Your success as a freelancer depends wholly on you. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are fully equipped to deal with the myriad of tasks and engagements that will come your way.
From meeting existing clients, to pitching to new ones, and from managing your day-to-day tasks to bookkeeping and submitting your tax return. Whatever it is you do you need a range of skills to ensure your freelance career is a success. But what exactly does ‘a range of skills’ look like?
In our increasingly skills-reliant economy we are led to believe that if we don’t have a certificate for this, and a diploma for that, then we are of little value to a company. But what about the value that a range of soft skills brings?
Soft skills are often overlooked, and don’t usually come with any kind of qualification, yet they are just as valuable as any diploma or certification.
Soft skills are those we might have learned through experience or developed through home training. They enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people, which is vital if you’re a freelancer.
In this article we look at 10 of the soft skills that freelancers can benefit from.
1. Teamwork Skills
The ability to work autonomously as a freelancer is vital because more often than not you could be working on projects on your own. However, there will be times when you will need to work with fellow freelance professionals, or even be required to work with the full-time employees of a company you have been drafted into to help. This scenario is common for marketing, design and PR agencies who regularly hire freelance designers and copywriters for specific client briefs.
Teamwork skills should not be underestimated, and there are a number of roles that any one person can take within a team, as identified by Belbin Associates.
Belbin’s Nine Team Roles
- Shaper – Drive work forward and gets things done. Usually has a clear idea of the desired direction for a project.
- Implementer – A doer. Looks for ways to turn talk into action.
- Completer/Finisher – Focuses on completing tasks.
- Coordinator – Often a leadership role, someone who manages group dynamics.
- Team Worker – Helps the team work effectively by supporting relationships.
- Resource Investigator – Gathers external resources and information to help the team.
- Plant – Generates ideas and creative solutions.
- Monitor/Evaluator – Good at critically assessing ideas and proposals and making decisions.
- Specialist – Brings expert knowledge to the team, not always necessary to effective functioning. (As a freelancer, this could be your role within a team).
Research has shown that the most effective teams have someone who can take on each of the nine roles shown. A team doesn’t have to include nine people, for example three people could carry three roles apiece.
Developing your teamwork skills can not only endear you to people, but also help you win more ongoing ad-hoc and/or retained work with your clients.
There is an interesting article about teamwork and other valuable skills on skillsyouneed.com
2. Effective communications skills
Communication is arguably the most important soft skill in any walk of life and any career, freelance or otherwise, which is why we begin with it.
Your ability as a freelancer to communicate effectively with your clients, your suppliers and your peers can be the difference between success and mediocrity.
Our technology-driven world is increasingly littered with acronyms, abbreviations and jargon. If your communication skills can cut through this noise and articulate exactly what you do for your clients and how you add value, then you stand every chance of enjoying a successful freelance career.
The two key skills you should look at developing are writing in a concise and informative manner and being able to speak clearly. If you can crack these two soft skills, you’ll be building solid foundations for a successful freelance career.
If standing up in front of a crowd to give a speech or a presentation scares you (as it does most people), then it might be a good idea to join a public speaking workshop or engaging the services of a presentation coach.
It is common to find public speaking courses at your local library, community centre or at a high school evening class. You can also find information about community-based courses on your local council’s website.
The same resources can also be used for writing courses and other workshops. As a freelancer, if you can write clear, concise and engaging copy, then you can apply that skill to your pitches and other presentations, to your letters to prospects and your own blog. The applications for great copywriting are almost endless.
Developing your writing skills will in-turn help to develop your grasp of the English language, which will strengthen your vocabulary and help you become a better all-round communicator, which can help you overcome your fear of public speaking and help to prevent those awkward tongue-tied moments.
3. Problem solving skills
Some professions revolve around solving problems and/or creating new answers to age-old questions. If you work in one of those professions, then it’s likely that your problem-solving skills are already very good.
Problem solving requires critical thinking and being able to ask yourself questions about a given situation. A good way of developing your problem-solving skills is to work through a series of ‘what if?’ scenarios and seeing what results you are presented with. When doing this it is important to keep in mind your end goals and desired outcomes, that way you will see if you fall short, meet your goals, or find a way to exceed them.
