The freedom of freelancer comes with many perks: no daily commute, no annoying boss, no strict clocking in and out. But if you aren’t careful, freelancing can be a difficult and frustrating career path to follow. Finding clients, improving your portfolio, and taking in enough money to make ends meet is hard stuff. So how do the most successful freelancers make it work?

Apart from a dedication to their craft, there are several key practices that top-notch freelancers make a habit of to keep their business flourishing. Take these tips to heart, and you’re bound to see your workload pickup without ever having to return to that 9 to 5 grind.

Obsess Over Documentation

One thing many new freelancers don’t think about is the extensive documentation required for running your own business. In a normal office environment, HR handles all the formsand data, so it’s easy to forget about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a successful company.

Before even beginning to take on projects, make sure you have a standard contract that each new client can sign. This ensures you can’t be taken advantage of by shady clients, and you’ll have proof of your agreement if you ever need to go to court. Outline your basic terms, such as payment method, termination rights, confidentiality agreements, and any other information that you want everyone involved to be aware of before the project starts.
Additionally, stay highly organized with all the correspondences you have with your clients. Compile emails, phone conversations, and notes from in-person meetings into a folder so you have a record of how the project was completed. While this might seem like overkill, it can be immensely helpful if the client disputes something you previously agreed on. Thriving freelancers stay on top of all their documentation, ensuring they have an air-tight business model that allows them to keep drawing in more and more work.

Create an Office Environment

Even though you probably enjoy the fact you can work from literally anywhere, it’s important to create a professional environment for yourself if you plan to make this a long-term career. Instead of jumping around to different coffee shops, try setting up a space in your home that you can use for working on projects. Surround yourself with things that make you feel comfortable and productive—a comfy chair, bright flowers, and a neatly-organized office supply bin could all be part of this special nook.

If you don’t have any space in your home to create a mini office, look for a co-working space in your city. Shared “offices” are becoming increasingly popular, and freelancers often take refuge in these hip, communal spaces that typically cater to young professionals. Finding an office-like space for yourself will keep your mind focused on work, even when you don’t have the structure of a standard day job. Cultivate a space that is dedicated solely to your work, and you’ll see your productivity skyrocket.

Don’t Forget About Retirement

When you aren’t always sure when you’re going to get your next paycheck, it can be easy to forget about saving for the future. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a freelancer. Just because you don’t work for a company that offers a matching 401(k) doesn’t mean you can’t set aside money to fund your Golden Years. Look into an IRA, or individual retirement account, to stash away money to fund an epic retirement. Opening an IRA doesn’t have to be costly—there are plenty of lowfee IRAs out there to choose from.

To make the most out of freelance work, you have to treat it as serious business and not just a side hustle. That means being smart with your money—and it’s never a bad idea to follow the classic 50/30/20 rule. That means 50% of your income goes toward needs (like rent and groceries), 30% goes toward wants (a new laptop for your business), and 20% goes toward savings and debt repayment (bye-bye student loans). Instead of simply basking in the cash flow your projects are bringing in, be smart about where each dollar goes and how your current habits will help you down the road.


Find Your Niche

It’s critical that every freelancer finds their own unique niche. When you’re first starting out it’s okay to take work from a wide variety of clients, but as you build your portfolio, you’ll have to decide what you want to focus on. Do you prefer creating engaging infographics for tech startups? Or writing blog content for the beauty industry? The best way to make a name for yourself is to be excellent at one specific skill.

While this might sound limiting, it can actually draw in more clients because they’ll see that you’re the best-of-the-best in what you do. There’s nothing worse than a jumbled portfolio—a freelancer without a clear vision is risky to a high-paying client. Find what you’re good at, hone those skills, and market yourself as an expert in your craft. Once you do this, the world is your oyster!

All around the world, digital nomads are ditching traditional work habits and keeping their wallets padded with freelance work. It’s not an easy road—managing dozens of clients requires plenty of forethought that many freelancers don’t want to bother with. But by keeping these few tips in mind, you’ll be able to build a business that can thrive for years to come.


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