6 Must-Have Skills You Need
to Become a Successful Freelancer

See also: Top Tips on Freelancing

Ready to ditch the "traditional" 9-5 and work as your own boss? If so, and if you have some marketable skills, then working as a freelancer may be right for you. These days, companies across the globe are constantly looking for freelancers to assist with any number of tasks. From content writing and marketing, to accounting, graphic design, and everything in between—there's money to be made.

Still, competition in the freelance world can be fierce. In fact, the number of freelancers in the United States alone is expected to exceed more than 90 million by 2028. With so many freelancers out there, only the most skilled will succeed. However, if you like the idea of starting an online business then freelancing is one of the more lucrative and in-demand.

So, what are some of the most important skills to have as a freelancer? Let's dive in and explore some tips for sharpening these skills as well.

1. Reliable Communication

No matter what type of freelance work you're getting into, communication is key. After all, you'll be working with clients who will need to be able to reach you with questions or concerns. Likewise, it can be difficult to recruit new clients if you have poor communication skills; taking too long to answer an inquiry email or respond to a voicemail could mean losing out on a job/project to another freelancer.

Being great at communicating as a freelancer doesn't just mean responding to emails, texts, and phone calls promptly. It also means being able to get your point across clearly and professionally—whether it be by text or in-person.

Looking to improve your own communication skills? Consider these tips:

  • Proofread emails and texts before sending them.

  • Know when to call versus email or text.

  • Set up notifications/alerts for work-related messages.

  • Be mindful of your body language in video calls and in-person meetings.

2. Excellent Organization

Part of the appeal of freelancing (for many, at least) is the ability to take on as many clients/projects at once as you'd like. Ultimately, you get to decide how much work you wish to take on and which clients you want to work with. With this freedom, however, comes some inherent challenges—especially when it comes to organization.

When you're working with many different clients, it can grow difficult to keep track of various deadlines, tasks, and meetings. This is where having excellent organizational skills can make all the difference. Lacking organization as a freelancer will likely result in missed deadlines, miscommunication, and mistakes you simply can't afford to make.

If you need to work on your organization, there are plenty of practical tips to implement into your everyday work. Consider:

  • Setting up a calendar/agenda with updated deadlines, meetings, and other important tasks.

  • Keep your physical workspace as clean and organized as possible.

  • Create daily and weekly to-do lists to keep yourself on-track.

  • Avoid multitasking.

3. Ample Self-Motivation

When you work at a traditional 9-5 job, there's plenty to keep you motivated. For example, you have bosses and managers overseeing your work. You know that if the quality of your work isn't up-to-par, or if you miss deadlines, your job could be on the line. For many, that's motivation enough to get the work done correctly.

When you're a freelancer, though, getting things done (and doing them well) requires a different level of self-motivation that not all people have. In the freelance world, you are your own boss—so you'll need to find ways to hold yourself accountable and stay productive. Otherwise, you'll have a hard time building a client base and a successful career.

Some tips to keep in mind if you're looking to improve your self-motivation include:

  • Creating lists of short- and long-term goals (and working towards them).

  • Keeping track of your progress towards your goals.

  • Breaking down larger projects or tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.

  • Find a mentor or fellow freelancer to help you stay accountable.

4. Careful Time Management

When you're freelancing, it's not uncommon to have multiple projects going on at the same time. As you can imagine, this can present some challenges when it comes to blocking out your time, prioritizing tasks, and getting all your projects done on schedule. This is where having great time-management skills can make all the difference. Unfortunately, time management is something that many people struggle with on a daily basis.

Do you have a time-management system in place? Studies have found that 82% of people don't. Without a streamlined system for optimizing your time, you could end up wasting a lot of it. As a freelancer, time is money—so it's easy to see why this is a problem.

Creating a time management system for your work is a must if you want to be successful as a freelancer. Some of this will be a matter of trial and error, but here are some things to consider trying as part of your time management plan:

  • Use a time-tracking app to see where your time is being spent during your workday.

  • Schedule short, frequent breaks for yourself throughout the day.

  • Eliminate distractions (there are plenty of free apps to help with this).

  • Try time blocking to maximize your productivity.

5. Creative Problem Solving

No matter how good you are at what you do, freelancing isn't always smooth sailing. Conflicts with clients can arise at any time, and factors beyond your control can derail your work. When faced with the unforeseen, the most successful freelancers will be able to overcome most obstacles with creative problem-solving skills. Meanwhile, clients always appreciate a freelancer's ability to problem solve—so you can see this as an opportunity to impress your client and turn a negative situation into a positive one.

When you encounter a problem in your freelance career, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Get a true understanding of the problem and its root cause.

  • Give yourself time to analyze the problem and brainstorm potential solutions.

  • Always prioritize the needs of your client(s).

  • Identify and implement the best solution to the problem, even if it's not perfect.

  • Determine how to avoid a repeat of this issue in the future.

6. Flexibility and Adaptability

Part of what makes working as a freelancer so appealing is the freedom it gives you, especially when it comes to your schedule and workload. However, as wonderful as being your own boss and setting your own schedule can be, freelancing does come with the inherent need for flexibility and adaptability to get the job done.

This might mean working extra hours during a particularly busy time of year in order to meet tight deadlines. It might also mean flipping a project on its head and starting over to meet your clients' needs. At the end of the day, the most successful freelancers are those who are able to adapt to change. This is especially true if you're working in a dynamic industry where there's a need to stay on top of changes and innovations.

Looking to improve your own adaptability? Consider these practical tips:

  • Step outside of your comfort zone more often (such as by taking on a client/project you would normally turn down).

  • Schedule some "flex" time into your week to accommodate for changes.

  • Develop your skill set so you can respond confidently to change as it occurs.

  • Practice meditation or breathing exercises to calm your mind when things get hectic.

Ready to Thrive as a Freelancer?

Ultimately, your success as a freelancer doesn't depend only on how well you can do your job. Many other factors also come into play, including your communication skills, flexibility, organization, and self-motivation. With this in mind, which skills might you need to work on and what steps will you take to set yourself apart from your competition? Mastery of these key skills may be a lifelong pursuit, but your efforts will certainly pay off as you embark on your freelancing journey.

About the Author

Boris Dzhingarov is a passionate blogger. He is the founder of Dzhingarov.com.