How to go from casual to career freelancer


More and more people are basing themselves in co-working spaces and sending emails whilst mooching at Starbucks. So many, in fact, that some studies predict fifty percent of workers in the UK will be working freelance by next year.

Whatever you call it — freelancing, being self-employed, independent contracting, gig working — gaining a bit of extra income on the side or even working for yourself full time is easy to see as a matter of preference or circumstances.

But with the breakdown of traditional corporate structures, the rise of mobile technology, the race to bring the internet to the entire planet, and the overall slow but inevitable demise of the office, everything points to a future where everyone is their own employee.

Over the next few years, the barriers to freelancing that still remain are going to become increasingly smaller. And with this, the marketplace is going to be flooded with masses of people all hungry for their next gig.

This is going to present some pretty big dilemmas for freelancers and businesses. As the market grows, finding the right person for the job, who isn’t going to jump ship for another, better gig a few months down the line, becomes evermore problematic. For freelancers, making yourself heard and standing out from the masses becomes an almost impossible task.

Luckily, it’s still early days. And for freelancers, any that have their eyes open and can see the evolution of the industry and understand how to navigate it now, will set themselves apart from 99 percent of the market.

You can begin doing just that by shifting from casual to career freelancer and cementing your place in the new economy with the following three tips.

See yourself as a valuable product 

To become a freelancer, two mental shifts have to take place: 1) You go from being a cog in a larger system to being top dog. And 2) You go from seeing some external thing as the product to seeing yourself as it.

Most people can do one of the other, but they can’t handle both. They learn to be incredible self-salesperson, but can’t manage being their own boss. They excel at organisation and management, but falter when it comes to saying even one thing about why they’re so great.

Just as a business is it’s only as good as its product or service, no matter how good you’re at getting up in the morning, scouring job boards, and making to-do lists, it’s all worthless if you’re not confident in your abilities and understand what makes you different.

Every good product has one or several USPs or Unique Selling Points. And as you are the boss, business, and product, they can be relating to you, your abilities, and/or your offering.

What’s important is that whatever it is, it’s tangible and measurable. One of the huge barriers for freelancers is the free-for-all market and the flakiness that many businesses have now come to expect. And so it’s not enough to just spout your USPs on your LinkedIn page, they need to be demonstrable.

Put yourself in your ideal client’s shoes and approach it as if you were going to invest in yourself. Brainstorm a list of ten potential USPs you would want to see. Then strip it down to the two or three unparalleled benefits or features that would tip them in their favour, and then start building the evidence base to prove them.

Make yourself the only reasonable choice

When you have a killer product (you), you still have to get it into the hands of the right people who are actively looking for and need it.

This is not just about sending out hundreds of applications and cold emails along with the billions of other freelancers or wannabee freelancers. This is just one strategy, and it can and does work — but only for those who present themselves as the only reasonable choice.

Being the only reasonable choice is about more than you meeting the exact requirements for a job or project. It’s about both a client and freelancer being a perfect fit for each other at the right time.

But I’m not talking about doing heavy back research on all prospects and sucking up to them like you were made for each other. You can do this, but only after first narrowing the prospect pool down.

When you narrow your market down based on things like general requirements, your values, and USPs, that’s when you can begin to present yourself as the one reasonable choice. You do this not solely by sucking up, but through a combination of problems, timing, and connections.

Problems: Do they know why exactly what their problem is? Why are you the one to solve it (USPs)?

Timing: Are they actively seeking to resolve their problem? What do they need to know to do business with you and in what order?

Connections: Who is a common connection that can vouch for you or get your foot in the door? How can you make and foster such a connection?

Level up from casual work to regular retainer

You can take your chances and just dive into freelancing head first and hope for the best; many people getting lucky and manage to pick up new work on a regular basis.

But sooner or later, there will be a dry spell — which can be disastrous if unprepared — and so it pays off hugely to expect it and be ready for when it comes.

This is where retainer clients come in. Retainer clients are clients that you work with over the long term and whom provide you with a baseline income every month. They’re predictable, dependable, and, much like a normal job, offer you a level of certainty and security you can rely on.

Retainer clients are not without their downsides. They can easily end up feeling like a 9-5 job; i.e they can become repetitive and dull, and, as you get more comfortable with them, they can demand more of your time and freedom or flexibility.

But given careful management, the positives of retainers far outweigh the negatives, not least because they free up your energy from constantly worrying about paying the bills so you can work on bringing in new projects and finding more preferable work.

With retainers, you can also adjust your rates for larger contracts that extend over long periods of time — offering clients more cost-effective work and reliability, and you the stability and benefits of a long term relationship.


Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, spirituality, and everything in between.