8 Traits of a Successful Freelancer

While freelancing is a viable option for may professionals with the right skills and experience, and becomes more popular as businesses undergo pressure to outplace staff, it is not without its challenges.  According to The Southern African Freelancers’ Association’s (SAFREA) 2018/2019 SA Media Freelance Industry Rates Report, the biggest challenges facing South African freelancers include low rates, poor client payment practices, and exploitation by clients with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.


The SAFREA report found that 40% of respondents had only been freelancing for the last five years, indicating a rise in the number of new freelancers in South Africa. “For many people undergoing a career transition, freelancing becomes a viable option for ensuring they are still able to use their skills and experience to earn an income. Hiring freelancers is also positive for businesses undergoing financial pressures, who might not be able to bring on permanent staff for certain projects or roles. However, to succeed as a freelancer it is important that one is aware of what it takes to succeed in this kind of role,” says ManpowerGroup South Africa’s managing director, Lyndy van den Barselaar.


Focus and Self-Discipline: Successful freelancers understand that they are required to adhere to high standards of professionalism at all times, since they are a business within themselves. They are disciplined and focused on making their business work, and are ethical in their conduct.


Meticulous about Tracking Time: They track the time they spend on projects so that they are able to report accurately and be paid fairly. For example, they build in time for client meetings, which can be time consuming, or allot time for managing projects.


Marketing Savvy: Businesses have to market to survive and successful freelancers are equipped with marketing and negotiation skills, that they are able to use both online and offline.


Networking Machine: They have their 90-second elevator pitch handy so they can quickly and confidently answer the “Tell me about yourself” or “What exactly do you do?” questions. They also have a presence on social networking platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and they attend and partake in relevant events to they build their network of contacts.


Ability to Manage Cash Flow: According to the SAFREA report, more than a third of respondents earn less than R10 000 per month, while over 40% of respondents earn between R11 000 and R30 000 a month. All businesses have ebbs and flows and successful freelancers are able to manage their cash by saving during the boom times so that they can survive during the lean times.


Ability to Manage Client Relationships: Since freelancers rely on positive client relationships to keep their business running successfully, they make this a priority and identify the importance of factors like persistence and flexibility when managing these relationships.


Learn Continuously: Learnability can be defined as the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable throughout their working life. “As the lifespan of skills continues to diminish thanks to technological innovation, learnability has become more important than experience in the modern workplace – and this rings true for freelancers, who constantly need to be able to adapt to their clients changing needs,” says van den Barselaar.


Communication Savvy: The most successful freelancers know how to communicate with clients to earn their trust, which translates into being awarded more projects. “Soft skills like communication and negotiation will always be valuable in business, no matter how much the landscape evolves. Importantly, these skills can be nurtured and developed continuously, and this should certainly be a priority for freelancers,” van den Barselaar explains.


“As the business landscape continues to evolve, freelance and project work will add increased value to businesses. Those making the decision to become freelancers should do so with clear expectations about what it takes to be successful in this industry, not only to ensure they are doing the best they can for themselves and their businesses, but to ensure they are being treated ethically and professionally by their clients,” she concludes.