The Most Critical Factor to Freelance Success

SUMMARY: I attribute much of my success to my ability to take action. For me, taking action is more important than experience, attitude, skill or personality.

goalsLaunching a successful freelance business requires a certain degree of competence in your craft.

It also requires goals, courage, determination, discipline and purpose.

But over the years, I’ve come to realize that you need something else. Something more important.

You need to continually take action.

Even when you don’t yet have all the answers. And even when you don’t feel like it.

The Mark of a Successful Freelancer

I attribute much of my success to my ability to take action. For me, taking action is more important than experience, attitude, skill or personality.

I’m not alone here. Virtually every successful (financially and otherwise) person I know is continually taking action.

There’s a sense of urgency about everything they do. Not in a negative, “anxiety disorder” kind of way. Rather, you can sense that these people know what they want. They exude determination and confidence.

And they almost always reach their goals.

I’ve not always been this way. When I was trying to get my business off the ground, I spent a lot of time worrying about things that I now realize are trivial.

I spent a lot of time trying to get my logo just right. My website presentable. My message clean and refined. My portfolio nice and balanced.

In fact, I refused to go out looking for clients until I had all these pieces in place. I wanted everything to be perfect.

Now when I look back, I realize that I was stalling. Partly out of fear of making mistakes. And partly because many of us don’t want to settle for anything less than perfection.

Yet had I taken action when all those pieces were just “good enough,” I could have started making money a lot faster. And left my full-time job a lot sooner.

When you fail to act quickly, even when all the pieces aren’t in place, you lose focus. Inertia sets in.

As the weeks go by, the chances of your succeeding diminish — rapidly! And before you know it, you’ve lost your inner drive and focus.

Are You Stuck in a Rut?

I frequently hear from aspiring freelancers who are stuck in the same rut. Some don’t even realize they’re stalling.

Just the other day I got an email from a budding copywriter who has been working on his business for the last year. He proudly admitted that he was on his second round of logos, company name, business cards and website copy.

He hadn’t landed a single project yet. But he had spent the last 12 months getting everything “just right.” And he still had a few weeks to go before he was ready to prospect for clients.

A Simple Challenge

So what’s the solution? I’ll tell you what I told this copywriter:

If you’re serious about launching a successful business, promise yourself that you’ll do the following:

inventory checklist1) As soon as you finish reading this article, write down three simple and quick steps you can take in the next three days to get you closer to your goal. Pick something you could do immediately, something you can do tomorrow and something you can do the day after.

2) Treat these three tasks as if your life depended on your accomplishing them (this attitude is key!).

These tasks shouldn’t take you long to accomplish. Pick tasks that will give you quick wins, even if they’re small, psychological wins.

For instance, if one of your goals is to leave your job for a freelance career, decide the date by which you want to cut the employment “umbilical cord.” That could be one of your task — making that decision.

Or schedule a lunch appointment with a colleague to investigate potential project opportunities with her company. Or perhaps you can order a domain name for your website.

It doesn’t really matter what tasks you pick, as long as all three help get you closer to your goal.

Why It Works

Don’t underestimate the effect these baby steps will have on your psyche. Taking even the smallest action will start building the momentum you need to help keep you on the right path.

And his initial momentum will give you motivation…which will encourage you to take more action…which will build even greater momentum.

So don’t wait to promote your business until you have a logo, business cards, a great-looking website and an impressive portfolio. Don’t wait until you’re inspired, motivated or have all the answers.

Whether you act now or stall for another year, you’re going to make mistakes. That’s OK. Mistakes are a part of launching any business. Don’t worry about them.

Just get started somewhere right now! And see how quickly you achieve your goals.

In fact, why not add a bit of accountability to the mix and list your three tasks in the comments area below? Tell us what you'll do over the next three days.

You have nothing to lose. If anything, we'll all give you some good encouragement to help you get started.


  • Ziggy Kinsella

    Great post, just started freelancing before Christmas and it's beginning to build up with some good reviews. It's very tempting to sit on your behind and wait for it to come to you and get all anxious when it doesn't. I have a list of things to do each day, most of them quite small but they build up and they make a difference.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for your comment, Ziggy! Keep up that steady, daily effort. I've found that success as a soloist takes more effort than we initially estimate. And I agree with you -- little things repeated daily add up and crate a compounding effect over time.

  • Deidre

    I had no idea that perfectionism was that common among writers. In the next few days, I will mail out introductions to local businesses I've targeted, follow through on LinkedIn saved searches, and call an old prospect. Thank you for sharing, Ed!

    • edgandia

      Awesome! Way to go, Deidre. 🙂

  • Ozeditor

    Thanks Ed, I'm on this list thro' my work as a freelance editor, but I also run a B&B, and the latter is what sprung to mind when I starting writing the 3 steps. My immediate step was to contact 2 magazines for motorcycle enthusiasts and let them know I have parking for bikes (our town is on a popular route for bikers). Five minutes later I have a reply and the editor of one of the mags may come and stay at the B&B in a few weeks, to check it out! So thanks for the tip.
    cheers
    Hilary

    • Ozeditor

      Just wanted to share the success -- my email to the magazines got there just in time for them to add me to their news pages. Yesterday I received a fee copy of the Feb issue of one of the mags, and it had a great little article on my B&B, complete with photo, and I've already had a booking from someone who saw the ad!

      • edgandia

        That's super! Way to take fast action! Thanks for sharing this win.

