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Five Tips for Serious Freelancers

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Let your imagination run wild for a moment: After completing a six-month stint as a high-level consultant with the company of your choice, you spend the next half year surfing at Banzai Beach, or finishing that novel you’ve always meant to publish. If this sounds too good to be true, read on. For some lucky freelancers — also known as contingent employees, contractors and the self employed — it’s a way of life. And while some may prefer the structure and stability of permanent employment, according to the Freelancers Union, “Nearly nine in 10…freelancers said they would keep freelancing even if they were offered a traditional full-time job.”

The reasons are easy to understand. Freelancing gives its proponents flexibility, the ability to control their own hours, be their own bosses, do what they love and achieve the work/life balances they value, the Freelance Union says. And freelancers aren’t the only ones who are pleased with their careers.

The 2014-2015 State of the Contingent Workforce study by supply management experts Ardent Partners found that today’s corporate executives say that contract employees have become an increasingly important segment of the global workforce. Freelancers, who now make up as much as 40 percent of the global workforce, can be found at every level of the org chart.

“It is often said that ‘talent’ is the lifeblood of a business’ overall growth. In today’s fast-paced, cutthroat business environment, that statement has never been truer,” says the Ardent Partners study.

The study, which polled 200 HR, procurement and finance executives, also found that:

  • 92 percent of enterprises indicated non-traditional staffing — especially temporary or freelance workers — was a vital to moderate facet of their overall corporate strategy
  • 32 percent of the average company’s workforce fell into the contingent or contract-based category
  • By 2017, contingent workers, including independent contractors, statement-of-work-based labor and freelancers, will account for nearly 45 percent of the world’s total workforce

Yet, being a career freelancer comes with some unique challenges. Freelancers, particularly those who are just starting out, may struggle to find regular assignments, typically don’t receive medical benefits, paid vacation, sick time or IRAs and are responsible for paying their own taxes. So how do you make it work?

We’ve compiled a list of strategies that will have you waxing up your surfboard in no time.

1. Be strong

To be a successful freelancer, you must be a self-starter. When you’re first beginning your career, don’t expect work to just fall into your lap. You have to seek it out. While the data shows that it is not necessary to be a smooth salesman to get work, it is important to network on social media and through personal and professional connections. Since most contractors surveyed say they find the majority of their assignments through former (permanent) employers, seasoned professionals seem to fare better than new graduates who aren’t as established in their fields.

2. Partner with a staffing services agency

An experienced recruiter can be a great asset in your search for regular job assignments. Think of her as a partner, someone who knows your strengths, weaknesses, personal preferences and career goals — and can act as an intermediary between you and the employer. Many contract employees pay lower taxes and are even eligible for full compensation packages, benefits that their independent freelancing colleagues don’t receive.

3. Diversify

Most successful freelancers don’t rely on just one source of income. Some have several clients or juggle multiple jobs at the same time. Others have permanent jobs and do contract work on the side to supplement their income, pursue an interest or hobby or work toward a new career.

4. Don’t go it alone

While many freelancers work alongside permanent employees in a traditional office setting, some work from home or set up shop in the local coffee bar. It doesn’t always matter where you work, but make sure you aren’t too isolated. Be friendly to colleagues at the office. The relationships you build with permanent employees may lead to friendships as well as future assignments. If you’re not office-bound, form networks with other freelancers for support and job referrals. According to the Freelancers Union, 81 percent of freelancers refer work to fellow freelancers, 52 percent “team up on projects, do paid work for other freelancers or hire fellow freelancers,” and 37 percent, trade and barter services with other freelancers.

5. Do a great job

It sounds obvious, but be punctual, get work in early, be a great collaborator and if time allows, offer to take an assignment off a busy co-worker’s plate. Going above and beyond the job requirements will create a positive and lasting impression and ensure that you’ll rarely be without an assignment.