IT freelancing offers multiple benefits, including flexible working schedules, location choice, engaging assignments, diverse clients, and an opportunity to apply one’s talents in several different areas.
But freelancing is also a business, and skilled IT freelancers know what it takes to find and keep great clients, as well as how to drop organisations that make unreasonable demands or fail to pay on time. If you’re an IT freelancer, or thinking about becoming one, check out these eight secrets to long-term success.
1. Strive for a work-life balance
Time management is a vital skill for all IT specialists, particularly freelancers. “It’s necessary to allocate time effectively to manage … work-hours and balance work-life,” says Eric Jones, CEO of Couture Candy, a special occasion fashion e-commerce business. “You must avoid overcommitting yourself; always underpromise and overdeliver.”
When assignments pour in, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and fall behind on deadlines. “If you can master the art of time management, you’ll find that you’re able to handle a larger workload and still maintain a good work-life balance,” says Jeroen van Gils, CEO of LiFi, a wireless networking technology service that uses light-emitting diodes for data transmission.
“Furthermore, clients will be impressed with your ability to meet their needs in a timely and efficient manner, which can lead to repeat business.”
2. Be dedicated — and selective
All successful IT freelancers share three fundamental traits: discipline, dedication, and motivation.
“As a freelancer, you need to be motivated to work on new projects and have the utmost discipline to bring every project to its conclusion,” says Gilad Zilberman, CEO of SeatPick, a ticket search engine that sells tickets to live events. “That’s how you get the work done, and that’s how you secure clients for life.”
IT freelancers with excellent, in-demand skills and thoughtfully crafted portfolios generally have zero issues finding new clients.
Still, it’s important to be realistic when searching for work. One of the biggest mistakes IT freelancers make is getting involved in projects that lie beyond their interests or capabilities. “There are so many opportunities out there, so choose what you want to do and dedicate yourself 100 per cent to it,” Zilberman advises.
3. Build solid marketing skills
IT freelancers must be able to effectively market themselves and their services. This requires creating a great portfolio, developing a marketing plan, and networking with potential clients. Other talents freelancers should strive to acquire include financial, client, project, and risk management skills.
Marketing yourself as an IT freelancer can be a challenge, yet it’s essential for success. “It helps if you stand out from the competition, and the best way to do this is by showing potential clients what you can offer that other freelancers can’t,” says Mladen Maksic, CEO and founder of digital marketing agency Play Media. “Getting your name out there and connecting with potential clients is essential for landing work.”
By leveraging their marketing knowledge and IT skills, freelancers can provide high-quality services and products to their clients, Maksic notes.
4. Do right by your clients — by being honest and informed
An often-overlooked skill is having the knowledge, courage, and ability to steer the client in the right direction.
“The customer wants to use the freelancer’s experience and proactivity, therefore it’s very important that the IT freelancer states his or her true opinion when he or she thinks that the customer is moving in the wrong direction,” says Soren Rosenmeier, CEO of Right People Group, a firm that matches clients with IT and business consultants.
Don’t jump the gun, however. Before offering any crucial advice, it’s important to have a complete understanding of the issue at-hand. “There might also be a lot of other factors … in the organisation that the IT freelancer is unaware of,” Rosenmeier notes. Therefore, prior to offering a suggestion, it’s important to first listen to exactly what the client wants.
If the IT freelancer is honest and upfront, the client will receive the benefit of hiring a highly experienced expert, including insights from all the experience the freelancer has gained by working with many other organisations.
“At the same time, the customer gets the simplicity and the execution that they want from an external expert that’s hired in to do a specific job,” Rosenmeier says.
5. Be flexible — and get up to speed on your client’s business quickly
IT freelancers frequently find themselves joining established teams. This can be a disquieting experience as well as a significant challenge.
An IT freelancer must be able to quickly integrate into the team they’re temporarily joining, not only from a technical standpoint, but from a business alignment, operational, and cultural standpoint, says Christine Kiefer, senior vice president at Experis/ManpowerGroup, an IT professional resourcing and managed services firm.
The basic characteristic that separates a good IT freelancer from a great IT freelancer is the ability to quickly understand a project’s business initiative and its value to the hiring organisation.
“This is a challenge when you’re walking into a situation without the benefit of the background, history, and relationships others on the team may have, but your ability to slide in seamlessly to that team elevates your value instantly,” Kiefer explains.
6. Stockpile connections
It’s a common myth that a freelancer is someone who just sits at home working in their pyjamas, Jones says. “Freelancers need to network online and offline to develop strong relationships with their fellow freelancers and current and potential clients,” he notes.
"Your best friend is your network and references", Kiefer says. “Companies like to work with individuals who are known or trusted by people, or organisations they already work with,” she observes.
Kiefer recommends building ongoing relationships with the people and firms you’re already familiar with, who respect your work, and who know about the types of work you’re looking for.
“Think about companies and environments in which you thrive — and those you don’t — and share that information with your network, whether that’s past co-workers, recruiters, or clients,” she advises.
7. Don’t neglect essential soft skills
Being a freelancer in IT means having to keep on top of the latest technical skills. But IT pros looking to survive long term as freelancers should also not lose sight of the soft skills organisations now look for and expect — and instead keep training up on them as necessary.
A ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey, conducted earlier this year, found that 76 per cent of tech companies struggle to find candidates with both hard and soft skills.
“The top five soft skills they’re seeking include critical analysis and thinking, creativity and originality, reasoning and problem solving, reliability and self-discipline, and resilience and adaptability,” Kiefer explains. “Tech talent [applicants] who bring these attributes to the table, along with their technical expertise, stand out in the crowd and increase their value in the job marketplace.”
The same goes for freelancers looking to score projects from these very same employers.
8. Know your client’s focus and needs
A crucial mistake many novice IT freelancers make is assuming that the transitory nature of their occupation lessens their need to understand and contribute to a client’s business approach, team environment, and organisational structure.
“Often, when I hear negative feedback about a freelancer, the root cause is not traced back to some deficiency in technical capability, but rather to a lack of understanding of the impact decisions, choices, methods, and prioritisation that the person makes to the larger project, organisation, and business initiative,” Kiefer says.
“A seemingly small item overlooked, or prioritisation given to a task’s completion, can have far-reaching impacts that affect the value, and perception of value, of a consultant’s work.”