The 5 rules of successful freelancing

Every job has its rules and etiquette and freelancing is no exception. Despite the fact that you are your own boss, if you want to succeed you need to follow certain rules. There’s no one looking over your shoulder checking to see if you are adhering to these principles, so you need to be self-aware. Periodically stop and think about whether you are achieving your goals and what’s holding you back. Chances are, if you aren’t where you want to be it’s because you are neglecting the five unbreakable rules of freelancing.

Rule one: Track your work hours

The best thing about freelancing is that you get to choose your own hours, but it’s also easy to work much less than you should. If you work at home, household chores distract you and family and friends think you are free for all kinds of favors. Even in an office or coffee shop, it’s easy to be distracted by social media, long phone conversations and everything happening around you. Keeping a strict record of hours worked will help you see whether you are putting in the time necessary to satisfy your clients and bring in new business.

If you find you are easily distracted, consider turning off your phone, using blockers for social media sites and closing your office door firmly. Make it clear to others that you are working and not available to babysit or walk their dog. And schedule your own errands for after regular work hours whenever possible.

Rule two: Work regular hours

The other side of the coin is that freelancers tend to work when they shouldn’t. Working in the evenings instead of spending time with family and friends takes away from your work/life balance. And staying up late to work means you can’t get started at a reasonable time in the morning. Then your schedule is all out of whack and you are not available to your clients during their work hours.

Decide in advance what your work hours are and make it as close to 9 to 5 as possible. Although there are always exceptions, if most of your work is done during these hours you will be more productive and succeed better at satisfying your clients.

Rule three: Learn the art of negotiation

When charging clients or hiring employees and freelancers, you will find yourself in need of stellar negotiation skills. In order to succeed in business, you have to charge what you are worth and not work for less. You can start a bit lower than you want and raise the rates gradually with each new client. Quote new clients more than you would like to receive so you have some room for negotiation. And learn to say no when the client asks to pay a rate that is really too low.

If negotiation is not one of your skills, hire a negotiation coach or read articles and books about how to negotiate.

Rule four: Be a leader, not a follower

Some of your working hours should be devoted to staying on top of the trends and new research in your field. In order to distinguish yourself from the competition, you want to be ahead of the game and not the one bringing up the rear. Read professional literature on and offline, participate actively in professional groups and social media and meet up with colleagues informally.

If you know what the newest trends are, you can offer your clients extras they can’t get from most of your competitors. And you can position yourself as a leader in the niche, providing important information and insights clients will appreciate. Customers will flock to the “experts” and leave the stragglers in the dust.

Rule five: Customer service is number one

Clients can be difficult to deal with. Some are demanding, others want great results for a small investment and still others decide not to work with you altogether. It’s easy to get emotional and get into altercations with clients. But a good business person treats clients and potential clients courteously at all times. Even if you and a client ultimately part ways, it’s important that you remain professional and polite, so your reputation doesn’t suffer.

Work hard to impress clients and when something does go wrong, make sure to do damage control. A sincere apology can go a long way toward smoothing feathers. When necessary, offer a refund or provide a service for free. Treat your customers as if they are your boss, since your business depends on them.