This article was created in partnership with 99designs, a global creative platform that empowers freelancers all over the world.
Hard skills and soft skills: you’ll need both to build a thriving, sustainable career. If you’re in sales, hard skills are your ability to close a deal or sail a pitch. If you’re an accountant, they’re your affinity for crunching numbers. As a graphic designer, photographer, writer or any other creative, your hard skills are your raw talents, honed through years of experience and dedication.
Despite their delicate naming convention, soft skills are equally important to your practice—a secret weapon, even. Some are relevant across the board and good to have under your belt in any industry. Others are more specific to your work as a creative and crucial to manifest if you run your own business. We’ll walk you through five soft skills that do double duty to enhance your creative life and make you a joy to work with.
1. Communication and Collaboration
Creative people often live an introverted life, whether it’s by choice or circumstance. It’s great for working autonomously or in front of a screen, but building relationships relies on a willingness to communicate and collaborate effectively.
Clear communication is that much more important if you work remotely. We tend to keep our heads down when there’s lots to do. It’s during these extended sprints where mistakes and miscommunications occur. Project management apps and messaging tools like Slack are a revelation, so let them work for you. Some integrate with your calendar, or set automatic check-in reminders according to your project’s schedule. The trick is to be proactive and keep conversations between you, stakeholders and collaborators flowing, open and accessible. Providing key updates (even without being prompted) and responding to messages in a timely manner not only makes people more feel included in your process, but confident in your abilities.
2. A Self-Discipline Streak
Ah, freedom; the freelancer’s double-edged sword. How can the thing that drew us in also be our downfall? Without the predictability of a nine-to-five, it’s tempting to forgo pants and open 75 browser tabs until it all falls apart. A little structure will help you regain control and stay on task.
Ask yourself: what motivates me to do my best work? For some it’s a cup of tea and mindful meditation in the afternoon. Some wake at dawn, shower and dress like they’re headed to the office. Others make a point of shutting down at 6pm on the dot. The best routine is personal, one that doesn’t make creating feel like a chore. If you feel directionless, seek inspiration in the routines of successful creatives. Then, take time to explore what works for you, iterating as needed until something sticks. Incorporate time-management or list apps to round everything out, and voilà—healthy habits that benefit all realms of your freelance life.
3. Unwavering Reliability
Missing a deadline, in any context, is usually a no-go. Which means reliability is worth its weight in gold. When a client knows they can count on you, and you always follow through, you’ve secured a quality lead for life.
That’s not to say you need to become a martyr to be successful. Emergencies happen. Sometimes things gets in the way, especially when you’re a creative, and the line between work and life is blurred. But priorities and promises do matter, and you should hold them in high regard. Respect others’ time and they will respect yours. And if you realize you won’t be able to deliver as promised, always communicate your needs as soon as possible so a solution can be found.
Everyone, at some point in their life, has to negotiate. For more time, compensation, for lax or stricter rules and regulations. If only they taught us how to do in school. And you, dear freelancer, will have to do it more than most. One of the first questions you’ll be asked is what you charge. And the second: do you offer discounts?
It’s a bit of a dance. Some of the best negotiation tactics involve no negotiation at all. Set an hourly rate and stick to it, reevaluating each year to determine whether it’s time to increase it based on the experience you’ve gained, or whether you’re planning to scale. If a client asks if you can slash your rates, consider offering a bundle with a low-cost, low-effort freebie thrown in. You can also break down and itemize each deliverable to justify your estimate. Don’t be afraid to think about it and come back. And definitely don’t be afraid to hold firm.
5. Hustle and Energy
Securing a steady influx of projects is a full-time job in and of itself. There’s also the reality of chasing late payments and prospects who’ve ghosted. And, there’s marketing yourself, whether you attend networking events, use social media, or host your portfolio on a creative platform. Successful freelancers know it never really ends, so persistence and thick skin are everything. (And also maybe espresso.)
Be strategic, reflective, push forward, and look at every perceived setback as an opportunity to learn and grow. There’s no secret to having a hustler’s mentality. Although as a freelancer, you already have it in you.
Hard skills will get your portfolio noticed, but good soft skills will make you memorable. You can’t have one without the other if you plan to grow your business.
Are there any you think we missed? Let us know down below, and happy freelancing.
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