Best core skills for freelancing -- according to five award-winning creatives

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Having last month joined more than 400 freelancers in London at our eighth annual Freelancer Awards, where the very best self-employed people operating in the UK today were spotlighted, I can absolutely share with you some of the traits that have made them undisputed -- and now confirmed -- winners of independent work, writes Shib Mathew (pictured), founder and executive chairman of freelancer management system YunoJuno.

But I’d rather you hear it first from the victors themselves.

After all, it is them who have used our freelance management system, which helps clients such as Google, the BBC and Netflix find, hire, manage and pay them as freelancers, and it is them who have put in the hard graft. Often totally singlehandedly!

1. When starting out, you must be adept (if not comfortable) at multi-tasking

Recalling how she had to wear multiple hats just to get her business off the ground, is freelance creative designer Demi Mason, YunoJuno’s Creative Freelancer of the Year 2022:

Researching the market to find out what my skills were worth; trying not to overprice or devalue myself; being on-time creating, and [then, finally] submitting invoices to clients”, she says, breathlessly.

“Then [there’s more]. Sending all this information through to an accountant once a year to comply with UK tax law! It really put my organisational skills to the test, as I had to operate like a business. A one-woman business.”

As you can see, freelancers by their very nature are entrepreneurial, resourceful and engaged on multiple-fronts!

Their business may only consist of themselves, like Demi’s, but they are no less driven by many of the same metrics that startup founders obsess over – such as getting the books balanced and filed, retaining clients and pricing themselves fairly for the next job or commission.

2. Freelancers must be nimble, agile, and ready to deploy rapidly

“I relish the variety of experiences freelancing offers [as] I get to work with fantastic talent, always on interesting pieces of business [but most of all], I like parachuting in”, says brand, communications and customer-mindfulness expert Nina Stephenson-Camps, YunoJuno's Client Services Freelancer of the Year 2022.

“Rolling my sleeves up and settling a team or client, leading creative and reimagining processes…[often quickly or at short-notice, is more than just] interesting!”

Nina’s testimony for this FreelanceUK article confirms what we’ve long-heard from clients and the 12,000 companies that use our freelancer management system. And it’s this – a freelancer’s true currency is not only the quality of their work but also how efficiently they are able to demonstrate their unique set of skills.

More often than not, there is simply not enough time on projects to onboard a freelancer in the same manner as their permanent counterparts. And so it’s vital a freelancer can jump in and deliver value from the outset. Hitting the ground running is a must.

3. Successful self-employed recognise the value in tone, poise, and a ‘can-do’ attitude

“The fact that I'm incredibly enthusiastic and upbeat has been a big help to me getting where I am,” confesses freelance web developer and programming-led artist David Woollard.

“I've worked with some fantastically skilled and hard-working developers, but most of us are much better at communicating with machines than they are with actual human beings!

“Being an approachable person….has definitely helped me in my [self-employed] career journey.”

We’d echo this from David, YunoJuno's Freelance Developer of the Year. So regardless of discipline, specialism, and even challenges of a project, being able to communicate in a rapport-building way is key at every turn for a freelancer.

Being able to clearly articulate and fluently share details of your core specialism to a wider team is a massive plus as a freelancer, but often that only comes about from already having a great working relationship with everyone initially involved -- say on the front-end of a project, even if that ‘everyone’ is a single decision-maker.

In short, if you don’t gel with Peter, or at least convince him you’re trying or worth your salt, he’s unlikely to introduce you to Paul.

4. Freelancers who make it bide their time, persevere, and put in hard graft

Graphic designer and animator Nick Martin, YunoJuno Film and Motion Freelancer of the Year says: “Slowly but surely, I managed to gather more of my own clients and build good relationships.

“There was no quick fix for this. Just doing the time, always looking for opportunities, improving and giving 100% -- even on the more ‘bread and butter’ projects. [My goal was] so that I became the first person these clients came to for the more exciting ones.”

So persevere and you can become the ‘go-to’ freelancer, exactly as Nick says. I’d underline the point here about being patient while keeping diligent. Very rarely does an amazing project simply land in a freelancer’s lap but rather, the groundwork they have laid in their many previous projects usually enables them to build a reputation by which future clients gain real confidence in their ability to deliver.

5. Super self-employed know the look n’ feel of success, as rewards make it all worthwhile

“If you want to go fast, go alone,” says podcaster Harriet Stockwell, YunoJuno Freelance Impact of the Year joint-winner, in a call to action for any creative type wondering whether to make the jump into freelancing.

Flanked by joint-winner and fellow podcaster Britney Beeby, Stockwell adds: “[Our] ‘That Freelance Life’ podcast has been a labour of love to give back to the community that has given so much to us. To then be recognised by the very community that got us off our chairs and into freelance [working] is just incredible.”

My thoughts on the best core skills you need for freelance success

From my perspective, the best freelancers make themselves indispensable to clients, not only because of their expertise but also the part they play in fostering the end-user’s culture and adding to it by bringing in new ideas from previous projects and organisations.

A freelancer has an incredibly unique vantage point here. They bring new ideas to enhance a project and take away a view of a client that spreads the reputation of that organisation throughout the wider market. The sheer frequency of this exchange makes it so much more powerful than when a long term, permanent employee transitions to a new role!

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