Okay, let me qualify that statement a little: it’s hard to be a successful freelancer.
When you made the decision to go it alone, you probably didn’t know many other people who were doing the same. You gave up your job and rolled the dice, and you realised quickly that there’s no manual for this. No careers advisor to help you. No easy-to-reach mentor who could guide you through it. As freelancers, we’re often on our own, and we’re making it up as we go along.
How To Be A Successful Freelancer
There’s one thing you should do as a freelancer to overcome this, and that is: take the benefit of other people’s experiences. Find those mentors, even if all you’re doing is following their blogs, reading their e-books or just watching their career and deconstructing how they achieved it.
Every freelancer stumbles, falls, fails. I’ve done all three many times. It’s in getting back up that we succeed though – that’s how we learn. If you’re really savvy, you’ll still make mistakes, but you’ll take as much benefit as you can from the lessons other people have gone through on your behalf.
With that in mind, I’m going to share the one thing that I think is absolutely key to becoming a freelancer.
I could have chosen any number of words or phrases instead of likeable, like ‘be nice’, ‘be easy to get on with’, ‘be collaborative’ and such. When it comes down to it though, likeability is crucial. Likeability means that people enjoy who you are, what you do, the things you produce. It doesn’t mean being happy go lucky, and you don’t always have to radiate positivity.
In my newsletters, blog posts and writing I sometimes come across as curmudgeonly and misanthropic – but it’s tempered with humour and always a hefty dash of hope. People like it. My ranting is approachable, my work exciting and accessible. People come back for more.
What is likeability? All manner of things. It could mean being vulnerable, opening up, letting your audience see your soft side. Feel free to be weak sometimes. With this comes honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Whether you’re writing your One Big Fiction or doing guest posts for a blog, it’s important to give the readers a flash of the real you. If you’re a visual artist, draw or paint from your life experiences, even if those are undertones. If you’re in HR, stay in touch with who you were as a worker – remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the desk.
It could mean sharing. Do you know other freelancers who your audience could benefit from getting to know? Tell them! Competitiveness in freelancing comes from ego. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching other people do well – it means you can too. Genuinely, if you’re concerned about the competition, you might want to reconsider your industry choice – you want to freelance in an arena where there are enough customers to go around, not one where there are so few that you’re vying with every other freelancer for their attention.
Sharing other people’s work with your audience will let them see that you’re not bound by ego, that you enjoy watching other people succeed and most importantly, that you value your audience enough to let them know about the other work that’s going on that could benefit them.
Likeability also means being “easy to get on with”. You want clients, an audience, customers, I’d imagine. So get along with them. Make their lives better for having you in it. Give them something no one else can offer, whether that’s being collaborative, sharing other creators’ work, taking that little bit of extra time to make each of your clients and customers feel valued.
Talk to your audience. I don’t mean blog at them, though that’s obviously important. It’s equally important to involve them on a personal level – respond to comments and emails with gratitude and generosity. Email them first! Tell them how grateful you are that they’re following you, or using your service, or buying their products. Don’t use a template – write that email for them specifically. We all like to feel important, and if you do this with your own particular audience, they’ll stick with you – trust me on this, I’m speaking from experience. It’s far more rewarding (in every sense) to have a small, vocal army of followers than to get 6,000 shares and likes from people who never come back to you.
To achieve likeability, it almost goes without saying that you have to like yourself first. So be prepared to do the work required to shed your doubts, raise your self-esteem and genuinely believe and know that what you have to offer is great – because it is. No one else can do what you do. You’ve been uniquely shaped by a variety of experiences, people and events, and if you let it, all of that will come through in your freelance work. That’s why you made that big, mad decision in the first place. So like yourself, and let other people like you too.
Now, I’d be interested to know – what does likeable mean for you? How does it come across through your work? Do you find it easy to be likeable, or is it something you have to work at? Get in touch and share what you think!
Garry McLaughlin is an artist and writer handling commissions and briefs from clients for a wide variety of artwork including comic books, nightclub and band posters, book covers and more. He also runs Unthank Comics, an independent comic book label that is home to some of the most exciting small press creators in Glasgow. You can read his blog here.