Top 5 Soft Skills the Best Freelancers Have in Spades

Top 5 Soft Skills the Best Freelancers Have in Spades

By Sara Bristoll |
Sep, 05 2019

It’s astonishing to hear more than 57 million U.S. workers freelanced in some capacity in 2017 (Forbes). That equates to more than a third of the American workforce who are freelance driving (thanks Uber and Postmates!) or using professional skills like web design or business consulting to, at minimum, supplement their income. Regardless of how you use freelancing in your financial plan, there are certain soft skills that will help you be a better freelancer today and well into the future.


1. TIME MANAGEMENT

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often people play the deadline game. When was the last time you rushed to beat the clock on a deadline for a client or waited until the last minute to respond to an email. Here are a few ways to improve your time management skills:

Create an intentional work environment. 

Having a dedicated workspace can help motivate you to work and make you feel like you’re ‘going to work’ rather than simply playing around at home. This may mean renting a desk at a community work space, like some of the After5.io team do, or having a dedicated office in your home. It doesn’t have to be sparse or filled with harsh fluorescent lights. You’re the boss of your own space: set it up to get your juices going! Personally, I like minimalist organizational tools, lots of bright colored artwork, maybe a plant or two, and tons of natural light for my writing. 

Set a schedule and resist distractions. 

Another part of having an intentional work environment is setting your own schedule for when you will work, and sticking to it. One of the benefits of working freelance is having a flexible schedule, but you can’t go to lunch and happy hour every day if you don’t put the work in. BONUS: If you have a set schedule, your clients will know when they can reach you by phone!

Own your work. 

While you are your own boss in every traditional sense, you’re also working for your clients and helping them achieve their goals. This not only means taking pride in the product or service you’re delivering to that client, but also understanding mis-steps on your part may cause a bottleneck on the client’s side. 

2. COMMUNICATION

Effectively communicating with clients is not only responding in a timely manner. Yes, that is an important aspect of communication, but there are so many more skills you can utilize to be an effective, as well as efficient, communicator.

Reflecting. 

The practice of reflecting may seem superfluous, but it also can save you and your client time and money overall. 

“Restating the words and feelings we’ve been delivered provides our clients with the reassurance that they’ve been heard, understood, and we are on the right track to addressing their problems. Verbalizing what we’ve heard allows us to better understand and remember in more detail our clients’ needs,” explains Florin Ilie of After5.io.

Here’s how you can use reflecting in your freelance business:

  • Verbally: When you're talking through a project with a client in person or over the phone respond first with, "What I understand you're looking for is XYZ." And at the end of the meeting, make sure you wrap up with a summary of the project and deliverables with the understood deadline.
  • Written: Whether you discussed the entire contract electronically or had a verbal conversation, taking the extra step to send a confirmation email with the project details and deadline is worth the effort. In fact, it gives the client another opportunity to see you are going in the right direction. 


Empathy.

By definition, empathy is identifying with the feelings and thoughts of another; it’s the old, “what if you were in their shoes?” mentality. Using empathy when working with clients will allow you to understand their position, provide better service and possibly a better product for them. It may even help you provide additional solutions to the problems they’re ultimately trying to solve. 

Being empathetic also means taking the time to understand how your client communicates best. Do they like to talk on the phone or prefer emails or texts? Are they the sort of client who prefers you to use decorated language or do they want you to get straight to the point? You need to be able to read the virtual room, to understand their verbal and electronic cues, to best communicate with your client and keep them coming back to you for more work. 

3. SYNERGY

While teamwork is often thought of as working together with a team, synergy is being able to utilize all the resources of the team to create a product that is more than any one person could have done on their own. There may be a time when you’re called on to work with a team for a project. Being able to create synergy with the other players will not only give the client the deliverables they want, but create a lasting impression that could bring you more jobs through referrals or future projects with the same client in the future. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Avoid gossip.

Especially avoid gossiping about your team or other employees you’ve worked with. Instead, try to be cordial to everyone you’re working with. You don’t need to become BFF’s with everyone on the first day, but being polite, friendly and welcoming will go a long way to starting the team off on the right foot. Friction, on the other hand, can cause others to clam up and not share their ideas freely, which could damage the overall outcome of the project. 

