The 9 Best Freelance Skills To Cultivate in 2021

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Successful freelancers aren’t just good at a specific skill. They are also entrepreneurial, capable of leading and working in a business (even if it’s just a business of one). Those intangible skills – the business skills – are critical for freelance success. And as demand for freelancing increases, these freelance skills will become even more critical.

Speaking to PulseBlueprint, the CEOs of three different freelance platforms shared what they see as the most in demand freelance skills for 2021 that any freelancer can have.

Time management

time management is a critical freelance skill

Bobbie Racette runs Virtual Gurus, a managed freelancer platform boasting 6,000+ freelancers. The Virtual Gurus model is to help freelancers find work by managing white collar clients on your behalf. It’s not a marketplace in the way Upwork or Fiverr is – Virtual Gurus helps you find work based on your expertise. And for Racette, the top of the freelance skills list is time management.

“Time management is the practice of making good use of time to improve your productivity, and when you have multiple client projects going on at once mastering your time management technique is key to your success,” said Racette.  

Some time management tips: create rules for your calendar and plan your time based on when you’re most creative.

Adaptability

one of the top freelance skills is adaptability

The world is changing rapidly, and COVID is only accelerating that. Shahar Erez, the CEO of freelance management platform Stoke Talent, knows this well. The Stoke platform helps companies of all sizes manage freelancers on their roster. And he sees clients needing more and more flexibility from freelancers they work with.

“It is important for freelancers to understand that a company’s needs are always changing,” said Erez. “By offering prompt responses and flexibility, freelancers are showing they have the skills and ability to help the company thrive, and that should become part of the organizational backbone.”

Racette adds that adaptability is a “secret weapon” on your freelance skills list.

“Things change, for example, Coronavirus threw us all for a loop almost every single company had to pivot hard and adapt to the ‘new norm’,” said Racette. “By being adaptable, you can temporarily switch from path A to B super quick.”

Productizing skills

turn services into products

Perhaps one of the lesser known freelance skills out there, productizing is the process of taking a service you provide by the hour and turning it into a packaged outcome. For example, instead of charging by the hour to write a blog post, you charge per blog post. Or instead of doing a workshop that requires three hours of Q&A, turn all those questions into a template that people can answer ahead of time.

Matt Mottola, the founder of freelance business management platform Venture L, thinks this is one of the top freelance skills someone can learn.

“Productizing [your existing business, specifically creating templates either used for lead generation or for revenue,” said Mottola. “For example if [you are] a digital marketer, the campaign playbook is gold – can that be templatized and sold? Or templatized and used for lead generation?”

Self-direction

one of the best freelancing skills is self direction

“Self-direction is the ability to act without being told what to do,” said Racette. “While freelancers rely on clients for some direction – it is also essential for a contractor to find their own solutions to problems and negotiate their own path.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t talk to clients. Quite the opposite. But self-direction as a freelancer means you’re capable of looking at problems and suggesting solutions. One of the best ways to get better at this is to ask clients about outcomes. When you know what they want in the end, you can more easily navigate small problems along the way.

The other part of self-direction is self-learning, the process of focusing on your own professional development.

“Engage in self-learning,” said Erez. “The world is changing fast for knowledge workers with new technologies, approaches, tools, and processes. Stay up to date, read, listen, watch new content, and follow influencers. In a world of skills, knowledge is king and mastering it will assure prosperity.”

Communication

make sure you're communicating

Client communication is one of the most in demand freelance skills that people don’t always talk about. While many postings will say you have to communicate, the best freelancers know that communication is a strategic thing. It’s not just about telling your client what’s going on. It’s about engaging and building relationships. 

When you communicate well, it becomes a tool to help you expand the business you do with clients. 

For freelancers on Venture L, Mottola said the majority of income comes “from scaling across existing clients. Retaining and growing existing clients derives from becoming the go-to-resource for [your] skill, which derives from building trust, which derives at first from consistently under-promising and over-delivering.”

Self-marketing and building a personal brand

the freelance skill people don't talk about: marketing yourself

“[Increase your] skills in marketing and business administration, as well as continued learning on how to be a solopreneur,” said Racette. 

You can’t get more clients if no one knows about you. While platforms like Virtual Gurus can help you find clients, you still have to self-market and build your own brand. The best way to get this done, said Erez, is to focus on building a public profile. Where you build it depends on where your clients are and the type of work you do. A critical freelance skill is knowing your one-liner and knowing where your clients exist online. If you do this well, though, you can even build an inbound funnel that brings clients to your door.

“Focus on Brand Building,” said Erez. “Make sure you are focusing on building your public profile and brand on the platforms most relevant to your field (LinkedIn, Behance, Dribble, Github, and any other relevant networks).”

Cross-freelancer collaboration

you can't get anything big done without collaboration

Growing a freelance business is about more than just money. Ultimately, freelancers are limited by two key things: skill set and time. You only have so many hours in the day to work. Further, you can only do so many things. Because of these two challenges, larger companies might pass over you because they need a larger scope of work. That’s where cross-freelancer collaboration comes in.

With project-specific freelancer collaboration, you can build a powerful team to take on larger projects. But learning collaboration is a skill unto itself, said Mottola.

“Collaboration with fellow freelancers, defined as the ability to team up and have a network of freelancer referrals,” said Mottola. “Two reasons [why this is an important freelancer skill] 1: Leading driver of new work comes from fellow freelancers, and 2: growing existing clients requires both scope (reach of skills) and scale (amount of work they can do), which results from teaming up & referring.”

Not sure where to start with cross-freelancer collaboration? Start with “intentional networking,” said Mottola. “Meeting with at least 15 new freelancers and collaborating with at least 5.”

Transparency

transparency is a critical freelancer skill

Along with the need for flexibility is the need for transparency. Because so much is changing, holding back information is not a good thing. While it can be difficult to be transparent in hard times, Erez said that transparency is one of the top freelancer skills that Stoke Talent clients value. 

“We are hearing from our corporate clients that communication, flexibility and transparency are the skills they value most for freelancers,” said Erez. “These skills make companies want to keep working with freelancers in the long-term, and potentially increase work capacity with the freelancers that possess these skills.”

More transparency starts fairly easily. You can begin with a simple rule: whenever something affects the project at hand, share it. That starts with things like your prices and goes up to scope issues, bottlenecks, and anything else that can impact the client’s goal outcome.

Self-debriefs and post mortems

always run a debrief, even if you're the only one

If you’ve ever worked as an employee, you’re probably familiar with debriefs or post mortems. They are useful tools to learn what went well and what didn’t for each project. Keeping this process up as a freelancer is a crucial skill to learn. It can feel odd being every side of the conversation (since you don’t have a tema to talk to). However, a doing a self-debrief can help you a lot for the future.

“Self-debrief after a client engagement,” said Erez. “Research and analyze what went well, what could have been gone better, and how you are going to handle the next project.”

Read Next: 3 Experienced Freelancers Share How They Navigated COVID (And Their Tips for New Freelancers)

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