To Be Successful In Freelancing, Start Doing These Simple Things

Marilyn Wo
Mar 12 · Unlisted

Schedule Everything

Blocking time off to do anything is one of the best thing I’ve ever done to get things done.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Brain dump everything, be it my own work or client’s work, lunch, kids, etc.
  2. Go back to the top, put down a time estimate I need to complete each task.
  3. On a calendar, fit in all items into weeks, days and time slots.
  4. Create notifications to remind myself of the deadlines and act on them — no need to pay for fancy tools, Asana is free and work well. You may use only Google Calendar and that works well too.

Here’s how my Asana tasks look like on a particular week:

That said, I learned to always give myself a deadline the hard way.

I used to just let things happen, not knowing how purposefully and intentionally scheduling can help me.

In those days, if nothing spurs me to take action, I forget about it until one fine day something tells me to do something about it.

By then so much time has passed, I get overwhelmed and put it aside until another day like that happens again.

This has been repeating for far too many times in my life.

Time is not a renewable resource and since I have a life deadline like anyone, I should break down my life’s timeline to smaller timelines, act on them, fulfil the mini goals before I die.

This helps make sure the work I need to do gets done to bring me closer to my life and business goals.

Be Consistent

Rome was not built in a day.

Same for all businesses and everything in life, only consistent actions toward your goals will bring about the most impact for you to succeed.

You may be able to start a freelance business in a day just by selling time, but to build and grow a sustainable business to help you thrive, you will have to find what works.

Knowing what works is the start, while using the same method as consistently as possible for a longer period of time will bring you one step forward.

Each day of work is a baby step that will build upon each other if you keep at it.

The more times you do it, the higher you move up the ladder.

Great work is built over time.

Wealth is built over time.

Success takes time.

Ask Great Questions

When I first started out as a freelancer, I received advise from many people to ask great questions.

But how do you know if your questions are great?

In short, they must be inline with your vision and goals, and nobody is judging here.

In my experience, the great questions emerged by first creating questions from what I’ve learned in the past.

It’s much like writing, doing craft or creative work, the more you do in the shortest time, the quicker you find your voice.

Hence, the more questions you ask, the sooner you find yourself asking questions leading to answers that mould your freelancing business and future.

Here are some to get you started:

  1. Why are you sacrificing other things to build your own business?
  2. Why can’t you just find a job that pays you a regular salary?
  3. Why is it not just about money?
  4. Why did you choose this business?
  5. Why will people pay you for your service?
  6. Why should your business even exist?
  7. Why are you doing this?
  8. Why do you need to make X amount of money a month?

Next, set a day and timeline of 30 minutes to pen down your answers.

Giving yourself a timeline is key, otherwise, it’s easy to procrastinate and that may take you longer to take action to achieve your goals.

Create a Service Product

Or you may be familiar how Brian Casel terms it as “Productised Service”.

This simply means, instead of offering anything that your clients are asking for, you are packaging your services to fixed items.

It’s just like a box of chocolate cake premix where people can buy off the shelf instead of them asking you to add or remove more ingredients.

All ingredients are packed in one and come in one price.

Providing too many customised items for too long is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a freelance graphic designer.

The best move I’ve ever made was to package my service into a product where the items to be delivered are the same for every customer, such that the expertise or skillset required to produce the items is limited to a very tight range.

The design of the item is still customised based on the client’s brand, so long the expertise range that has been packaged up can deliver that.

If I can’t do that, I tell my clients that I am not an expert in what they need, and refer them to someone else who can do that better.

With this way of working, I don’t have to wait till I meet the next customer to know what to create.

I am able to set up standardised templates, files and graphics just once. Later these will then be used to adjust to the specific client’s brand. When another client comes along, this process will be repeated.

The wrong mindset I had in the past was to only focus on working hard to produce the end result.

I thought that I must spend more time on one thing to churn quality work.

I knew working smart trumps working hard, but I did not know what it means by working smart.

In this case, it’s to create a system such that there’s never a need to repeat the same process again.

There’s a reason why SOPs are Standard Operating Procedures.

There are so many standard items being used in all customised work.

In this way, I’ve saved much more time to be catered to marketing my service.

Come up with a Marketing Plan

Why do you need a marketing plan?

Actually, you don’t need one if you don’t mind regretting you should have started earlier in future.

Getting visibility takes time.

Here’s a very short story of what I mean:

In November 2015, I signed up for the Standard Chartered marathon of 42KM.

I wasn’t mad, in fact thousands of people signed up and went for it.

What was mad is, before the race, the furthest I ran was 10KM.

That’s not even a half marathon.

And the last time I ran before race day was 3 months back.

How did I do? I kept my pace very well, going strong from 5KM mark, still holding on.

Then at 15KM onwards, my feet gave way, my calves cramped up and I can only walk to simply move on.

I wasn’t panting, but my legs couldn’t bring me any faster than limping.

I could have stopped and taken a bus home from there, but something inside me wants to keep going.

Finally at 27KM I was the last of the pack.

Everyone was ahead of me or left the run for good.

I wasn’t exhausted, but my legs just couldn’t resist the distance any longer.

I wanted to complete, not for the money or for fame.

I just wanted to prove to myself that I’ve completed a marathon.

Reflecting upon this, what is the lesson here?

Nobody can easily complete the marathon in one day just by doing it without prior planning and training for it.

You don’t expect to finish it without giving your body and muscles time to adjust to the distance and impact.

Hence, you need to plan.

That’s why registration of such events are always ahead of time.

What should I have done?

I should have committed to training for it at least 8 months ahead of the race. Starting with 15 minutes run on the first week, then 2KM, then 5KM and so on.

In this way, I’m progressively feeding my muscles, and when it’s time for the marathon, I will be closer to finishing it without the bad experience of limping.

It’s not even the timing that I should be concerned with.

It’s the finishing.

Same with marketing, it’s all about trust and it’s not about you and me, it’s about our customers, clients and people who find us reliable for them to take out their credit cards to exchange for our services.

With that,

How do you earn that trust?

Here’s how you can plan your lead up to a sale:

  1. List down what do you want to achieve in 6 months time, or 1 year’s time
  2. Break it down into steps that lead up to your end goal
  3. At every step, ask yourself where is it that differentiates yourself from your competition
  4. How does your customer look at you
  5. Who do you wish to attract
  6. Take all the action you need to achieve all the above. For example: posting on social media, emailing your prospects, reaching out to prospects via Facebook, liking their posts, reading their posts, etc…

What Have You Learned?

It’s not easy to be successful, but once you chunk down the big “success” word, you’ll see that it’s made up of just 4 letters: S, U, C and E.

Point is, success is what works best for you, and the steps to take you there are not complicated, they can be done by anyone.

You just got to start and stick with it.

You can do this.


Marilyn Wo

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Helping you with unlimited graphic design. Download free illustrations at Cofounder/CEO of

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