Freelancing often conveys freedom, creativity, and rewarding work. Less often, it says “entrepreneur.”
The truth is, freelancers are a crucial part of many businesses, often the very key to their success. Over 90% of businesses use freelancers, according to Forbes, and three quarters of these businesses said they plan to use more freelancers in the future. Indeed a recent report from Upwork found that freelancers made up 36% of the American workforce in 2021.
As a freelancer, it’s easy to put the expansion of your own enterprise on the backburner in the name of meeting your more immediate client goals or focusing solely on your craft, whether it’s design, development or social media marketing.
“It’s common to think of your work as a hobby in the beginning, especially if it’s something you love,” says Diana Kelly Levey, a professional writer who coaches freelancers. “But if you don’t treat your work like a business, you won’t take yourself seriously, and clients won’t take you seriously, either.”
For Levey, treating her work as a business means investing time in marketing, outsourcing busy work, and setting more competitive rates. And she found that once she started approaching her craft as a business, she could charge more and attract bigger clients who have more respect for what she does. (Read more: How to land your dream clients with account-based marketing campaigns)
This shift in mindset can be valuable for freelancers across industries and specialties, even if they’ve been in the game for a while and are ready to expand as an agency (perhaps, especially if they’re ready to expand as an agency). While it’s true that most freelancers start their solopreneur careers because they’re passionate about their work—often creative work—that doesn’t mean creatives can’t be business-savvy. In fact, they need to be. You need to be. Here’s how to reframe your freelance practice as a full-on business.
Write a mission statement. All legitimate businesses have one, and remember, you are a legitimate business. You can put this mission statement on the “about” page of your website and use an abridged version on your social media accounts. But in a way, the most important benefit is an internalized sense of focus: a mission statement can be your north star, helping you determine what projects to pursue and which to turn down. Here’s how to write a mission statement in 5 steps.
Create a business plan. There’s passive freelancing, taking whatever assignments land on your desk, and there’s active freelancing, where you steer the ship where you want it to go. “When I first started out, I took anything that came my way, but now I think about where a project will take me a year from now or five years from now,” Levey says. To do this, too, you’ll need a business plan. “As a freelancer, it’s important to consider how many days off you want and how many hours you want to work,” she adds. “Once you determine these things, along with your annual financial goal, you can set your rates and reach out to the appropriate clients.” We’ve got a business plan template you can use here.
Charge more for your services. Think about perception here, not just money. “If you charge low rates and seem wishy-washy with rate charging, then you can accidentally give the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing,” Levey says. “Charge accurately by doing your research online and people will take you more seriously.” (See how a freelance community can help you nail down your pricing.) Importantly, this also attracts more serious clients, who value the work you’re providing. Here’s how to charge more for your services without losing clients.
Commit to marketing, even when you’re busy. “Marketing means different things to different people, but to me it means reaching out to new clients and previous clients, posting on Linkedin, sending a newsletter, and writing on my blog,” Levey says. “It’s hard to do that when you have a lot going on, but it takes a while for outreach to turn into money in your bank account, so the time to reach out is actually when you’re busy.” This helps you avoid the lows.
Rebrand yourself. Not everyone had a website when Levey first started her freelance business almost 20 years ago, so building one helped her stand out and look more professional. Of course, a portfolio website is non-negotiable today, but the advice remains the same: your online presence matters. Here’s how to nail your thought leadership strategy and feature case studies on your site.
Don’t worry about losing sight of the creative work along the way. Once you have a business, marketing and growth plan that reflects your brand, you’ll increasingly score projects and clients that align with your goals and core values.