What’s more, millennials report that of 57% of their jobs lasted less than a year, making the relationship with the boss more like that of a client.
But the good habits that successful freelancers are forced to develop in order to build a network, manage clients, and take care of themselves are applicable to anyone with a career.
To gather the best practices, we talked with Jaleh Bisharat, SVP of marketing for freelancer marketplace Elance-oDesk; Ann Friedman, a freelance culture writer; and Chicago-based freelance designer Margot Harrington.
Keep updating your skill set.
For people within and outside of organisations, the skills keep changing. The shelf-life of a computer programming language, for instance, is only a handful of years, so savvy developers press hard to keep fluent in whatever’s being spoken.
“If the skills needed are shifting,” Bisharat says, “you need to constantly be brushing up and be at the top of your game and shift along with it.”
Curate your network.
“You need to be smart about curating your network,” Bisharat says.
Whenever you apply for a job, the hiring manager’s going to look on oDesk, LinkedIn, or elsewhere for the connections you share.
“Who we have in common can make or break the job,” she adds.
“Responsiveness is one of the the most important things that clients look for,” Bisharat says of the Elance-oDesk marketplace. D
emonstrating that you are responsive and you care a great deal about their success makes you look good.
That same responsiveness is like catnip for bosses.
Take care of your relationships.
Friedman — who writes regularly for New York magazine, the Columbia Journalism Review, and the Hairpin — says that almost none of her work comes from cold pitching.
It’s all on-going relationships with editors, which she takes good care of.
“Every visit I make to New York I get lunch or have coffee with them even if I don’t have a story,” says the L.A.-based writer. “It’s your basic networky, professional relationship cultivation.”
Let go of your “networking” hate.
Lots of people wrinkle their nose at the thought of networking. Freidman says that networking is as much a part of her job as “writing words for money,” but it’s more than just a transaction.
“I see it as a professional exchange of ideas rather than seeing it as meeting people as people who potentially give me work,” she says.
Subscribe to “horizontal loyalty.”
One of the keys to getting ahead is taking care of the people that are at or below your level, Friedman says. She borrows a phrase from beloved Radiolab host Rob Krulwich: horizontal loyalty.
Instead of pining after building relationships with the head of the company, build bonds with your peers, since “the arc of everyone’s career is long.”
“If you’re playing a long game, everyone is an important person,” she adds. “When you connect on that peer level, rather than trying to prove how great you are to someone who’s 10 steps above you, it’s easier to forge a relationship that’s authentic rather than let me tell you about my work and why you should give me money for my work.”
Be aware that opportunities can come from anybody.
The person you employ now could give you work later. Friedman’s career is a case in point: lots of gigs today came from people who she interviewed for potential jobs back when she was an editor.
Make friends with rising stars.
When you meet a rockstar — somebody who’s destined for big things though they haven’t been around for a while — befriend them.
“People remember people who took an interest in them when their title wasn’t flashy,” Friedman says.
Harrington says that a key of keeping her freelancing self sane is to “gently re-educate” her clients so their requests are manageable.
“You realise you needed a boundary after it’s been crossed,” she says, “like when you had a client call you at an inappropriate time or someone’s hassling you for work.”
In an organizational setting, you call this managing up: making sure you and your boss are on the same page about expectations.
Whether you’re isolated in a home office or an open office, staring into a computer all day can get isolating.
“I am fairly introverted,” Harrington says. “I can be by myself for a day or two working and not go stir crazy. But my partner also works from home, so there are at least one or two days a week when I’m not alone.”
To prevent stir craziness, Harrington recommends getting deliberate about finding “points of interaction” in a day, be it through meetings, lunches, or the like.
And that way you can figure out how to get things done.
“When you get stuck,” she says, “getting other peoples’ experience is invaluable.”
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