Freelancing has become an increasingly attractive option for many people looking to gain control over their own careers. With freelancing, you can be your own boss and set your own hours while still earning a good income.
However, freelancing isn’t always easy, and successful freelancers have developed certain habits that help them reach their goals.
In this article, we will discuss seven habits of highly successful freelancers that can help anyone on the path to freelancing success. By understanding these habits and incorporating them into our daily lives, you can increase your chances of becoming a successful freelancer.
Longtime readers of this blog know that one of the constant themes of my freelancing articles is that great programming is only one surprisingly small part of the job. Your long-term success is as much dependent on building the right habits as it is on brute programming skills.
Developing the right freelancing habits can help increase your productivity, improve your customer service, and make freelancing more fun and rewarding activity. But how do you know what habits work best?
Here are seven freelancer habits that have helped many freelancers achieve success:
- Get organized
- Build a good routine
- Minimize distractions
- Practice communicating
- Reframe failure
- Find your tribe
- Put your health first
This list is the result of my personal experience, long talks with my freelancing friends, and the questions I placed on the freelancing communities I’m around.
If you have any other good ideas and habits that should belong on this list, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to keep this list updated with the habits that can make you a successful freelancer.
Next, let’s get into the details of each habit and learn the secrets to this very rewarding activity.
There are a lot of great programming freelancers. But, those who are successful over the long term haven’t just mastered their programming know-how and skills.
Successful freelancers are those who’ve cracked the code of how to be organized.
There are a million different Tools to Manage Your Business available. This is both good and bad, especially if you’ve never really had a say in how you organize your work and your day.
But here’s the secret…organization isn’t really about tools.
It’s all about habits. You can have the best tools in the world, but if you don’t have the practices to support using them, they’ll never operate at full capacity.
Too often, we become enamored with complicated and detailed tools with all the bells and whistles without really focusing on the down-to-earth functionality we’ll use every day.
Sure, getting organized CAN involve fancy tools, but it rarely requires them.
In fact, especially if you are starting off, it is probably better NOT to have fancy tools.
Instead, focus on building important habits that lead to an organized work life:
- Clarifying essential tasks
- Tracking and managing deadlines
- Building systems to prevent details from falling through the cracks
If you build good habits, then when you invest in more expensive and fancier tools, you’ll get far more out of them.
Never make the mistake of thinking a software program will make up for poor organizational habits.
Focus on key habits that give you calm, cool control over your work so you can handle the stress and scale your business. This also includes organizing your time with a good routine.
Let’s be honest, one of the best parts about freelancing is that you don’t have to go into an office, put on nice clothes, drink bad office coffee, and sit in meaningless meetings all day.
Who doesn’t love the idea of working when you want, wearing what you want, and structuring your days how you want?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how you structure your day as long as you build it around a sustainable routine.
Often, we are tempted to think that routines restrict our freedom. But the opposite is actually the case.
When you have a good routine, it:
Reduces stress (because you know what needs to happen automatically) Helps you sleep better (because you can leave work and relax at the end of the day, knowing your routine will help you pick it back up in the morning) Helps you work faster (because routines trigger our brains into doing the sort of tasks we need them to do).
As a freelancer, the trick is to build routines that serve you. You need to Plan Your Day Effectively as a freelancer.
Everyone works differently. Some work great in the morning, while others can barely drag themselves out of bed.
But, whether you start your day at 6 AM or 11 AM, building reliable routines to manage your daily work even during the busy seasons because you’ll have a schedule that supports you.
By all means, pick something that works for you, test it, and experiment to find ways to improve your productivity and make sure you work in a way that suits you. But, every day or every week should look roughly similar.
And, when it comes to testing and improving your routine, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with what your body naturally wants to do, establish a pattern of behavior and once that pattern is set, try doing one thing differently each week to see if it helps.
What are a few things you can do?
- Delay your morning coffee for an extra 90 minutes in the morning
- Eat the same (healthy) meal every day for a week (preparing it ahead of time if you can).
- Lay out your clothes the night before.
- Take social media off your phone for a week to see how it impacts your mood.
- Stand up and do a quick exercise every hour.
- Delay answering emails until after lunch
Building good habits around food, movement, work, and fitness all impact your work and your productivity. Don’t just try to maximize your work productivity. Build good habits throughout your life.
Part of an easier routine also includes minimizing distractions so you can focus on what really matters.
Who wouldn’t love going to the local coffee shop to get some work done while sipping on their favorite latte?
If there is any sort of flex in our modern world, this is it, isn’t it? Freelancers get paid for working while sitting at our favorite coffee shops and drinking a latte!
But maybe your favorite coffee shop isn’t the best place to work.
The whirring of the espresso machine, the baristas calling out orders, and the overly loud conversation from long-time friends at the table next to you all become distractions that can hinder your productivity.
Distractions are everywhere. Social media, meetings with clients, emails. Even as I’m writing this, I find myself checking a social media account because a notification popped up.
Distracted work isn’t just a productivity issue, it is a quality issue that impacts the work you deliver to your clients.
So, be ruthless about minimizing your distractions:
- Silence notifications on your phone for extended periods during your day.
- Keep your phone out of your arm’s reach to prevent yourself from mindlessly grabbing it when you don’t need it.
- Limit the frequency, length, and need for meetings.
- Only answer emails 1-2 times per day, or set aside a specific block of time to deal with emails.
- Keep your phone out of your bedroom when it’s time to go to bed, the further the phone is, the better. Grab an old fashion book, or a kindle instead. Trust me, this is life-changing advice.
We all know the subtle but almost impossible-to-deny urge to pick up our phone and check our Twitter (or Mastodon) account when we have to do something unpleasant, like make a phone call to solve a problem or reply to yet another email.
