Successful freelancing involves more than having the ability to write (or design, code, or whatever service you offer). Freelancers also need some basic business skills to manage and grow a freelance business. These are the skills that allow you to attract clients, manage finances, and make appropriate plans for the future.
Let's look at three basic business skills all freelancers should have, and resources that can help you build these skills if they need improvement.
1. Marketing and Sales
You can't have a successful freelance business if you can't sell your services. And because most freelancers just starting out won't have the budget to hire a marketing firm to do this for them, developing basic marketing and sales skills is extremely important.
Freelancers sometimes feel uncomfortable with marketing because they associate that and sales with pushy copywriting and aggressive tactics that they don't like or want to pursue. But those aren't the only marketing and sales options you have.
Marketing skills any freelancer can use include basic market research, conducting keyword research, writing basic marketing copy for their professional websites, writing query or pitch letters, putting together a decent portfolio, designing effective business cards, asking for referrals from clients and colleagues, and even developing a simple marketing plan.
- One Page Marketing Plan Template -- Use this one page marketing plan template I developed to guide you through a simplified process of creating your first marketing plan.
- Core Concepts of Marketing -- This is a free online marketing textbook by John Burnett.
- eMarketing: The Essential Guide to Online Marketing -- This is another free online textbook, from Rob Stokes. It focuses specifically on Internet marketing.
2. Bookkeeping or Accounting
I have to admit, this is my least favorite part of being in business for myself (although oddly I used to love accounting). But like it or not, freelancers have to take some level of control over their financial records. Even if you hire an accountant at tax time, you should have some way to track your income and expenses accurately so you can make better decisions about your business. Reviewing these things shouldn't be a once-a-year event.
Some of the bookkeeping and accounting skills you might want to work on include maintaining a financial recordkeeping system, coming up with your own invoicing and accounts receivable system, and working with accounting software or online services. Remember, it never hurts to have a basic understanding of business finances, even if it's just to help you understand what exactly you're paying your accountant to do.
- Financial Accounting -- This is a free online accounting textbook, by Joe Hoyle and C.J. Skender, which includes video introductions to each chapter.
- Free Bookkeeping Tutorials -- These free online tutorials are from Dave Marshall of DWMBeanCounter.com.
- Free Online Accounting Courses -- This is a series of free accounting courses online from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. You can find an Accounting 101 course, one on profit and loss statements, and one on balance sheets -- all applicable to freelancers. If you browse to their main course listings, they also have other management, finance, and marketing courses you might be interested in.
This one is often overlooked, but a basic understanding of public relations and reputation management is extremely important for freelancers. That's because a freelance business is usually built around a personal brand. In other words, your business' reputation is also your reputation.
What does having basic PR skills include? First, you have to know how to interact with a community. You can't ignore your blog commenters for example, especially when your blog is on your professional website targeting prospects.
You also have to know how to handle rejection and criticism without going off the deep end. Not everyone is going to love your work, especially the first time around. Do you remember the incident last year when author, Jacqueline Howett, freaked out publicly over a bad review? Having basic PR skills means you don't do things like that.
Good PR as a freelancer also means you have to set guidelines on professional ethics for yourself, and you have to stick to them. If you get involved with shady clients or projects just for a quick buck, don't expect to maintain a positive professional reputation for long.
One last PR-related thing you need to be able to do is professional networking. Public relations isn't just about how you deal with clients and prospects. It's about relationships on a larger scale -- including those with colleagues. Strong PR skills include being able to build and maintain those relationships, network via social media outlets, and pitch things like guest posts without spamming or being otherwise intrusive to your network.
- Mastering Public Relations -- This is a free online textbook by Shannon A. Bowen, Brad Rawlins and Thomas Martin.
- Social Media Quickstarter -- These are social media guides from Constant Contact (the email marketing company).
- Social Media ProBook -- This is a free social media e-book from Eloqua, featuring advice from 20 social media professionals.
Are these the only business skills freelancers should have? Of course not. But they'll give you a good foundation to build from. Here are some other business skills you should consider improving if you want to grow your freelance business.
- Organization -- recordkeeping and maintaining an organized workspace
- Time management -- scheduling and balancing multiple clients and projects
- Management -- if you need to manage your own contractors or subcontractors
- Basic computer skills -- you'll need a solid understanding of word processing software, email, and possibly website and blog administration
- Delegation -- knowing when to do things yourself and when to seek help
- Discipline -- because no one will be looking over your shoulder when you're the boss (productivity relies on more than organization and time management)
- Listening -- from conducting source interviews to listening to a client's needs before beginning their projects
- Goal-setting -- being able to review your business status to make projections and set goals for the future
- Negotiation -- to negotiate rates and other contract terms
What other basic business skills do you consider important for freelance professionals? What are your strongest points and which of these skills do you need to work on? Share your thoughts in the comments.