The 3 Stages of Growth for a Long-Lasting Freelance Career
Establishing long-term success as a freelancer takes time. You need to set goals for the early, middle and late stages of your career even before it begins! Massive growth takes months, if not years, to get moving. Then again, every case is different! What takes one person three years can take you three months. If you have the proper skills and know-how you can take a deep cut into your learning curve. To succeed at any pace, you’ll have to know your career objectives and trust the process. Better yet, trust your process.
For long-term success in freelancing, you have to begin by combining your sellable skills and untiring work ethic. Every step in the process establishes you and your brand through quality work, communication, and dedication. In time, each part of your journey will revisit past practices, but understanding these tactics now will prepare you for growth as a freelancer.
But this isn’t just for the freelance rookies out there. While you veterans are past the early stages of your careers, it’s never too late to brush up on skills that will prepare your career for (profitable) longevity. Are you doing everything to guarantee that your freelance career is ready for another 10 years of booming business?
Building a solid freelance foundation is important to those just beginning but other best practices are crucial further down the line to elevate your brand into a fully functional business. Let’s dive into the main focuses at each phase of your career in order to build a long-term freelance future.
Early Stage: Establishing Your Freelance Foundation
Mission statement, Finding your voice
When starting out as a freelancer, think of it as building your dream home. To have a sustainable home, you have to pour a solid foundation; that foundation supports the rest of the home you build around it. You want that house to weather any potential rainy days ahead while keeping you comfortable for years ahead.
The same can be said for your freelance career. At this stage, the goal is to lay a smooth base that supports all the work done afterwards. Unlike concrete, a freelancer’s foundation requires several elements and they may not all seem aligned at times. Other moments may leave you wondering why you’re focused on a task you never dreamt of before. Trust us; you won’t want to skip a step, even if it seems unnecessary at the moment.
These three areas help assert your freelance brand and springboard you into a fruitful career:
Crafting an Effective Mission Statement
Start your brand right. Think, “Why am I here?” Why do you want to be a freelancer? What do you offer your clients? These questions form your mission statement, helping define how you approach potential work and how others approach you.
When crafting your mission statement, you want to clearly explain the values of you and your work. When writing your freelance mission statement, consider topics, such as:
- What does my service address?
- What are my work or personal ethics when it comes to the job?
- What do I value most in client/job?
- How do I go about providing my work?
- What do I bring to a job that makes me the best candidate?
Keep your statement short, sweet and to the point. If you can get your mission statement to read like a piece of succinct business strategy, you’ve nailed your first objective.
If stuck, companies’ ‘About’ section or nonprofits are excellent sources of inspiration. However, their statements tend to be short paragraphs. As an individual with a specific skillset, a few words is all you need!
Like a mission statement, your voice lets everyone know just who you are and how it’s conveyed.
Build Your Reputation Through Side Hustles
The side hustle is a common strategy that eases you into your new career without leaving all your past work behind. With side hustles, you are able to supplement your income while you lay your freelance foundation.
However, side hustles also serve as a potential launching pad for your career. Sometimes, they’ll emerge as a much more lucrative option than originally imagined.
Rich Armstrong is a designer and animator who happens to code! He's grown into a prominent life of freelancing, working with some of the top agencies and startups. He now teaches his expertise to over 7,000 Skillshare students. “My Skillshare earnings have enabled my wife and I to start our own studio, move to Amsterdam, and travel the world," said Rich.
You never know where your next great job is. Keep your mind open, clients will take notice. Your ability to handle diverse assignments will catch their eye. Your hard, smart work ethic is what will make them hire you again.
Find Your Voice Through an Array of Work
Your voice matters in every freelance field. Like a mission statement, your voice lets everyone know just who you are and how it’s conveyed. If you think you’ve left the early stage without defining your voice, you need to search for it some more.
For creatives, that means recognizable work that’s distinct to you. It can be journalistic, flowy, abstract, and so much more. Which also applies to freelancers outside of the more traditional creative roles.
Marketers, graphic designers, and illustrators all need to find a voice. Even if the work is cut and dry — you don’t have to be. It’s important to fine-tune your voice by continuing to create work that represents your uniqueness, which ultimately develops into your ‘style’. Additionally, if you want to let your creativity speak more, seek out some side hustles that give you the platform to do so. Now, you aren’t only finding your voice but letting potential clients know that your voice has versatility when it comes to future projects. In the end, you may expend more effort but you’ll have a diverse portfolio to win larger projects moving forward.
By turning in spotless work, on time and under budget, you start to set your stand on every project: visually and professionally. Even in a binary profession, you can brand yourself.
