As an increasing number of people enter the gig economy, what will it take for them to succeed? This what we learned about how to thrive in the industry.
Know your worth
As a freelancer you have more freedom than a traditional corporate employee. When freelancing, you can decide when to work, where to work and your rates — essentially, how much you're worth. When starting out as a freelancer, it can be challenging to know where to price yourself. To work this out, we suggest you:
• Find your niche: Freelancers need to figure out what they're good at and become an expert in it. This is the value freelancers bring to many companies. Once they've developed an area of expertise, they need to learn how to communicate their value, clearly and concisely. This can be done by keeping your website up to date, showing a portfolio of previous work and highlighting referrals or recommendations from your clients.
• Learn the market: Do your research to find out what people are looking for. Try looking into online forums to see what types of projects people need support with. Or try and identify postings of particular job that seem most in demand.
• Monetise your skills:Turn your talents into products or services that people can buy. Look at the job market to see what other people are charging for similar work and use that as a reference point to work out your rates. You can use websites like freelancermap or the regular freelance websites like Upwork or Fiverr to check the going rates for your area of expertise. To work out your pricing, we recommend the cost-plus method where you take into account your costs but also the ongoing market rates.
• Tap into your confidence:Know that what you can offer is crucial and own it. Even if another freelancer has a similar talent, they're not you. So, don't just market your skills — market yourself.
When you are your own company, you don't often have the support and prestige that other, more well-known firms will enjoy. Therefore, you have to put extra work in first to get the clients, and then keep them coming back for more. Repeat work is often considered a gold mine for freelancers because it leads to both consistency and referrals. To keep your clients returning, we suggest you:
• Interact with your clients in a personable way: Get to know your clients, their challenges and what their goals are. The better the rapport you develop, and the more interest you show in them as a human rather than just as a client, the more they'll remember you. To do this, you can have initial scoping conversations to elicit your clients' needs. Be clever at digging into the details to uncover the real benefits that the project is meant to deliver. Clients may not always know what they need until you elicit it from a deeper conversation.
• Find out what other projects they might need help with and offer support: If you don't hear of any follow-up opportunities during your initial stint, take initiative and tell your employer that you're open to working on more projects in the future. From there, follow up after, say, one month.
• Use your expertise to improve other parts of their business: If they don't have anything that needs working on, suggest other areas that you could improve. Chances are they haven't even thought about what you're offering and where else your skills can be applied.
• Never overpromise and then under-deliver: Don't get yourself into a situation where you can't follow through on your promises. Build in extra time where you can and be upfront about what is needed. If you're clear and direct, companies will understand and respect this.
• Always get testimonials from your clients: As companies work with more freelancers, it's harder for them to track how well various freelancers have delivered on their contracts, including agreed time scales and milestones. Some companies are beginning to use databases to keep notes on past freelancers' work, which allows them to rehire great freelancers easily. So, ask for feedback on your work. The company will likely store it in their system, and you'll have something to show to gain more work.
You can shape your work around your passions and your lifestyle. But staying too comfortable can also limit your ultimate potential. To rise to the challenge, we suggest you:
• Put yourself out there: Don't be afraid to promote yourself and what you can offer. Social media is a fantastic way of doing this because you can reach, target and interact with many people, often for no money.
• Craft your role: This involves redefining what you stand for in a way that is meaningful to you, so don't be afraid to make changes to your business model over time. Crafting your role also means being open to changes that would allow you to be more competitive. If you want to do more of a particular project that you enjoy and less of other projects, make those changes.
• Set ambitious targets: You need to consistently push yourself to ensure that your standards stay high and you remain motivated. As a freelancer, whatever you think is out of reach isn't. The work is quite literally yours.
Hunt in packs
Our research found that the most successful freelancers are those who take advantage of the strength in numbers. The advantages include group learning, as well as the ability to share market intelligence and upcoming opportunities. To excel at group work, here's what our findings suggest:
• know the key players in your line of work: Eighty-five percent of the most successful freelancers we spoke to were part of online communities and meetups.
• Build your tribe: Be sure to identify those who show a good work ethic by the testimonials or reviews they have been given. Then, be bold about approaching others with a proposal to take on projects together.
• Be visible in your community and establish your online presence: A good way to start is by sharing information and learning from previous jobs online. By doing so, you will be building social capital.
These tips will help you develop a business plan for your one-person company and are crucial for your long-term success. Our last suggestion? Build in time for rest, self-care and relaxation to ensure you're at the top of your freelancing game.
Written by: Ben Laker, Lebene Soga, Yemisi Bolade-Ogunfodun and Ashish Malik
© 2021 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group