Be open and humble enough to ask for help.

Maybe you need clarification on the project or need assistance meeting a deadline, take the time to ask for help. If a team member needs your support, take the time to assist them if you can. It takes everyone on the team working together to keep the project moving seamlessly. If you’re creating a bottleneck, it can cause others to rush through their portion of the work and create unnecessary stress.

Provide a concise vision from multiple points of view.

Oftentimes working with a team means you’re on the receiving end of ideas that haven’t been fully hashed out yet. Being able to pull these ideas into a concise vision and summarizing them can take the burden off of an already overloaded client. After all, you’re there to help solve their problems. 

4. SELF CONFIDENCE

For many of us, being confident in who we are is harder than believing the little doubts that wiggle their way into our minds: What if I’m not good enough? What if my going rate is too high? 

Freelancer or regular employee, you’re in charge of your career and self confidence will keep you fighting for yourself. Here are some ideas to stay at the top of your game:

Be self-aware.

Know when you need a break and when you can push through. Burnout is a real thing and can cause you to turn in inferior work, which could keep a client from calling you back.

“Know when to take a break, or take more frequent breaks to help clear your mind and reset a bit, it also helps when you’re stuck and need a new perspective,” shares Eileen, an After5.io freelancer.

Understand what skills you can learn on the fly and when the project is more than you can handle. A client may approach you for help on something outside your purview. Most clients would prefer someone being honest about their abilities upfront rather than waiting until the project deadline. 

Believe in the value you provide your clients. Using a freelancer provides a level of flexibility to the clients looking to complete large projects, and helps them avoid the costs associated with hiring permanent help. While it doesn’t always happen this way, you may encounter a client who is unaware of the cost associated with the skillset and quality of work you provide. Being comfortable with your rates and able to communicate the value you bring to the table can help you overcome this obstacle and even win the contract.

Welcome client feedback.

In a world of photo filters and Insta-trendy lives broadcast out there, it’s easy to take every little bit of criticism as a personal hit to who you are. There’s a meme going around right now that says, “No one is perfect…that’s why pencils have erasers,” and it’s probably more true than anything else I’ve read on the internet lately. 

A client asking you to change one little thing or redo an entire project does not mean they’re unhappy with you as a freelancer. Every little piece of feedback is giving you the opportunity to learn who they are and how they like to operate, making it easier to provide what they’re looking for in the future. 

5. ADAPTABILITY

Charles Darwin once said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” 

The same can be said for freelancers from all industries. What started as one or two coding languages sixty years ago has transformed into an innumerable amount of languages today. Social media marketing has gone from easy organic engagement, to paid advertising, to using influencers to spread the word. So how can you stay relevant in a revolving world of change?

Invest in your skills.

As you would save for a rainy day (and hopefully retirement), save some time and money every year to attend industry conferences, listen to podcasts or read books from successful professionals in your area of work, and pay attention to online publications. Need help locating the best resources for your skillset? Reach out to others in your industry or join a LinkedIn group and ask. Most professionals are happy to share their knowledge and resources with others in their field!

Be comfortable with ambiguity.

Freelancers often have downtimes where their next project is delayed or even cancelled. Your pay is going to vary month-to-month because of natural business cycles. 

A client’s needs can change from one minute to the next, and that could mean adding additional work on your plate at the last minute or asking you to shift gears altogether. Being able to roll with the punches and keep pushing through will help you stay on your feet. If constant change typically stresses you out, find an outlet for your stress. While yoga and meditation may work for me, others may prefer kickboxing or fervently cleaning their house.

Being a successful freelancer can provide more control over your schedule and what projects you’re working on. Most people freelance so they can have the freedom to work whenever they want from wherever they want. Be adaptable. Take the time to communicate effectively and build relationships within the teams you’re working on. Discover how you work best. Manage your time so you’re not playing the deadline game. And most of all, have confidence in the service you’re providing your clients. 

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