There’s a good chance you already have an arsenal of underrated but essential skills that will help you become a freelance rockstar.
I’m talking about soft skills.
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, 92% of respondents rated soft skills as a “critical priority.”
What’s the difference between hard skills and soft skills?
Hard skills are easy to teach and quantify, like:
- Juggling steak knives
Whereas soft skills are difficult to teach and much harder to quantify, like:
- Not being a jerk
Don’t get me wrong, all freelancers need a hard skill.
Your hard skill is what we call your “freelance superpower.” It’s what you sell to clients. Because as valuable as soft skills are, you can’t sell “resilience” or “self-discipline” to your client.
But here’s the problem: The name “soft skills” makes them sound less important than hard skills.
Our culture certainly puts far more emphasis and prestige on hard skills. You can get prestigious degrees in coding and graphic design, but not in creative problem solving or self-discipline.
Soft skills are often more difficult to learn than hard skills.
And job success is far more dependent on soft skills than hard skills.
Research by Harvard University (covered by the National Soft Skills Association), found that 85% of job success comes from having well developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).
As a freelancer, it would be impossible to manage your business, land work, meet deadlines or delight clients without soft skills.
One employer even said he’d “rather hire a Boy Scout over someone with a degree because at least they’ll have the right soft skills.”
So if you’re worried about freelancing due to your “‘lack of skills,”’ let’s shatter that notion into a million pieces and replace it with a newfound confidence in your abilities.
Because if you’ve got some of these underrated soft skills — and everyone does to some degree — you’re well on your way to freelancing freedom.
1. Communication Skills
According to LinkedIn economist Guy Berger, Ph.D., the most in-demand soft skill is communication, closely followed by organization and teamwork.
Because it’s the skill you need to be able do literally everything else.
Clarity Is Key
Miscommunication doesn’t just waste time and stress everybody out—it also costs money.
And when you’re a freelancer, it’s your time, money and sanity that’s on the line.
Which is why clarity is so important.
Before you even start working for a client, you need to use your communication skills to land the work.
Freelancer Quincy Larson shares:
“I’ve worked as a freelance web developer. Actually doing the work is the easy part. The real challenge lies in finding reasonable clients, convincing them you’re a reasonable choice, then convincing them to enter into a reasonable contract with you.”
When communicating with a new client, you need to clearly articulate a ton of information as succinctly as possible, including:
- Your understanding of the client’s problem
- How you’ll solve their problem
- Why you’re the best person for the job
- How long it will take you
- How much it will cost them
- What you need from the client to do the job
Six-figure freelancer Tsahi Levent-Levi of bloggeek.me said, “Being good at what you do isn’t enough. I hate selling but I had to learn to sell myself.”
And when it comes to understanding your client’s needs, you need to be able to ask the right questions and listen carefully.
Because no matter how good your work is, if it doesn’t meet your client’s expectations and hopes, they’ll consider it a bad job.
Dealing with Awkward Situations
Some things are hard to talk about.
Money, politics and religion? Shhh. Don’t mention them.
That’s all well and good at Thanksgiving with the in-laws, but if you want to earn money as a freelancer, you need to talk about it.
According to Payoneer’s “The Freelancer Income Survey,” 54% of freelancers worldwide are unsatisfied with their income.
The image below shows how satisfied different types of freelancers are with their income.
Through communication, of course.
As a freelancer, if you can openly discuss money in a confident, assertive and reasonable manner, there’s a good chance you’ll make more of it.
And then there’s feedback.
Depending on how you perceive it, feedback can be a career-propelling gift, or a self-esteem crushing curse.
Either way, freelancers need to respond to unhappy clients or negative feedback gracefully and appreciatively if they are to maintain the relationship.
I know, easier said than done, right?
Freelancers Need to Manage Their Emotions
As Jan Bruce, CEO and cofounder of meQuilibrium, wrote in a Forbes article:
“Getting control of our emotions is the single most important soft skill we can learn. In fact, there’s a high correlation between emotion regulation and our ability to manage our stress and stay productive under pressure.”
Once again, freelancers who can manage their emotions will find life much easier.
When handling negative feedback, you need to be able to avoid impulsive reactions. Firing off a hasty, contemptuous email will only ever make things worse.
According to Mark Murphy, author of “Hiring for Attitude,” 46% of new hires fail in the first 18 months, and of those new hires, 89% fail for reasons associated with attitude.
Successful freelancers are able to see feedback for what it is — an opportunity to learn and develop.
This can be extremely difficult.
But the ability to distance yourself emotionally and not take criticism personally is invaluable, as it’ll give you the opportunity to turn the situation around and delight your client.
Robert Collier famously said, “Your chances of success in any undertaking can always be measured by your belief in yourself.”
The good news?
If you decide to take the leap and start freelancing, you already believe in yourself.
Confidence is also a valuable skill when it comes to saying no to toxic clients. Freelancer Gavin Ballard from Disco shares:
“I wish that I’d had the confidence to say no to work more often, especially when I had a bad gut feeling about a particular client or project. A couple of times I ignored my instincts and ended up working late nights on stressful and, ultimately, unsuccessful projects — which wasn’t fair for me or the client.”
There’s no doubting that good communication is crucial to success as a freelancer.