Recognize what things distract you (pulling you away from the work you really need to do) and find creative ways to stop them before they become distractions.
Successfully managing and minimizing distractions means you’ll also need to develop the habit of communicating clearly to set boundaries and expectations.
Communication is essential in all walks of life. But, when money is on the line, it is even more important.
Here’s the thing that expert freelancers know: clients value good communication almost as much as they value good results.
If two different freelancers bring the same coding skills to the table but one communicates better than the other, clients almost always pick the one who communicates better.
And good communication is not just Talking About Money with Clients. It includes so much more.
Communication habits could include a preemptive email before each meeting with an agenda (to prevent wasted time), a weekly review of the work you’ve done, or a follow up email after a meeting to capture key deliverables you are handling as a result of the meeting.
When you communicate well with clients - whether that is asking good questions, communicating clearly about what you need from them, proactively updating them about things in their business, or just responding to them when they need you - you create a sense of trust and security that goes a long way.
If you communicate well, clients will want to work with you again and again.
Communication habits (like professional emails, regular replies in slack, or good phone etiquette) go a long way to securing clients who will stick with you for a long time.
But even the most seasoned communicators sometimes fail to connect with clients, and so it’s even more essential to build habits that help you deal successfully with failure.
Failure is virtually always painful.
It is also a common theme among many of the most successful people in the world.
Their road to success is paved with often innumerable failures, but instead of allowing those setbacks to derail their success, they use them to springboard their careers.
Failure is inevitable, so the question is not if you will fail but when will you fail?
Learning to reframe failure as a habit is exceptionally freeing and gives you a sense of confidence, almost like being bulletproof.
I’m not talking about being bad at your job or about taking on projects you know you can’t do. In fact, Project Management as a Freelancer is essential to building your career.
I’m talking about getting into the habit of thinking about failure as a lesson or opportunity.
I’m talking about getting into a habit of trying new things to teach yourself that sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don’t always work out particularly well but it’s not the end of the world or the end of your career.
Taking up a sport like golf or basketball, or trying your hand at public speaking, expands your perspective and teaches you that failure isn’t always the end.
Learning to handle failure in the small things helps you build confidence in the big things.
An essential part of learning how to handle setbacks well is surrounding yourself with other people who have learned how to use failure to become more successful.
Once you break free from the office, the first few days at home alone are exciting. Better coffee in the morning, working in sweatpants, no more supervisor telling you how to structure your day.
But, quickly, it can get lonely.
It is great to stay friends with former coworkers, but you need to build relationships with people who understand what you do now and who can cheer you on through the highs and lows of freelancing.
Even for introverts, this is important.
There are free Facebook groups out there. But you want to build deeper relationships than connecting faces with names on a social media site.
There are many ways you can connect with like-minded freelancers:
- Join a group of freelancers that meets for breakfast once a month.
- Start an entrepreneurship lunch each week.
- Attend industry conferences.
- Invite other business owners to attend a meet and greet.
Whatever you try, find people who do something similar to what you do and start to build relationships with them.
It’s also important to build strong social connections OUTSIDE of work too.
Relationships make life worth living.
The highs are higher, and the lows are lower as a freelancer. When you close a massive new project, you want to have people who can celebrate with you. When you lose a longtime client, you’ll want people around you who can help you move on.
Freelance communities are essential, whether they are formal or informal. Not only will you learn a lot from fellow freelancers and gain valuable support, you’ll be able to face the stress of the holiday season with better mental health.
And your health is the most important aspect of navigating the holidays successfully.
All freelancers, especially programmers, struggle with their health.
We sit for long periods writing code. It’s easy to get too comfortable without enough movement in your life, especially if there is no one there to tell you to move.
It’s imperative to build healthy habits that will help you to be successful as a freelancer.
Go for a morning walk or jog before you start. When you feel your brain slowing down in the afternoon, do 15 pushups instead of grabbing yet another cup of coffee.
Even getting up to move around for 10 minutes to do a few chores can add a surprisingly large amount of steps to your daily total.
Getting some sort of smartwatch to track your movement can help you see when you really need more movement.
But it isn’t just physical health.
Whether it is the stress of meeting deadlines and handling projects or putting together a formal proposal to a new client, freelancing can put a significant mental strain on you.
Today, more than ever, we realize the need for good mental health practices like connecting with nature, going for walks, meditation, forming social support groups, and getting enough rest.
One important habit may be going to see a counselor or psychologist. It could be investing in a career coach, or dedicating time each month to meet with a mentor for life and career advice.
Over the long term, your productivity is as much a result of your mental and physical health as it is anything else, including how you organize your day and build your routines.
Freelancing is personal, deeply personal. When a client says they don’t like something you built, it hurts. When someone declines a proposal that you’ve worked very hard on, it stings.
The life of a freelancer has higher highs and lower lows than other professions. The best way to navigate them is to be healthy in both body and mind.
If you want to succeed during the holiday season and into 2023, you need to embrace daily habits of exercise, rest, and reflection, which add the much-needed cadence to your life that we often forget in this modern world.
Purposefully incorporating and practicing these seven habits will set you up to reach your long-term goals and build your successful freelancing career, even when life gets hectic.
So take a much-needed 10-minute break right now and look over these habits:
- Get organized
- Build a good routine
- Minimize distractions
- Practice communicating
- Reframe failure
- Find your tribe
- Put your health first
Now ask yourself which of these habits are missing in your life. Which of these habits would add the most return for your investment if you started practicing them?
I challenge you to pick at least one or two to start incorporating today. I promise you the time and effort you put into developing them will pay off, and you’ll see the rewards quickly!
We all need a little boost during the busy holiday season. My wish for you is that these habits will help you be more successful as a freelancer so that you can enjoy all the freedoms that freelancing offers!