16 Tips For New Freelancers: A Cheat Sheet For Jumpstarting Success

The roller coaster of victories and defeats is something all freelance creatives are familiar with. I’m closing in on four years of freelance photography and, while I love my job and my lifestyle, my resolve has been tested since day one.

This game takes grit—but succeeding at it takes more. Here are sixteen things that all new creative freelancers should do more of.

1. Create More

A common problem for new freelancers is a lack of paid work. Use this time to experiment on personal projects. Create without boundaries while developing your skill set. By regularly self-commissioning your dream projects you are more likely to land similar work.

2. Share More

Ira Glass once talked about a gap that beginners feel when they start making creative work: that period when your work isn’t as good as your taste. The easiest thing to do here is to quit and hide your work from the world. Resist this. “Do a huge volume of work,” then share as much of it as possible.

3. Collaborate More

Freelancing is a lonesome affair if you stay isolated. Inversely, there are few things more thrilling than collaborating with a capable crew. Assemble teams of artists who are better than you—they will push you to improve.

4. Network More

Get in the habit of building new relationships with your peers. Interact with other creative freelancers through online communities and local meetups. These friends will help you keep your sanity by providing understanding, advice and the occasional referral.

5. Ask More

It’s fun to learn about your craft. Google is brimming of how-tos for photographers, designers and film makers. It’s harder to find business and customer service advice that is specific to your situation.

Access this information by asking the freelancers who working at the top of your field. Take people you respect out for a meal and learn from their story. If they’re receptive, request pricing advice, past invoices, estimates, contracts and contacts.

Be discerning! Learn from people’s mistakes as much as you do from their most brilliant ideas. Don’t attempt to duplicate anyone’s path—piece together your own.

6. Read More

Not a big reader? Become one. I recommend starting with Getting Things Done, How To Win Friends and Influence People and Do The Work.

You should also use Google Reader to follow bloggers who are producing quality resources.

7. Plan More

Define your goals and make plans for achieving them. I began my business by writing down my dreams (and strategies) for the first three months, year and three years. They were lofty ambitions, but looking back almost all of them came true.

8. Specialize More

Casting a wide net makes you look like an amateur. I’ll quote myself from my recent post on the benefits of specializing.

“To be recognized as an expert, focus on the niche that you are intensely passionate about. You’re much more likely to get hired, stay excited by your work and attract like-minded people.”

9. Target More

Once you’ve figured out your niche, the next step is to find your target audience. A good way to go about this is to create a ‘brand persona.’ Describe your ideal client in minute detail: where does he shop, eat, live, work and play? How old is he and what does he believe in?

After answering these questions, give your brand persona a face and a name and tack his picture to the office wall. From now on, every business decision begins with the question, “What will my brand persona think?”

10. Refer More

Occasionally you will receive inquiries that don’t fit your services, rates or availability. Use these opportunities to give quality referrals. Connecting a client to a capable artist is an easy way to get in karma’s good book.

11. Blog More

The world’s most successful brands lead tribes by connecting like-minded people. If you want to create a strong brand around your new business, use blogging as a primary tool in leading your tribe. Discover what keeps your readers up at night, then write about that consistently.


12. Listen More

Building a tribe requires listening skills. Talk less and discover the dreams, fears and frustrations of your clients and peers.

13. Help More

It’s not enough to simply ask for guidance and support—you need to give it. After all the listening you’ve done, find ways to help people realize those dreams, quell those fears, and turn frustrations into delight.

14. Streamline More

One striking difference between a hobbyist and a successful professional is the amount of time they spend on a project. Running a business requires learning the fastest methods to arrive at a desired outcome, and doing it that way every time. By systematizing early you’re less likely to burn out and better positioned for growth.

15. Charge More

Professionals believe in the value of their services; respect your work and charge accordingly. One smart method for earning more is to use pricing packages. I learned a lot from Lawrence Chan’s Creative Pricing and Packaging for Photographers (the information is applicable to all entrepreneurs).

16. Smile More

There’s a remarkable number of brooding freelancers out there—yet it’s often the positive minded people who gain success the fastest. If your success depends on attracting clients, mentors and followers, it makes sense to be cheerful.

You wouldn’t be on this journey if the challenges of creative freelancing didn’t conjure up authentic excitement. Focus on and express that energy; it’s magnetic and makes life more enjoyable.


Which of these points do you find most daunting? Let me know in comments.


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  • Elinor Hayward

    A very successful freelance photographer with a booked schedule, never turn a job down.