Ten Tips To Improve Your Freelance Career

November 6, 2018
November 6, 2018 Aaron J. Cunningham

Here are my Ten Tips To Improve Your Freelance Career.

After 11 Years of freelancing, I feel it’s safe to say I’m an expert. I’ve already done all the “wrong things,” and slowly I’ve figured out the “right things.” So here are my Ten Tips To Improve Your Freelance Career.

The life of a freelancer is very rewarding, but the path is sometimes treacherous and it’s important to use your head and do things right. People often ask me “What are your top tips for freelancers?”

What they are really saying is, “what is the magical formula that can help me be a success?”

First things first, I should say there is no magic formula, each industry is different and freelancer is different, however, there are some great field-tested principles that are certain to help you be a better freelancer.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a graphic designer, a video editor, a writer, a tutor, or you name it these simple principals have helped me and they will help you too.

1. Always have a contract.

This one can be a bit daunting for new freelancers, they may think “I do not want to lose a client because I am too pushy.” Well, the truth is if they have a problem with a contract they probably weren’t going to pay you anyways.

You must have a contract for EVERY SINGLE PROJECT!

There are lots of places to find contracts online. A quick google search will produce many sites that provide a template for you to customize. I have had great success with this one.

Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. The main thing is to get everything in writing so that in a month, they aren’t saying “we didn’t agree to that.”

When I was fresh out of school there were q few times when I did not get a contract and I wasted a lot of time chasing down money. Time which could have been spent working for clients!

Your contract should cover.

  • Confidentiality of the client’s information
  • Payments terms. (When and how you will be paid.)
  • The responsibility for the work is passed to the client once they take ownership of the piece of work.
  • Termination of service. The hows, whats, and whys of how both parties can terminate the contract.
  • A professional relationship needs guidelines, this lets people know how you work.

Clients should print, sign, scan, and return the contract to you.

Please remember I am not a lawyer, just another creative who wants to help you. So if you need legal advice please ask a lawyer.

2. Always get a down payment.

One issue you may face is not getting paid on time, or worse not getting paid at all.

This has only happened to me a few times, and it was because I DIDN’T ASK FOR A DOWNPAYMENT IN ADVANCE!

I ask for 50% in advance for every project I start. I do not begin any work until I have received that 50% and I make this clear in all my contracts.

If a client has an issue with this, that is a major red flag. If they refuse then move on, it’s better to work on your portfolio or look for new clients with your time then it is to work for someone who is never going to pay you.

Once you receive your signed contract and down payment, it’s time to start working!

3. Saying “no” is just as important as saying “yes.”

When I was new to freelance a wise friend told me “It’s just as important to know who you don’t want to work with as it is to know who you do want to work with.”

What he meant by this was that it’s important to say no to work when it doesn’t feel right. Often new freelancers are a little desperate and say “yes” to every job that comes along. I get it, I’ve been there, but it’s important to look for clients who you will have good synergy with, who respect your work, and respect your time.

A big part of freelancing is about building relationships and it’s important to cultivate strong relationships. You only have so much time in a day and if you take every job that comes along, you may end up specializing in a field that is doesn’t best showcase your talents.

Similarly, if clients are pushing you to do more for less, or to produce work you are not proud of, it important to say “no.”

4. Focus, Focus, Focus!

It’s important to focus freelance work as much as possible.

I will use myself as an example. I have mastered most of the Adobe products, I could edit a video, create motion graphics, fix photos in photoshop, design a logo, typeset a book, code a website, write content, record your band, remix your song, DJ your party or growth hack your social media.

I love to learn new technology and my personal creative pursuits run the full gamut of what’s out there, but a client wants someone who can be the best in their fields. Would you hire an accountant who could also fix your roof?

Pick the two or three areas you excel at the most, and more importantly enjoy the most and focus on them. For example: If you are great at drawing illustrations for horror magazines, stick to that and be the best.

5. Your portfolio should reflect the work you want to take on

This tip goes hand in hand with tip 4.

If you know you are great in one area, or you are passionate about working in a certain field, you have to showcase this in your portfolio.

If you desperately want to be a portrait photographer, then do not fill your portfolio with pictures of old buildings. Find your best portraits and showcase these! My portfolio reflects exactly the type of work I LOVE to do.

When you are new it may make sense to have a very diverse portfolio, which showcases all of your skills so that you can get the most work. There is sound logic to this but you should be thinking about building a career, not about making a few bucks.

Building a body of work that reflects your true passions will go a lot farther to building a career. And building a career will go a lot farther to making money than hopping into every job that comes along.

6. Be honest with your clients

Your reputation is the most important asset you have as a freelancer.

If you lie to get work, the lie may haunt you for years.

Businesses want to work with professionals who they can trust. If you say you’ll meet a deadline make sure you do. \

Overpromising to get a job, is a sure fire way to tarnish your reputation. If you don’t have enough time or the skills to do the job, just say that. Being honest will but you in that person’s good books and when the time comes to find another freelancer you may be the first person they ask.

7. Produce content, content, and more content

If you want to be truly successful then you have to produce content.

Write blog posts, produce training videos, or start a podcast. Shareable content is the best way to get free and far-reaching attention brought to your freelance skills.

One article or video on “How to create a Photoshop animation,” or whatever else you’re great at, can introduce your personal brand to thousands of people.

In today’s connected world, social media is the best way to get your name out there. The trick is to create content people will share (like this article **wink wink) This is one of hte reason I created the my Ten Tips To Improve Your Freelance Career.

I didn’t invent this one, every freelancer worth anything today spends at least part of their day building their own personal brand. It’s free, it effective, and it’s one of the most powerful tools in your freelance arsenal.

8. Keep your eyes on the prize

Do you know where you want to be in 5, 10, or 15 years? What are you doing today to get there?

No one ever went from point A to point Z in one step. All successful people have traveled a long path towards to get where they are today.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen, and figure out some long-term goals. Break them into smaller goals, then break them into tasks to be completed now.

9. Remember you are a business

If you owned a store you wouldn’t just “wing it,” you would have a plan, know exactly how much inventory you have, and have sales goals.

Well, guess what? Your freelance business needs to run like a store too.

What are your plans for your business? Do you know how much website traffic you get? Do you know your social media reach? What’s your plan to increase it? What are your operating expenses?

These are just a few examples of the kind of questions you need to ask and answer.

Another important factor is knowing your worth. After you’ve calculated all of your business numbers, you should know your worth. How much do you make per hour and how much do you lose if you’re not working?

Once you know your worth, think about outsourcing some of your more menial tasks.

10. Split your income for taxes and savings

This last one was the hardest for me to adopt. I am a creative person and money sometimes seem too tedious and boring for me to worry about.

Well, guess what? The tax-man doesn’t care if you find money boring, they are going to want their cut.

Try to split your income into 3 streams, business expenses, taxes, savings.

  • 13% to Business expenses
  • 18% to Business Taxes
  • 10% to Personal Savings

You will have to figure out what works for best for you. Each country has different tax laws.

Now that you are self-employed, you’ll need that cushion of saving ready for when tax season comes.


I hope this helps some of you avoid the types of mistakes I made when I was new to freelance.

A freelance lifestyle is great for those talented enough to pursue it. The downside is even the most talented people, need structure and to be organized.

I hope you enjoyed my Ten Tips To Improve Your Freelance Career. Now quit reading this article and go out there and find some more clients.


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