While freelancing is by no means a new concept, its current form is somewhat fresh in the overall history of the world. 

*Fun fact – did you know the term freelancer originates from medieval mercenaries?  

This ‘newness’ means we’re all still writing the terrain of the freelance economy as we go – and we need to come together and decide upon our words to live by. 

Which is why we were so excited to sit with Alison Grade, author of The Freelance Bible and media production freelancing expert.  

In true Venture L form we’ll keep it fun and break up each learning into a “verse” about how great freelancers can separate themselves from the rest.

Ready!?

Verse 1: Know thyself. 

Not to get all existential over here, but great freelancers know themselves – what they can do, what they can offer, and how they’re going to turn that into a monetizable business.

So, what does it really mean to be a freelancer? According to Alison, she’s “pretty much unemployable,” and that’s a positive for her. In this context, it means that stages in a conventional, full-time role weren’t as long-lasting because she knew freelance was the proper path for her skill set and ambition.

A true freelancer is neither an entrepreneur nor a corporate drone. They’re an independent expert – talented at their craft, but also much more than just their craft. 

As Alison puts it: 

“Just being a ‘freelancer’ doesn’t mean anything. What skills do you have?”

Here’s where the profound “knowing yourself” piece comes in: it’s time to do a skills audit.

Think this through ASAP for both hard and soft skills. What can you do? What can you offer? What will set you apart?

List everything out – even the ones you’ve never used in a work context before. Then, you can use this audit to build out your offering and your strategy for “selling yourself.”

The best freelancers know that the skills audit never really ends. This will be an ongoing process, but over time it will narrow (think Pareto Principle) where you realize which 20% of skills drive 80% of your value.

Verse 2: Love thy neighbor.

The number one driver for freelancer success is your network. 

Freelancers don’t have the built-in community of working on a set team within their company. They’re also responsible for finding new clients and growing their business all on their own. 

According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, there are “well-defined limits to the number of friends and acquaintances the average person can retain” – and that magic number is 150.

Sound low? It’s not – because all the members of your network also have about 150 people in theirs. Alison points out in her interview that this means we have approximately 22,500 people just one step removed from us.

For every new opportunity she wants to reach, Alison asks, “Who’s in my network? Who do I need to know?” 

Keep in mind that there are many types of characters within each person’s network (on the professional side):

  • Mentors, who help guide and advise you throughout your career
  • Sponsors, who talk about you when you’re not there (in a good way)
  • Introducers, who can introduce you to new business and are considered “trusted referrals” by their own circle

These types of connections (and many others) are vital pieces of your network and community – and great freelancers prioritize maintaining and growing these relationships over time. (Remember: No one likes a taker. Help your network out as well.)

We wrote more about “How to Build Your Freelancer Network” in a recent article on Freelancer Central.

Verse 3: Climb thy ladder.

While it’s fun to act like we freelancers are nothing like traditional workers, the reality is we’re pretty similar – especially when it comes to the analogy climbing a ladder. 

Freelancing still has a ladder, but there are a few key differences.

1. Time to climb.

Corporate goes by years; freelancing goes by impact. While a corporate step up the ladder might be two years, the freelancer step could be a 3-month project where you can increase the traffic to a website by 300%. 

Alison and Matthew – who’s also an expert freelancer – had examples of this:

“I can climb the ladder when I’m ready to, not when a company decides I’ve got enough experience. I probably jumped earlier to climb up the ladder and to take those risks to look for other opportunities before other people would have done.”
– Alison

“I had a similar experience: I chased my curiosity, focused on client outcomes, then realized I had 5+ years of management experience before technically having a year of ‘real work’ experience.”
– Matthew

2. Choice within each step.

In the corporate world, each step is fairly predictable. 

You’re an associate or an analyst, then manager, then director, then general manager. Or, maybe you’re level 57, then 58, then 59. Either way, the driver of each step is generally scope and responsibility of a defined skill set or role. 

With freelancing, steps are what you make of them. You probably can’t go from sheep herder to product manager – would you even want to? – but maybe you go from digital marketer to product manager to front-end developer to copywriter. 

Either way, corporate or freelance, you have a ladder to climb. Great freelancers understand how flexible their ladders are, and that they can be formed to match one’s goals and willingness to push the timeline.

Verse 4: Own thy process. 

We’ll be advocates of the “outcome mindset” now and forevermore.

Your #1 value as a freelancer is knowing – and owning – the roadmap. Your client has no idea what’s coming (and might not really know what they’re doing), so you need to be their saving grace.

Knowing the roadmap means knowing where things are headed: you have to take full ownership over outcomes. Always.

As a freelancer, all the responsibility falls on you. You’re the CEO, CTO, analyst, administrator, and more. Having well-mapped processes (and maybe even templates for ones you repeat often) is a fast way to impress clients and keep them coming back to you as a trusted advisor.

Here’s how owning your process might look:

  • Detailed proposal and well-scoped Statement of Work (SOW)
  • Attainable timeline with periodic milestones
  • Ongoing updates for your client 
  • Working relationship controls (for agencies these are outlined through a master of service agreement, also called MSA) like: 
    • Limited number of feedback rounds
    • Defined response hours 
  • Clear delivery of final deliverables with clear next steps (usually some type of upsell)
  • Updating your portfolio 

The best freelancers are great from end-to-end, and they run themselves like they are a business. Take ownership over your outcomes – they are your responsibility, after all.

The freelance economy is vast and covers every type of skill, so dictating “verses” to cover all of us can be tricky. No matter your field, though, these four verses inspired by Alison Grade and The Freelance Bible are a great place to start.

Next Steps

  1. Do your skills audit (hard and soft skills)
  2. Read this article on building your freelance network
  3. Map out your version of the career ladder – and decide what steps you need to climb next
  4. Check out this Statement of Work Template and Case Study Template to help you own your process and outcomes
  5. Watch the full video of our Freelancer Talks conversation with Alison here.

About Venture L

Venture L is where the world’s best freelancers run their business. By integrating your network of trusted collaborators and processes into one personalized platform, you can take on more projects, slash operations in half, and scale your business.

We’re currently collaborating with a select group of innovators.  

Want to be one of these crazy innovators? https://venturel.io/app/

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Lauren is a freelance copywriter and content strategist originally from the United States. After volunteering in Tanzania post-university, she realized she was too restless to go home, and became a digital nomad across 5 continents for 3 years. She's now based in Berlin and thrilled to own house plants and have her suitcase in storage. Lauren's favorite part of working with Venture L is the whole community's dedication to GIF correspondence.