A CEO’s view on being successful as a freelancer

Jason Powell is chief executive of CMME, which specialises in mortgage advice for independent professionals. Here, Jason shares some of his business wisdom about setting up as a freelancer to go it alone and key tips to bear in mind if you want to be successful and thrive.

Have a plan

It is important to prioritise your time and develop a plan with specific goals for the short term, the medium term and the longer term. A basic plan can help you prioritise tasks on a daily basis and as a freelancer you might be managing several projects at once. Having a ‘to do’ list is important for day-to-day tasks to help you focus on getting things done but it is just as critical to have a plan on where you envisage your business and freelance career in 12 months’ time. Apps that can help include “Things”, “Trello” and “Elegantt”.

Be disciplined

Developing good habits and having a structure to your day is important for freelancers and particularly those who work from home. Getting up early and establishing a routine will serve you well and help to focus the mind.  Remember that when you’re working from home, work-life balance can be hard to achieve otherwise because they both happen in the same place and the boundaries can become blurred. Facebook and daytime TV can all work to distract you from getting on with the job. But just as self-discipline is important it is also important to discipline your clients. You might want to consider setting contact hours. If a client gets used to you emailing back at midnight, they’re going to expect that all the time. If you make it clear from the offset that you work between 9 and 5, you can set clear boundaries and really switch off from work. It is vital to create structure when you haven’t got a boss breathing down your neck and it is all too easy to put things off. Working 9-5 will help you to sync with your clients too. And putting in a bill at the end of the job should be enough to focus the mind – if you haven’t done the work you won’t be able to invoice.

Know your market

It is vital that you know who you are selling your services or goods to and meeting people is fundamental to the success of any business. Without clients and customers, you have no business. In today’s era of social media and networking sites such as LinkedIn it is easy to think you are always connected at the push of a button. However, the personal touch is a key part of any networking strategy and meeting face-to-face and exchanging business cards will expand your network and open up your relationships. And that network will bring referrals.

Manage your energy

Achieving a work/life balance is the holy grail for all freelancers and cannot be underestimated. One reason people opt to go freelancing is for the flexibility. Over-prioritising work with no social life is pointless and taking too much time off is equally as pointless if you want to establish a good and fruitful freelance career. It is important to manage your energy so that quality time is spent at work and on work but you also enjoy a healthy amount of time not focusing on work – people often get their best ideas away from their desks.  In his TED Talk, Shawn Achor shares “The happy secret to better work” which is well worth watching and author Tim Ferris’ book ‘Tools of Titans’ looks at the habits and routines of highly effective people whilst Simon Sinek, in his book ‘Start with Why’, will help any freelancer to be clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Leaders Learn

In business, leaders are constantly learning, evolving and adapting and I would urge freelancers to do the same and think like a leader. When you first take the plunge to go freelance you will have done so in the knowledge that you have the skills that will add value to your client’s businesses. However, over time, that will change – technologies change, people change and markets change so it is important to develop yourself and your skills to keep abreast of any changes or you could risk losing clients. Professional and personal development is a must to operate at the cutting edge of whatever job you do and will help to broaden your skills and your offering. You cannot afford to be complacent so it is vital that you continue to learn an invest in developing yourself. It will pay off.