Middle Stage: Improve How the World Sees You Online
Defining your digital presence, Building a community
Now that you know how you are as a freelancer, it’s time to let the world know. Finding the time to expand your audience and visibility isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. To do so, your presentation is key and these areas are vital to reach that next tier of your freelance brand. Below we dive into the essentials for positioning your website and social media to build a stronger professional network.
Website and Social
At this stage in your freelance career, you (should) have a web presence. Now is the time to maximize its application by using your time efficiently. In doing so, your website and social media channels become the pipelines that lead to career growth and lasting professional connections. However, you can’t be on every platform; no one has enough time in the day. So, you have to know your bandwidth and work within it.
Your website is a must-focus task at this stage in your career. Treat your website like your digital business card, it’s how you make an impression. Every design element matters. From color to layout to word choice, the UX has to be visually pleasing while providing a clear message as to what your business is about. The name of this game is clear navigation and to convey your value visually.
To achieve this, your attention needs to be on some of the key rules of websites:
- Present your portfolio with visuals to accompany copy and make sure it’s easily found.
- Make sure your vital pages are always one click away and properly linked throughout each navigation menu on your site. Your SEO ranking will thank you.
- Speaking of SEO, use the keywords you want to rank on search engines. Short- and long-tail keywords should be covered in your ‘About’ section at the least.
- Provide quotes and/or links to customers and articles covering your work. It makes you look authoritative and brings your work credibility.
- In short, sell the visitor on why you are the right person for the job. The goal is for visitors to get that impression without looking far.
On social media, it’s useful to be just as strategic. There are some must-haves within your social approach. Facebook is vital for all businesses and brands. Today, many thought leaders are finding ways around Facebook’s notoriously complicated algorithm for business pages with Facebook groups. Consider creating a group for yourself, or better yet, a subject that unifies people. Start broad with an entrepreneur or designers group and feature your group’s work there. Growth hacking at its finest!
It’s best to be selective with additional social outlets. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Twitter is still an option for many but it may make more sense for writers looking to brand themselves. Meanwhile, LinkedIn is the excellent place to network with potential clientele or mentors who can help present you with the right opportunities.
Visually creatives, of course, should focus on building a presence on popular platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, but they also need to have portfolios present on niche sites like Behance or Dribbble (where potential employers tend to look for buzzing talent). The list goes on for each profession, so research where your peers and potential clients are. Get in there and start networking!
Build a Strong Network
With your website and social media in place, use each to further showcase your work. Give viewers a behind-the-scenes look into how you create, even provide original content and glimpses on each platform for variety. This serves as an authentic look into your work. In turn, clients will feel like they know you better. As the saying goes, “people do business with those they like.”
Plus, you never know how many opportunities await from just a bit of reaching out. But remember, be authentic. Research your contacts, understand why you are contacting them. People can sense inauthenticity easier than we might think.
However, authentic marketing can lead you to a mentorship. With so many freelance marketplaces changing rapidly, it’s wise to have the insight of someone who has succeeded before you. By reaching out and genuinely wanting to learn, you could tap into sage wisdom for the years ahead and find the mentor you didn’t know you needed. Many people are dying to share their information with someone. Do your research, then let them know you want to listen. It could shape the foreseeable future years of your freelance career.
Later Stage: Focusing on Scale and Finances
Testing new channels, Finances
We told you how every stage links together! Everything about your optics, SEO, mission statement and so much more come together at the later stages. This might seem obvious to the veterans reading. But imagine your brand journey if you failed to do the early and middle work. Pretty different (and rough), right?
Now, let’s bring your skills together and keep your brand pushing.
Test amongst your Social Media audience
Now is time to work your preferred networks and start thinking as a bigger brand would. On social media, A/B test your messaging. Kick the tires on Adwords, Facebook Ads and other potentially lucrative marketing drivers for your business. This is the perfect place to evaluate how you present your content. Have a bold idea for your Instagram? Test it out! Keep expanding your offering with the goal of expanding your audience and getting in front of the right potential clients.
Become the Business
In addition to expanding your audience, functioning as a business is another important achievement in this stage of the game. In a perfect scenario, you’d know the ins and outs of freelancing on day one. Now, at this point, it’s time to ensure that you do understand every aspect of the business. That includes:
- Pay terms (Net15, Net30)
- Recourse for pay violations
- Understanding state and federal taxes
- Quarterly tax filings
- Expenses and deductions
Skillshare’s Working not Working class gives an excellent breakdown of how to make the right financial decisions at this stage of your career.
From the early days of your freelance journey to a fully established shop, this roadmap will help direct your focus as you build a long-lasting freelance career. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
At any stage, things could end up feeling daunting. However, building your business the right way from the beginning prepares you to live a life off of your passion.