Secret Sauce: 10 Game-changing Tips from the World’s Top Freelancers

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“Learn from the best, or die like the rest.” Sobering words for a freelancer!

In this article we try to discover what separates the best from the rest. What are the world’s top freelancers doing that the rest of us aren’t?

Some of the advice you read here might seem surprising or counter-intuitive. You may read hints you have never tried. The question is: Will you give them a go?

1. “End every prospect meeting or phone call with an agreed-upon next step.” – Ed Gandia

Ed Gandia is a freelance copywriter with a lot of experience. Starting his business life as an entrepreneur at age eight, he spent eleven years as a sales professional and senior account executive before starting starting his copyrighting business which focuses on software and high-tech industries. This melding of sales experience and successful freelancing makes Ed a voice worth listening to.

Ed’s advice could come straight from a David Allen “Getting Things Done” book. In his article “The Power of the Next Step“, Ed points out that successful salespeople are always trying to move clients one step closer to a sale. This “next step” mentality can be used successfully by freelancers when dealing with clients.

Ed mentions some of the options we can be giving our clients:

  • an invitation to place a call or send an email
  • an offer to download another informative document
  • a web page where they can go to learn more
  • some kind of quiz, poll, or conversion calculator.

In other words, keep your relationship with your client active. If the next step isn’t another job, make it something else that might lead to another job.

Ed concludes, “Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Try to imagine what other relevant information he or she might find useful, practical and, if possible, memorable at this point in their buying cycle. Then, offer them some choices and see what happens.

“You just might be surprised at the results.”

2. “Squirming can be very good for you.” – Dave Navarro

Dave Navarro is a guy who pushes people past what they think they are capable of: a personal productivity coach. He enjoys destroying things that hold people back. He makes successful people more successful. He must be worth listening to: he writes for FreelanceSwitch!

“Squirming can be very good for you.” Why doesn’t it surprise me that those words come from someone who calls himself a coach?

Dave doesn’t care if you’re successful. He wants you to be more successful. In his article “3 Uncomfortable Ways To Make Money As A Freelancer” he warns that people who are comfortable with their current success may be doing three things wrong:

  1. You may be wasting your time. Make yourself squirm by carefully tracking where you spend your time. “Tracking where your time actually goes reveals every spot in your day where you waste time, get distracted or work below your rockstar levels … and the truth hurts… Try it – even for a week – you’ll see an instant improvement that lets you get projects done faster.”
  2. You may be putting off meaningful and important goals to keep the work coming in. Achieving some of those goals may take your life or business to the next level. “Get a little uncomfortable and invest your time in things that will increase your earning per hour of time you spend on your freelancing business.”
  3. You may be underestimating what your services are worth. “If you summon up the courage to ask ‘how can I provide more value for my clients and make them happy to pay more for it?’, it will change everything. Everything. But you gotta be willing to get uncomfortable and run like hell towards where all the rewards are.”

3. “Forget time management – ENERGY management.” – Jaime Mintun

Jaime Mintun is a published author in the self development, wealth creation, and spiritual markets. She assists her clients with branding, messaging, and overall identity. She has pulled herself out of homelessness and bankruptcy to become a coacher of freelancers.

In her article “Forget Time Management – ENERGY Management“, Jaime points out that managing our time is ineffective unless we are being productive with our time. We become productive by managing our energy: our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. “If we can nourish our entire being in all four energy quadrants, we will be fulfilled, energized, and at our fullest potential.”

In the rest of the article Jaime explains how to manage our physical energy. She talks about the importance of rest and nourishment: freelancers need to take breaks and eat meals. “I’ll even work 20 hours stints non-stop. Sure, part of me is pleased with my tenacity and stamina. But the toll it takes on my body, and the price I pay later on, is never worth it.”

Jaime makes some surprising comments about stress: “Stress, surprisingly, is also good for the body – when it is the right kind of stress and the proper doses. This is akin to the stress you place on your muscles when tearing and building them. They cannot grow unless first stressed… Flow is achieved when we have the proper amount of, and balance between, both skills and challenges.”

4. “One of the best possible ways to be more productive when it comes to writing/blogging is to lay off the ‘Best ever post’ addiction.” – Jon Phillips

Jon Phillips is a freelance designer and blogger, the founder of Freelance Folder, and a touring musician. He loves WordPress and knows how to grow a blog.

The good might be the enemy of the best, but if you’re always aiming at perfection, you may never accomplish anything. In his article “Creating New Blog Content – A Simple Guide“, Jon explains why.

“Yes, content is king! No need to argue on that. But most of us spend so much time trying to come up with a masterpiece that we fail to recognize the good post that is cooking within us. Some of my best posts are the ones that I wrote quickly or even in a rush. I just sat down and started putting my thoughts on paper (well, not really paper, but I started typing).”

Sharing your opinion, creating something others will enjoy, and being relaxed as you create will help you be more productive. The more you create, the easier it will come. “The secret to content creation is not trying but just making it happen.”

5. “Expenses that improve your productivity or quality of work are beneficial to your business.” – Steven Snell

Steven Snell is a web designer and blogger widely known across the design community. He is a regular contributor to PSDTUTS. Without formal training in writing or design, Steven has discovered what he loves, and has learned on the job.

