As freelancers, we often get caught up in doing the work. It never seems like the wrong decision, because that’s what we get paid to do. And how can there be anything wrong with logging billable hours or shipping a project ahead of schedule? There isn’t really, as long as you remember one important thing:
Being a freelancer means you’re in business. And successful business owners spend as much time working on their business as they do working in it.
You may not realize it yet, but we’ve already covered some specific business skills in the previous emails (sneaky right?). Today I wanted to expand on those just a little and give you a few more things to think about.
This stuff is important because building a strong business is what separates the really successful freelancers from the ones who are just getting by. Let’s look at four specific skills.
1. Business Structure, Accounting, and Taxes
We talked a little about business structure on the first day of this course, but two other biggies that go along with managing your business are accounting and tax reporting. 🤮
You don’t have to be an expert in any one of these areas because thankfully, it’s easy to hire someone who is. However, it still pays to have some general knowledge about how this stuff works.
For example, when is it a good time to transition from sole proprietor to LLC? Which expenses can you write off, and which ones won’t fly?
This is probably the least interesting part of running a business (IMHO), but that doesn’t make it any less important. Bookmark the Small Business Administration website. It’s a treasure trove of resources.
Marketing isn’t just advertising — it’s how you present your business to the outside world. That includes your website, your social media presence, the tone you use in your written copy, the in-person events you attend, your blog posts, prospecting for new clients, and more. It’s your entire online and offline presence all rolled into one neat and tidy little package.
The most important thing you can learn about marketing is that consistency is critical. Your specific channel or method of marketing is not as important as making sure you take action on a regular basis.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “always be marketing” and it certainly applies to freelancing. One of the easiest ways to avoid the dreaded “dry spell” is to make sure you spend some time marketing your business every. single. week.
If you’re not sure where to even start with your marketing efforts, check out this talk I gave with Diane Kinney on Marketing for Nerds.
3. Time Management
Time is your most finite resource. One thing that you’ll learn as a freelancer (the faster the better) is that some of your daily tasks are mission-critical. Most others are simply a waste of time.
I just mentioned a few seconds ago how important marketing was, and it’s true. But at the same time, don’t get so involved with marketing your business that you fail to ship results. Getting work done for clients is what pays the bills.
One last note on time management. I love the idea of always trying to find ways to become more efficient. Find something that works for you, and use it.
Maybe it’s batching certain tasks on certain days or maybe it’s using the Pomodoro Technique. However you opt to manage your time, just remember you need to manage it.
In addition to being more efficient in your work, time tracking helps you dial in your pricing and estimating skills. There are a jillion time tracking tools out there – I happen to enjoy Toggl.
4. Personal Development
I left this one until last because it applies to everything we’ve discussed so far. Personal development is about the continual pursuit of becoming better at what you do — as a freelancer and a business owner. And guess what? If you’re reading this email, you’ve already got a good start.
The most successful freelancers have a vision and plan for their business and this involves growing beyond their present skill set. They look at time spent learning new skills as an investment in their business. Those skills can be related to your craft or they can be related to business development. You’ll want to hone your craft for sure, but you also need to become better at communicating, marketing, managing your time, and a host of other business-related skills.
To that end, I would recommend that you set aside personal development time every single week. Maybe take a few hours every Thursday morning, or if you’re busy, get up 30 minutes earlier and start your day with learning something new. Whatever works for you.
Balancing your personal development with your work time will help set you up for the greatest success.