition. If you feel uneasy about a potential client, listen to your gut. 
  2. Don’t do any work without a contract. It is crucial to protect you, your business, and your assets. Having a lawyer draw up (or at least look over) your contract is worth the money.
  3. Don’t allow others to devalue you. If a potential client scoffs at your fees, tries to use “hardball” negotiation tactics, or wants you to work at a super-reduced rate, it’s not a good fit. 
  4. Require a non-refundable deposit before you begin work. When clients have some “skin in the game,” they are more likely to be responsive to your requests for information and pay you on time.


Always Have Some Cash on Hand 

Derrick Miller owns Axis 80 Interactive, a website design, and digital marketing company. Over the last 20 years, he has learned much about managing his business finances. “In the early days of my web development business, one of the biggest challenges I faced was the “boom and bust” nature of project-based revenue. There would be long stretches of no income punctuated with spikes as I completed big projects, which made it tough to maintain financial stability,” Derrick explains. 


Derrick’s advice:

Tip 1. Spread payment schedules throughout a contract instead of asking for only a deposit and final payment.  

Tip 2. Offer some services on a recurring model, such as a subscription or retainer.  

Tip 3. Always have some cash on hand to buffer the peaks and valleys of inconsistent revenue.  

“With those lessons, I could get cash flow under control. It’s still something I have to watch and manage actively, but it’s no longer the problem that it used to be,” he says.


Develop Strong Working Relationships

Morgan Cherish is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She is also the founder of Frontier ABA, where she provides behavior analysis, speech, and language services for children with autism and other developmental disabilities worldwide.

Morgan shared her best tips for running a small business venture:

Tip 1. Providing high-quality work is essential. When I started, I got one client, but I put a massive effort into ensuring the child’s program was of the highest quality possible. From that single client, word spread like wildfire, and I got five more clients over my first month! While it may seem obvious to deliver high-quality services and products to some, it is not the norm across the board.

Tip 2. Relationships. Developing solid relationships has allowed me to deliver first-class services and bring in more clients. I want people to work with me because they get outstanding services.

Tip 3. Get your billing/taxes in order straight away! I was so disorganized, and if I could do it all over again, I would have gotten my act together from the start.


Establish a Routine

Matt Edens is an experienced freelance writer for television, film, and print. His work focuses on true crime television. His notable television credits include A&E’s City Confidential.

 Tip 1. Establish a routine – “office hours” even if you aren’t in an office. Keep them even if you don’t have an assignment – use the time for bookkeeping, organizing, cleaning out your inbox, etc. It will help with procrastination and maintain a work/life balance.

Tip 2. Bank a little to cushion those times between assignments. You can always roll any excess you build up over the year into your retirement account at tax time (and both SEP IRAs and Solo 401Ks have much higher contribution limits than traditional IRAs).

Tip 3. Don’t feel the need to bill everything at the same rate – or to turn down things that don’t pay as well as others. Sometimes the gig is about more than just money. 

Whether a new or experienced freelancer, it’s crucial to keep learning more about your chosen career. 

Other freelancing resources:

5 Essential Contract Terms for Consultants, Independent Contractors, and Freelancers by Matt Johnston.

The Freelancer’s Union Blog