As freelancers we are often trying to minimize our costs. It is good to recognize that some expenses are worthwhile, and will build our businesses.

In his article “10 Principles of Successful Freelancers“, this is his Principle Number 5. Steven explains, “The natural reaction to expenses from most new freelancers involves resistance to just about anything that costs money. As a freelancer, your profitability will obviously result from your income minus your expenses, but expenses aren’t always a hindrance to increased profitability.”

To maximize your income, you need to maximize your productivity. That may involve spending money on the tools, resources and services you need.

“Most freelancers don’t enjoy dealing with the financial aspect of running a business. As a result, managing finances can take much more time and effort than necessary. This is a good example of where many freelancers could help their bottom line by being willing to spend a little bit of money that will save them some significant time.”

6. “Don’t answer the phone (but always check your messages).” – Jason Heath

Jason Heath is an active double bass performer, educator, blogger, and podcaster. His writing, blogging and podcasting have been featured in magazines and newspapers. He is on the board of directors for the International Society of Bassists, a member of the blogging network Inside the Arts, and is a staff writer for Bass Musician Magazine.

In his article “12 Survival Tips for Freelance Musicians“, Jason admits to being a “yes man”. He can find it difficult to say “no” to gigs that aren’t right for him. This tip is number 9 in his list, and his best strategy for avoiding the “yes man” trap.

“This approach may not work for everybody, but I personally like to hear all the details of a gig and take an objective look at my schedule before saying yes or no. I’ll return the call right away after hearing the message, but I like to get all the information before making a decision. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I’ll say yes on the phone when I really should be saying no. Some contractors are quite convincing, and sometimes I’m just a dummy when it comes to the practical value of a gig.”

Hearing the message before committing to a job or gig gives you time to check your schedule, do some figures on what the job’s worth, and think through the implications of saying “yes”. If Jason does answer the phone, he’s learned to say, “Let me check my book on that and get back to you later today. What were those dates again? How much is it paying? Where’s the location?”

7. “Focus upon a niche.” – Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is a well-known blogger and speaker. He is editor and founder of Problogger and Digital Photography School.

In an interview with Suite 101, Darren explains that his first blog was very general, and covered a variety of topics. He found it hard to keep readers, because few of them shared an interest in the same combination of topics that he enjoyed writing about. His answer to this problem was to focus on just one topic.

“One of the best things I did was start a second blog with a focus – cameras and then other blogs on other interests. I found when I did this that readers responded really well as they were getting just what they wanted, I found freedom in it because I could write as much as I wanted on those topics without worrying that readers would become disillusioned and found it was easier to monetize a blog with a focus. Advertisers don’t want to advertise on a blog that is general – they want content and readers with the same focus as their products.”

8. “I’ve found that simplifying my schedule allows me to do things that I never thought I could do before.” – Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta is a problogger best known for his Zen Habits site, where he emphasizes simplicity as a means to productivity.

The above quote is from a Lifehacker interview called “Leo Babauta on the Power of Less“. During the interview, Leo explains that by aiming to do too much – or trying to manage too many things – we often achieve less.

Speaking of some of his accomplishments, Leo says, “These things would never have been possible if I kept saying ‘yes’ to everything, and if I never learned to free up my time by making the tough choices and saying ‘no’ to things that didn’t match up with my dreams and values.”

He concludes, “There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m much, much more effective these days now that I’ve learned to focus on one task at a time and really pour myself into each task, each moment. Not only that, I’m much happier, less stressed, and more satisfied with my work and life.”

9. “Ignore your critics.” – Seth Godin

Seth Godin is an author of business books and a popular speaker. In recent years he launched Squidoo, a community website allowing users to create pages for subjects of interest.

In an article with the above title, Seth asks the question: “If you find 100 comments on a blog post or 100 reviews of a new book or 100 tweets about you, and two of them are negative, while 98 are positive, which ones are you going to read first?”

He concludes that your critics are your critics. Pay them too much attention, and they’ll bring you down. They are unlikely to change their minds, so you may as well ignore them. He adds that you should also ignore your fans. As fans, they are always going to sing your praise and swell your head.

So who do you listen to? “Your sneezers. You should listen to the people who tell the most people about you. Listen to the people who thrive on sharing your good works with others. If you delight these people, you grow.”

10. “Leave your desk messy.” – Anne Zelenka

Anne Zelenka is the former editor for the blog Web Worker Daily. The blog addresses a new workforce — those who are connected to their jobs through the internet.

Are you a perfectionist? In an article for the Web Worker Daily, Anne explores this potential problem: “Spend too much time worrying about getting your desk perfectly clean and your work perfectly excellent and you might put yourself at risk for psychological problems.” I imagine working on your own could increase the risk.

What is the solution? Allow yourself to be less than perfect. “Leave work on time. Don’t arrive early. Take all the breaks allowed. Leave the desk a mess. Allow yourself a set number of tries to finish a job; then turn in what you have.” A messy desk just might be the sign of a sane mind!

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