Freelancing offers many attractions as an alternative to the traditional, office-bound concept of work. You enjoy a greater degree of flexibility, allowing you to strike a better work-life balance. Increased autonomy gives you control over which projects you accept or pass over, and how you go about each job.
Making the jump to full-time freelance work has always been the difficult part. But with the current climate encouraging employers to accommodate remote work, more opportunities are becoming available for those who have what it takes. Adapt quickly and learn the necessary digital skills, and you can fill the demand, finding no shortage of projects.
A steady stream of work might be the definition of success for most freelancers, but eventually, you may find yourself wanting more. Career growth as a freelancer can be haphazard if you don’t approach it intentionally. Here’s what you can do to take charge of this aspect.
The freelance industry tends to encourage diversification. Projects come and go; clients don’t always need your services in the long term. The volume of work ebbs and flows. There will be times when you have a lot on your plate and plenty of income. Dry spells may punctuate these with little to no reliable income, which is unpleasant for any freelancer to endure.
Diversifying your skillset offers many benefits in this industry. If you’re capable of taking on different types of work, you can avoid going without work for long periods. Being able to choose from a wider range of projects lets you focus on more satisfying work or rewarding clients. Because you’re learning something new, it can also feel like growth. But does this meet your definition of professional growth?
Growth must be accompanied by direction. Think about your career goals as a freelancer. For each skill you’ve learned and each project you’ve accepted, evaluate whether they have helped you towards those goals, or represent a diversion or even a step backwards.
Renewing career focus
Suppose you have some skill with electrical repairs. You tackle DIY jobs for your family, maybe even help out the neighbours for free. Now if you invest in more professional equipment, such as a punch and die set, there’s an expectation of returns. Clearly, you need to get paid for your repair jobs; you’re taking it to the next level.
When you’re able to accomplish projects as a freelancer, it’s because you’ve invested in the requisite skills and tools. Doing so takes time and effort, and carries an opportunity cost – you could have spent that time and effort on something else. Learning a different skill, improving an existing one, or acquiring a different set of tools. The return has to be worth it, and money is only one way of measuring this value.
It’s easy to lose sight of this principle as a freelancer because you’re getting paid for what you do. But if your projects don’t get you closer to your career goals, then you might be getting shortchanged for the opportunity cost. Conversely, you may take on a project that pays less but helps you build your network and get referrals to land more work in the area you’d like to focus on.
Imagine a freelance photographer working in today’s environment. Their professional goal is to eventually become a fine art photographer and have their work displayed in galleries someday. But under lockdown measures, their ability to do the sort of photography they want is limited. At the same time, clients want more video content for their social media engagement campaigns. Video services have nothing to do with their career goals, but taking on such work will help them to make ends meet.
You’ll encounter this sort of dilemma in some form during your freelance career. The work that takes your career forward in the direction of your choice may be different from the sort of work clients are willing to pay for.
Rely on your network to resolve this issue. Collaborate with people who have different goals or are at different stages of their respective careers. The photographer in the above example could still take on video work but step into the role of the creative director while collaborating with other freelancers to fulfil the videography and editing functions. Taking this approach, you can manage your workload, continue to steer your career in the right direction, and even help out fellow freelancers to find work.
With these insights, you can focus more clearly on where you want to take your freelance career and deliberately work towards those goals.