  • JMT

    I sent out a mailing to a key target audience with a lovely flier and matching stationery, but a business card that had not yet been rebranded. I kind of closed my eyes and did it anyway. Well, I got my first monthly contract from that mailing. My client didn't care that the business card didn't match the rest of the collateral, or that I changed the business name shortly thereafter. She desperately needed help with the content of her website so she could launch it. Now I'm her website content manager. This is a great article. I need constant reminders not to get mired in the administrative details. Get to the marketing and the work already!

    • edgandia

      Way to go!! I bet you're glad you didn't wait until everything was "perfect" before sending out that campaign! 😉

  • RT

    I've started up my natural health practice in a new office. I'm going to buy furniture, put my business materials in the waiting area, and walk around the neighborhood to introduce myself to other complementary practitioners. Next week though, it's my birthday this weekend 🙂

    • edgandia

      There you go!!

  • Alan Steacy

    Ed, it's not nice to spy on me like that! Now that cat's out of the bag and I'd better take you advice and get into action. Copying promises #1 & #2 and posting on my wall... simple step number one, two more to go for today. Charge!

    • edgandia

      Alan - I have eyes everywhere! Mwah-ha-ha-ha! 🙂

  • Go true and timely for me!

    I've always felt like I needed to wait to makes things right and more appealing for clients.

    Thanks for the great reminder!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the feedback, Glori. Great to know this was timely. 🙂

      • Haha! Thanks for overlooking my comment mistakes! Just realized it! Lol.

  • Firedrill

    Great article. I made all of these very mistakes with the first iteration of my business – and this was when I had employees and office space. It was so frustrating. I knew I was being my own worst enemy, yet I didn't know why or what to do about it. I couldn't understand how my competitors around me were enjoying very successful design businesses just like mine with such meager brand identities, or marketing collateral or websites. Then it finally hit me that they weren't letting that stop them from getting business first, while developing their own branding in the background. It might not have been perfect, but it was good enough to get clients and make money. I, on the other hand, was in complete analysis paralysis, sabotaging my own success. Since then, I've reinvented myself as a freelancer, adopting these techniques and others, which have improved my business immensely. I no longer wait for my online portfolio to be completely up-to-date before doing a self-promotion. Or, wait for "that guy" to call me back who my brother's roommate's uncle's mechanic referred to me last week. I call them, and others, and get business first, and I just keep working on "me" in the background or when it slows down a bit. Ironically, I have much less "slow times" to do that stuff now, anyway! Thanks Ed.

    • edgandia

      There's magic in taking action. And you're living proof of this. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  • bethany lee

    This post is so incredibly freaking timely for me right now. I've been taking small steps, but it seems like I have things I have to wait on to happen before I can go too far. (i.e. spouse not wanting me to do everything all at once). But, I came up with three tasks (note: I'm starting an online health and fitness coaching business). 1. Find a date to launch my online business (I know it's January, but I need to nail down the actual date). 2. Take one video of myself that I can upload into my fitness video library. 3. Provide my test client her first workout program that she can follow. (FYI--I am currently a professional writer, slowly making my way to a different career).

    • edgandia

      Awesome! Love these steps. How's it going?

      • bethany lee

        Glad you asked!
        Step #1 Answer: January 6
        Step #2 Answer: I actually took 16 videos. Spent a whole morning working on this one.
        Step #3: I provided my client her first workout on the app I used. It wasn't good because I used videos that already existed on youtube. That's why I went back and filmed the fifteen videos. I have only uploaded one video, I still have fifteen more to edit and upload.
        Editing and uploading are my next project. 🙂
        I told you you inspired me!

        • edgandia

          LOVE it!!! You go, Bethany!

  • SETCorrect, LLC

    Great advice. I keep my list on my desk so it's the first thing I look at when I have a free block of time.

    • edgandia

      Great idea! Hard to ignore that way, right?

  • Amanda

    Excellent advice, Ed! I'm an established freelancer working to add a new specialty to my mix. I've trained my brains out but don't (yet) have a lot of real-world experience. I'm actually having to say "no" to some existing clients to make time/room for this new effort, which is pretty scary. This article is a great cure for overwhelm and over-awe. Well done, and thanks! Not listing my 3 steps for now, but I'm scheduled to open the Future File on Sunday and re-reading this article carefully will be at the top of the list.

    • edgandia

      Love it! Thanks, Amanda. Great to know this was helpful.

  • Lynda

    I have been freelancing for 5 years, and am currently in the process of rebranding. I am definitely stuck in the "everything must be perfect" phase. Thanks for the motivator!

    • edgandia

      The "everything must be perfect" thing is much more prevalent than you'd think. Don't feel bad. But it's good that you've recognized it and are seeing it for what it is.

  • So timely for me! I just clued in to this a few days ago and it's exactly what I've been doing. It boils down to my worry about lack of comparable writing samples. So, I researched what to do about that and have my steps figured out. I start next week with action.

    • edgandia

      Love it! Great to hear this was timely info, Rhonda!

  • Soumen

    Fantastic tips Ed! Most of us wait for the perfect moment but lose precious moments in the process.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the feedback!

  • MariaN.

    The issue for many, Ed, is not whether they take the steps to accomplish their goals -- although the steps you outlined are good ones. It's whether the goals they have match their specific talents. I would venture to say we all want to bring our unique value to bear on whatever we do in life, but peripheral considerations always threaten to overwhelm the main one: finding out what that unique value is and writing goals to further that. This is not to belie what you said, which is good advice when you're sure of what you want, and not of what you think you ought to want.

    • edgandia

      I agree completely, Maria. No point in getting in your car and driving to Los Angeles if there's no reason for your to go to Los Angeles. Better to take some time to make sure you know WHY you want to go where you *think* you want to go. Clarity of purpose and clarity of your own gifts -- those are essential. Thanks for sharing this. Very important.