1. Meet your deadlines: Yes, I know this is obvious, but it is a biggie. I put each of my deadlines on my calendar and then jot down the milestones I need to accomplish to finish the projects on time. I also like to work ahead when I can. You never know when a client will call with a last-minute project and staying current on my to-do list gives me the flexibility to lend a hand when needed.
2. See yourself as part of your client’s team: As a freelancer, my job is to help my clients meet their goals. That applies to the project at hand, of course, but it is also much broader. I like to be flexible with them and step up to the plate when they have last-minute needs. I read articles with specific clients in mind and try to develop ideas that can help them overall. Moreover, I know that I am often an extension of my clients’ brand. For example, I typically reach out to ten or more sources for one feature article. With each phone call I make, I am representing the client, even if it is indirectly.
3. Make financial goals: Freelancing is a business and as such you need to create a business plan with income projections. If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know how to get there. More importantly, if you aren’t profitable, you won’t be in business very long. I know the minimum amount I’d like to make each month and having that figure in mind keeps me working toward it. I pitch more stories on months that look like they might fall short and feel great about my work on months that exceed my projections. Either way, my financial goals keep me on track.
4. Meet new people: When you work at home, it is important to keep up your network. Attend alumni events, go to writing conferences and connect online with other freelancers. One of my top clients last year came from a chance meeting at an alumni event. You never know where your next assignment or your next great idea will come from.
5. Know your strengths: While it can be tempting to be a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll do better if you play to your strengths. There are reasons journalists cover beats. Getting knee-deep into an industry gives you insight you don’t get from just covering it now and then. Since I’ve been writing, I’ve covered criminal court, Capitol Hill and commerce. Right now in my career I write primarily about the transportation industry, which means I stay up on trends, monitor news stories and have extensive industry contacts. Covering this niche market has served me well as a freelancer. I have six transportation publications I write for regularly, and the editors know they can trust me to provide in-depth copy on deadline.
6. Don’t be afraid to turn down projects: This relates to #5. Yes, there are financial goals to meet (per #3), but it isn’t always about the money. Taking on a project that isn’t the right fit will hurt you in the long run. You’ll likely produce a less-than-stellar product, which can ding your reputation, and you might get down from doing work you don’t love.