When organizations with effective communication are almost five times as likely to retain the best employees, it’s fair to say that freelancers with effective communication are nearly five times as likely to retain the best clients.
Everybody has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication. Think about your strengths and apply them to freelancing.
2. Self-Management Skills
Self-Discipline is Essential
“The most important traits a freelancer should have are resiliency, determination, and self-discipline,” says freelancer Tara Lynne Groth.
That’s hard to argue with.
In a traditional job, there’s constant accountability. If you don’t turn up by 9 a.m., there are consequences. If you’re on Facebook every time your boss walks past, she’s not going to be pleased.
But as a freelancer, if you want to sleep until midday and then binge-watch Netflix all afternoon, you can.
This is both wonderful and dangerous.
“I’ve seen friends and acquaintances take half-hearted attempts at consulting or freelancing work, but they lack self-discipline,” Groth says. “Self-discipline is what will keep you focused on finishing paid work before spending time on your own creative projects, going out to meet friends, Netflixing … ”
Dan Kennedy, business coach, consultant and author of “No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs” said:
“The meeting of deadlines and commitments alone causes a person to stand out from the crowd like an alien spaceship parked in an Iowa cornfield.
The ability to get things done, and done right the first time, will magnetically attract incredible contacts, opportunities and resources to you. All of this is a matter of self-discipline. And self-discipline aimed and applied at a particular thing is quite literally a magic power. ”
But it can be overwhelmingly difficult to avoid procrastination and get down to business.
For freelancers, this is not an option.
Your income is a direct result of the value you produce, and you can’t shuffle your way through the workday and still get paid each month.
Thankfully, like all skills, self-discipline can be developed. This is why tools like RescueTime are so valuable.
Rescue Time allows you to track how you spend your work time, so each day you’re confronted with the reality of how much you procrastinate.
Time-Management Is Vital
Most freelancers juggle multiple clients.
And according to Payoneer’s ‘The Freelancer Income Survey,’ over 80% of freelancers work on 1-3 projects at any time.
Not to mention all of the associated admin.
“Be diligent with your bookkeeping and organization of client billing information. Things will get busy, and things of that nature will begin to fall through the cracks.”
Remember, freelancers wear many hats.
You’re not just a writer, designer or programmer. You’re also the marketer, financial manager, project manager, brand manager and head of administration.
To manage all of these things successfully requires strong organizational and time-management skills.
Your Health = Your Business’s Health
You are the business. And managing so many different things at once can be stressful.
If you neglect your health and let yourself become stressed and run down, life as a freelancer can quickly become difficult.
Freelancers don’t get sick pay.
And deadlines must be met or clients will be disappointed.
If you know how to look after yourself and manage stress, you can avoid burnout and continue to deliver.
Highly successful freelancers know that a good diet, regular exercise and stress-reducing activities like meditation are necessary for long-term success.
One of the most difficult things about freelancing is work-life balance.
“Whenever you are the boss, producer, accountant, and support agent … there is always something to be done … You have to be relentless about protecting your time outside of work, or you can end up working yourself into your own grave. It’s the hardest thing to remember as a freelancer, but probably one of the most important.
Spending time with family and friends and getting outdoors in nature have been some of the most productive, important times for me mentally. It overflows into my work and I end up producing great work because of it.”
Knowing when you need to take a break from work is vital.
All business owners face tough times.
“Feeling connected to a mission beyond ourselves and our own self-interest works as a wellspring to carry leaders and their teams through tough times, which invariably happen at work.”
If you’re considering freelancing, you already have a purpose. Maybe you want to:
- Work for yourself and not have a boss tell you what to do
- Have freedom over your schedule so you can spend more time with family
- Be in control of your income so that your family has more financial security
Whatever it is, knowing your larger purpose will carry you through.
3. Growth Skills
“If you’re not afraid, you’re playing small and need to get outside of your comfort zone. If you’re not failing, you’re not learning or growing,” says six-figure freelancer Bianca Board.
How comfortable are you with being uncomfortable?
All Freelancers Are Creative Problem Solvers
Clients have problems and they pay freelancers to provide the solutions.
As Jan Bruce says:
“The ability to get into ‘problem-solving mode’ and stay in it for long periods of time—in other words, persist until a problem is solved instead of disengaging and giving up—is key to dealing with the inevitable challenges that come with any role more efficiently and effectively.”
And freelancers don’t just have to solve client’s problems. They have to solve many of their own too.
When I started freelancing, I had to figure out how to build a website, market my services and keep track of my finances (to name a few).
Growth Is Necessary For Continued Success
Freelancers are constantly learning.
According to Upwork’s Freelancing in America 2016 survey, freelancers train to strengthen skills, while non-freelancers are more likely to do it as a job requirement.
The ability to learn quickly and proactively will make freelancing far more enjoyable — and lucrative.
Soft skills are vital to your success as a freelancer.
Without them, it would be impossible to land work regularly, understand your client’s needs, hit deadlines or manage your business.
Thankfully, you’ve been developing soft skills your entire life.
And although they’re not as straightforward to learn as hard skills, they can be developed and honed with practice.
Which soft skills do you already have that you can capitalize on? Which skills do you need to dedicate time and energy to improving?
You’re already halfway there with the soft skills you possess.