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5 Critical Business Skills You Will Gain from Freelancing (Even If You're Not Business-Minded)

Freelancing in our current technological age offers us more than just autonomy in our chosen careers. It offers us something far more valuable: the ability to work from wherever we are, whenever we want to.

Time and geographical location are no longer barriers to entry. 20 years ago, freelancing might have catered primarily to a specific group of specialists. That’s no longer the case. Today, it is very much a wide open market, limited only by our creativity.   

The ease and security of online transactions coupled with unlimited possibilities for online networking have created a whole new breed of entrepreneurs: the freelancer. It has never been easier or cheaper to scale one’s freelance business - from forming international collaborations to diversifying one’s services. Your audience awaits!

Honing the right business skills will enable you to scale the freelance ladder, and open new doors for growth. But which skills should you focus on mastering?

Here are 5 critical business skills I believe every freelancer can and should master:

1. Sales and Branding

As a freelancer, YOU are your brand. It’s not about having a fancy logo, impressive business card or a super sophisticated website. These things are beneficial to have of course, but they should be secondary to your personal brand values and work ethics. Your personality is what sells you first and foremost.

“If people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” - Zig Ziglar

Start with these 3 questions to carve out your brand identity:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why do it?

Having clarity of your ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ will shape your branding messages and attract those whose needs you serve best.

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2. Communication

So many people tend to underestimate the importance of communication skills. When it comes to communication, keeping it clear and simple is key. It’s not about sounding posh or beating about the bush, hoping the other person will ‘get it’ without you having to spell it out. It’s about getting the message across quickly and effectively.

And whatever you do, never assume.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw

Poor communication leads to crossed wires and often misplaced expectations, which in turn leads to dissatisfied clients and confusion. If you can't communicate well with your client, it doesn't matter how impressive your design/programming/event planning skills are.

3. Customer Relationship Management

“Make a customer, not a sale.” - Katherine Barchetti

The advantage of being a freelancer is that you have the immediate opportunity to develop a personal relationship with your clients. People connect with people, not businesses. Think about it. Would you keep going back to a supermarket if their cashiers and customer service assistants were grumpy and rude all the time? Or would you prefer shopping at a place where they’re always cheerful and ready to help?

Show your clients you care more about them than their money, and they’ll want to work with you. Zappos is a prime example in their personal approach to customer service.

4. Pricing

Pricing is possibly the least popular aspect of freelancing and entrepreneurship. Price too high and you might lose the job, too low and you might be underpricing yourself. But rather than worrying about pricing based on what you deserve, here’s a much better approach: negotiate your price based on the value you provide.

“The value that I have is based on the impact I have on my client’s business. Impact is how they value my services. So I look at pricing from their point of view. They don’t hire me to design a website for the sake of designing a website. They hire me to design a website that’s going to help them grow their business.” - Mike McDerment, Breaking the Time Barrier

5. Time Management

Being a freelancer, having total control of your time can lead to unproductivity, if left unchecked. More so if you work from home, as most of us are prone to do. Fail to manage your time effectively, and you’ll make a lot less than what you could be making. But we’re all guilty of it - the long coffee breaks, surfing the net, Facebooking, watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones - a freelancer’s life is full of distractions.

One way to maintain focus would be to allocate specific time slots for each project, even going as far as keeping a personal time sheet to record your time on the project. This helps you to monitor your productivity and speed, allowing you to plan your day more effectively.

It doesn't matter whether you've been to business school or have zero interest in business. If you're a freelancer, these are 5 critical business skills you will gain and should be focusing on mastering, if you intend to build a sustainable freelance career.

    Justin Merino