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10 Tips to Succeeding at Freelancing

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/18/2011

Being a freelancer is liberating. No more boss, no more 9-to-5, no more sitting in traffic jams every morning. However, you still need to do work, and your work is your only source of paychecks. Read this articles for ten tips on how to succeed as a freelancer and bring home the bacon.

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    The Successful Freelance Life

    Going freelance - no matter if you're a writer, a graphic designer, or a consultant - can feel like a big risk. Suddenly you are working for yourself. This is liberating, but it also means that you no longer have anyone telling you to move forward. More importantly, you don't have the option of taking it easy. Your paycheck is dependent on what you accomplish rather than an hourly wage.

    Freelance success is very obtainable, however. You simply need to stay focused. Let's take a look at ten quick tips which will help you jump-start your freelance success.

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    Stay Positive

    Getting started as a freelancer can be tough. Staying in the game as a freelancer can be tougher. The liberty of freelance life means that there is no one behind your back pressuring you with deadlines, but it also means there is no one behind your back singing your praises. Be your own best advocate. It is okay to brag to yourself and even to others from time to time. Having confidence will keep your eye on the prize during those times where clients seem to be avoiding you.

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    Plan for the Unexpected

    Freelancing is an unpredictable business. The work you do will depend on the work your clients need, and they don't call each other to make sure their schedules aren't conflicting. While one week you may have little to do, the next week may shoot five projects your way.

    Of course, this means your pay is unpredictable as well. Don't go blow the big check you received from your last project the instant it reaches your hands. You may need that money to survive a dry spell.

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    Keep a To-Do List

    Freelance Writing Tips: To Do List A trusty to-do list can keep you on the straight and narrow, gently reminding you that you have things to do besides watching Youtube videos. Don't think this just has to be a piece of paper, however. Computers and mobile phones have to-do applications that keep track of your tasks and how long it takes you to complete them.

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    Contracts Are Your Friend

    When you do something, get it in writing! In some cases this may simply be an email, but if you're working on a four-figure project you absolutely must obtain some kind of written, signed documentation of the agreement that you negotiated with your client. This will prevent headaches and misunderstandings later and will clearly indicate what rights you and your client have to the work which you complete while under contract with them.

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    Request a Kill Fee or Upfront Payment

    Freelance Tips This may not be possible when you are first starting your freelance career, but once you've established yourself as a professional you should start negotiating partial upfront payments or kill-fees into your contracts with your clients. This will give you protection if the project goes south or the client simply decides they want to go a different direction.

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    Use Proper Bookkeeping

    Freelancer Tips Most freelancers aren't freelance accountants, so most freelancers aren't very good at keeping the books straight. Doing so is extremely important, however. Taxes are more complex for freelancers, as you can deduct certain business expenses from your taxes. You have to keep track of those receipts, however, and you also have to pay quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. Using accounting software is a good idea, or you may want to hire an accountant.

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    Ask Clients Questions

    The number one folly of freelancers is a misunderstanding of the client's needs. You'd think that clients would know what they want - they're coming to you for a service, after all - but often they don't. They're not the expert. Ask your clients what they hope your work will do for them, how your work fits into their business overall, and what values their organization holds.

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    Advertise!

    Freelance Advertising Many freelancers go independent in order to leave the corporate life, with its endless parade of marketing messages and memos laced with hidden meanings. As a result, freelancers don't like the idea of advertising. Unfortunately, it is an absolute necessity. Clients can't use your services if they don't know your exist. Make a habit of advertising yourself in some way every day.

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    Diversify!

    It can be easy to grow comfortable with a particular client who gives you repeat work. You know what they want, and they know how you operate. Payment is usually quicker from clients you work with regularly, as well. However, working for only a single client can be dangerous because anything which shuts down your client will also shut down your freelance income. Try to always have at least four sources of income in order to ensure that you don't rely too much on any one client.

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    Do It Every Day

    Weekends excluded, you should always be practicing your freelance profession of choice. Even if you don't have a client lined up you can find ways to keep yourself busy. If you're having a dry spell, don't sit back and wait for the work to come to you. Put your efforts into advertising and networking to make sure that the dry spell ends. Work every day, and work hard. The freelance life is great, but it is still work.