For the hobbyist freelancer, scoring an occasional project or assignment may be merely a way to make some extra cash. You may be helping a friend or business acquaintance out with a fresh website design or taking photos of your cousin’s kids just for a little extra spending money, or to keep your skill set fresh. But for the freelancer who is building his career one project at a time, each and every assignment is an opportunity to build a portfolio, gain networks and experience, and earn a living.
According to the Freelancers Union, nearly 30 percent of America’s workforce is now considered independent workers. Some are just working for pleasure while others are striving to build a lasting career. The two groups seem similar enough but there are a few core differentiators: commitment, dedication and hard work.
Quality versus Quantity
When trying to build a robust portfolio, many freelancers are forced to settle for less-than stellar jobs. Unfortunately, these are often the same jobs that demand more of your time but pay you less than you’re worth. Professional freelancers just starting out accept such jobs in hopes of securing a bigger and better gig down the road, while many hobbyists would simply bypass this type of job. For the professional, the focus must be on the long-term payoff, often making taking projects that seem lower level or lower pay than you’d expect a worthy endeavor.
Professional freelancers need to build their brand. In most cases, word of mouth is simply not enough to cultivate a flourishing career. It’s vital to market yourself just as any company would. Whether you use digital media, attend trade shows or utilize the facets of traditional media, connecting with those who need your services is critical. For professional freelancers, the time, money and energy required to market themselves is a good use of resources. As you gain experience, you become more knowledgeable about how to allocate your time between the marketing that will help you tomorrow and the projects that you’re getting paid for today.
In the competitive world of freelancing, keeping your skill set sharp and up-to-date is essential. When hundreds of self-purported experts are vying for the same job, it’s the freelancer with the most relevant education and experience who is most likely to land the job. Your skills and experience must be fresh and timely, especially in the ever-changing world of technology. Again, this often means sacrificing time that could be used for job searches or project management in order to keep abreast of any changing trends within your respective industry.
Further, many professional freelancers opt to invest in certification courses, seminars and trainings, in addition to upgrading their equipment and software, in order to stay competitive and continuously expand their skill sets.
The life of the professional freelancer isn’t always easy. There are moments and days when you’re wondering when you’re going to land your next gig. Sometimes you feel you’ve wasted time and energy on some meaningless task in anticipation of some ROI.
And yet, there are other days your calendar is filled with exciting projects and potential clients knocking at your door. For the hobbyist, down times usually aren’t a big deal. But for the professional, downturns can be frustrating and devastating, and it’s in these circumstances many freelancers can feel the urge to give up. If you’re a dedicated professional and you can weather the storms while continuously pushing forward, you will ultimately reap the benefits of your hard work.