That side hustle has become many people's main hustle--and as a result, the freelancer market is heavily saturated. There are pretty much always tons of freelancers available to take on work -- which in theory means brands have tons of options when they need quality work done. But the key word here is quality: It's crucial, but not all freelancers deliver it. At my company, Masthead Media, we rely heavily on freelancers for everything from writing, to editing and project management; and because we're determined never to let our clients down, we just won't work with freelancers who let us down.

That means when we find amazing talent, we truly value those people and turn to them first when new opportunities arise. We also pay them well.

How do you become a freelancer that's always working--and can command a serious six figure salary? Read on for best practices from my own experience with freelancer, as well as tips from my Masthead colleagues.

1. Meet your deadlines

It may seem obvious, but there are lots of freelancers who regularly breeze past deadlines -- sometimes without any communication. Set yourself up for client success by simply always meeting yours.

"If something comes up last minute where a deadline absolutely can't be met (such as [a death] or your computer has fallen into the ocean...basically the only legitimate excuses I can think of that you wouldn't know about in advance, communicate like crazy," says Caila Ball-Dionne, Masthead's Director of Editorial Operations. "The worst feeling as an employer with clients is not being able to meet your client deadline because you are waiting on a deliverable and have no idea when you are going to receive it."

Bonus points if you deliver your work before deadline -- your editor or project manager will love you if they have an extra day or two to work, and they'll know they can rely on you in the future.

2. Make yourself available

Yes, part of the benefit of freelancing is being able to set your own schedule and work from anywhere in the world -- but many of your clients work traditional 9-to-5 hours in certain time zones. If you want to be called upon -- a lot -- make sure you have a super strong WiFi and phone connection and can accept meeting invites on client hours.

And if you're going to be unavailable at any point (whether it's for a weeklong vacation or a day of doctor's appointments), give your regular clients a head's up -- well in advance. "Get it on their calendar early so they can plan around it," Ball-Dionne says. "On that note, if you have outstanding assignments going on while you are out, present the solution to them of how it will be handled (which should never be, 'We'll push the client deadline')."

3. Demonstrate flexibility

In an ideal world, all assignments would be very explicitly outlined right from the start and never change from there. But that's not always realistic: Sometimes clients just have to make shifts in strategy, and sometimes they simply change their minds. In those cases, "be flexible when you can," Ball-Dionne says. "This does not mean let yourself get trampled on, but if there are slight changes to an assignment that, in the grand scheme of things, are not going to create an excessive amount of work, roll with them."

4. Be proactive and positive

Sometimes standing out in a huge pool of freelancers is as simple as taking small proactive measures, like finding out how your project manager or editor likes to share information (such as via Slack, Basecamp, email, or on calls) and following their style of communication. It's not always necessary, but will certainly help get you into their good graces! And when challenges arise (an inevitability), don't wait to be told what to do, or groan when you're asked to address them. We love freelancers who address them with a positive attitude, and who come to the conversation with potential solutions.

5. Treat yourself as a small business

You may be one person, but you're running a business -- so it's important to act that way. And while you're treating yourself like the small business you are, make sure to treat your clients as just that. "I really appreciate when freelancers treat me as a client [by] presenting things when they are client ready and coming to your client with solutions, not complaints," Ball-Dionne says. "Treating yourself as a business means keeping track of your own invoices (not asking a client if you've invoiced them yet, [thus] putting the work on them), and being as buttoned up as a small business owner has to be to retain clients."

6. Sell yourself

This can be tough, especially for people in creative fields or those who aren't very outspoken. But in order to gain and maintain business, you have to not only do good work, but also make sure people know about it. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated (and don't skip the summary!). Even if you're not looking for a full-time job, it's hugely helpful to agencies and brands to see what you're up to, and what you specialize in.

And it's worthwhile to think beyond LinkedIn as well. "Some freelancers send out infrequent newsletters with recent clips, or...emails announcing a great new project they're working on," says Kathleen Engle, Masthead's Associate Editorial and Marketing Manager. "I think both are really fantastic. Since these emails are not personal [or] directed to me, I don't feel like I have to respond, and sometimes I see something that's really interesting and will help me keep the freelancer at the top of my mind."

7. Hone your specialties

While you're selling yourself, it's good to have a specialty front-and-center. At Masthead, we love putting freelancers on projects who understand how to report on very specific aspects of an industry. Whether you're passionate about reporting on driverless cars, blockchain, or eyebrow art, make that clear.

8. Stick to email, and keep it professional

Unless a client requests a phone call, it's best to keep your communication to email. "This is especially true for freelancers, because they're from all over the place," Engle says. "When I get a call at 7 p.m. from New Mexico, I'm probably not going to answer."

And keep your emails clean, courteous, and professional: Engle cautions against adding in gifs or "unnecessary elements" like quotes, images, or copy-heavy email signatures. As for frequency, "if you're following up with your editor or project manager, don't send more than one to two emails within a week," she says. "Basically, don't pester them every day."

9. Know when to say "no."

It's hard to turn down business; and if you're available, saying yes to as many client requests as possible is a great way to show them you're dedicated and up for the job. But, Ball-Dionne advises, "say no when you are overloaded. Don't let your client work suffer because you've taken on too much. It's also good when you say no for the reason that you are overloaded to let a client know your plate is full now, but you will be more available on [a specific] date, if you have that information."

Published on: Nov 30, 2018