What is generally true is if you approach a problem with a cool and level head, then you will stand every chance of successfully solving most problems. If you are accustomed to doing things in a particular way, think about Plan B’s and workarounds. These will help promote a more creative approach to your problem-solving skills.
4. Maintaining A Positive Approach
Is this a skill or is it a mindset? For the sake of this article we will call it a skill, because if you’ve ever been a freelancer you will know that staying positive can sometimes be very tough to do.
Approaching projects with a positive attitude will help you to produce better work, simply because you will feel better about the project you’re working on. Positivity can help you stay open-minded to new ideas.
It can also help you to look at your work from an outsider’s viewpoint, which is vital in certain professions where you are addressing a target audience, such as copywriting, graphic design and marketing.
Tardiness will get you nowhere and will likely see you lose out on opportunities for new and repeat business. At the very least you will lose respect because of it.
It is important as a freelancer not to let your clients down. If you are regularly late for appointments you could find the number of appointments starting to diminish.
If you are late delivering work and regularly miss agreed deadlines you could not only lose clients, but also find yourself in hot water if your late delivery has caused your client to lose money. To find out more about how you can protect yourself in this event read our Freelancers Guide to Professional Indemnity Insurance.
Punctuality is key to being successful as a freelancer and represents common courtesy to your clients and your peers. This leads up nicely onto our next soft skill.
Good organisation skills will help you with most of your freelancer tasks and can help you save money, make money and avoid potential financial penalties.
If you are organised it is highly likely you will be punctual as a result. Organisation will also help you with the most onerous of freelancer tasks, including your annual tax return. Remember, if you’re late submitting your tax return it can cost you up to £100 for each day you are late.
Lifehack.org has a really good article on how to organise your life.
Flexibility is an important soft skill because it demonstrates an ability and willingness to develop new skills and an open-mindedness to tasks and challenges.
The need for flexibility in your freelance career can come from a client bringing a deadline forward, or a new client making an enquiry that you might need to work into your project diary at short notice.
Your flexibility will help you with the next soft skill on our list.
8. Ability to accept and learn from criticism
As a freelancer you are going to experience the ups and downs of client feedback first-hand without the filter of an account manager to lessen the pain of any negative feedback. As such, your ability to accept and learn from criticism will be tested from time to time.
Even if you’re proud of the work you’ve completed for your client, they may not like it in the same way that you do. They may also think that it doesn’t fit the brief and isn’t suitable for their customers.
Ask yourself if you really are open to learning and growing as a person and as a freelance professional. What answer do you honestly get?
A great little article about how to accept and learn from criticism can be found on The Muse. Another great resource for expanding your learning across a lot of skills is MindTools.com
9. Business acumen
You’re freelancing, that means you’re working for yourself, so you and only you are responsible for your business. If you have no business acumen, or no business knowledge of any kind for that matter, it’s time to start learning and quick!
Business acumen, otherwise known as “business sense” or “business savvy” is a keenness and quickness to understand and deal with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a positive outcome.
You don’t have to be an expert in accounting or economics, but if you can recognise a good business opportunity and act on it, or if you can see a business risk and avoid it, then you’ll have a good chance of successfully growing your freelance business.
Cleveris.com hosts an in-depth article about business acumen that’s worth a read.
One of the most powerful skills in your freelancer toolkit isn’t soft at all. Accountability or taking ownership, standing up to be counted, whatever you want to call it can be taught formally, making it a hard skill.
The key thing to remember as a freelancer is that you are accountable to your clients, to yourself, and for everything you do, every action, every purchase, everything you say or tweet and for all of your business finances.
There is no one above you or below you in the pecking order to help you out. You can buy-in outside help, but you are accountable for doing that as well. Keep your accountability in mind at all times and you won’t go far wrong.
Soft skills collaborate to improve your all-round level of professionalism. The more you practice your soft skills, the more professional you will become. This will undoubtedly improve your value to your clients and help to improve your freelancer fortunes. Good luck!