Five Ways to Kill It as a Freelancer

girl with coffee and iPad

It used to be that if you described yourself as “freelance,” people didn’t take you seriously. Not anymore.

A recent survey by the consulting firm MBO partners estimates that by 2020, at least half of the country’s workforce will have gone freelance at some point, either by choice or necessity.

That sounds serious to us. The surge in independent contractors means more respect and support for the freelance moniker, yes—but it also means fiercer competition. If you want to earn big, you have to think big—reinventing, both yourself and your business to keep that crucial edge. Here’s how:

1.Don’t go with the status quo
There’s a lot to love about loyal customers funneling projects your way. But if you coast on that work flow without regularly assessing your goals, your clients will end up driving your career rather than the other way around.

Plus, you risk losing touch with what’s going on in your field, warns Michelle Goodman, author of My So-Called Freelance Life.  Besides setting several concrete goals for the year—to make $100, 000; to contact 10 new companies and show them how you could help them—come up with at least one dream goal that you feel truly passionate about (maybe you’re making corporate videos but you’d love to do a documentary about sex trafficking in Thailand.).

Set aside time (an afternoon a week?) to work on that bigger project. Far from wasting time on something that isn’t immediately profitable, you’ll be helping your business, organically building new networks and absorbing ideas. Plus, nothing squelches procrastination faster than keeping long-term goals simmering on a front burner.

2.Charge more than you think you can get.

To calculate your fees, use Freelanceswitch’s online calculator to insure that you’ll be covering your overhead, health insurance, taxes, retirement contributions and, of course, that you’ll have a profit left over. “If no client ever says, ‘Whoa! I can’t afford you!’ you’re probably underselling yourself,” says Goodman.

And tough as it can be for women (that people-pleasing thang), stop under-charging–or working for free–every time you do a project for a friend or a friend of a friend. “Would you ever give someone part of your paycheck?” asks Goodman. Right. So don’t. And you’ll garner more respect—and paid work.

3.Milk your social network.

You’ll never keep up with every new development on your own without a little help from your friends, so if you’ve gone a few months without getting to know someone new in your field or in a related one, reach out, suggests Goodman.

Check out local creative-freelancer or industry events; biznik and Mediabistro can connect you to theirs. If you consider networking to be an odious chore, tweak your thinking: One of the advantages of freelancing is coming into contact with a variety of smart, interesting people. Business guru Seth Godin calls it finding your tribe. Who knows who’ll inspire or support you next?

4.Kiss perfectionism g’bye.

“Remember, clients aren’t judging you, they’re judging one project,” says Goodman. And every project is revisable. Besides, endless protectionism can cost you. If you’re spending too much time revising and re-revising, write down how many hours you’ve spent on a task. Then get out your calculator and divide your fee by that number. How much is it netting you an hour? Don’t you deserve a little more than that?

5.Define yourself.

Pick three words or phrases to describe your unique value proposition. Results-Driven Powerhouse? Creative Network-Builder? Keep those words in mind when meet new clients this year. People employed by a company have that firm’s brand behind them. You have to carry yours with you and within you. You are what you believe yourself to be, and your clients will respond to that.