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What Top Freelancers Have in Common

All kinds of professionals are leaving behind the 9-5 grind in favor of project-based work. In fact, 55 millions Americans — representing 35% of the workforce — are now engaged in some kind of freelance work. While the rationale behind the move from fulltime to freelance is varied, there are lots of advantages to this kind of work.

Plenty of people wonder not only if contracting is right for them, but if they have the chops to hack it in this world. The reality is that there are many paths to becoming a freelancer, and no specific education or work history is required.

Just ask Sean Kesterson, a multi-disciplinary designer and illustrator who has been freelancing since 2011 for clients like Apple, Volcom, Qualcomm and COX Communication. Sean points out that while some individuals want to freelance right out of school, others prefer working in full time roles, learning from mentors and teammates. According to Sean, both routes work, it just depends on your motivation.

Read on for some of the things that the most successful freelancers have in common and advice from Sean on what hiring managers look for.  

A fresh perspective

One of the most valuable attributes any freelancer brings to a new team is a new perspective. Unlike full-time employees who can sometimes be so close to a project that they aren’t able to see weaknesses in the strategy or get a sense for what the next steps should be, freelancers come to the table with a fresh set of eyes. This ability to see things in a different light can be hugely valuable when a team has hit a dead end.

Sean notes that being able to point to examples where you’ve breathed new life into a project or suggested a new way of doing things is a surefire way to impress a hiring manager and demonstrate the value that you would bring.

Self confidence and solid listening skills

Diving in as a freelancer can be an anxiety-inducing proposition. Often times, the projects in question lack structure and clarity, and knowing where to start or who to ask for help can feel overwhelming. For these reasons, confidence is key. The company brought you in for a reason — they need your skillset. While it can be intimidating to navigate the politics and structure of an unfamiliar organization, you’ll start to develop this muscle over time and will ultimately have a process in place for getting the lay of the land.


There’s another skill that goes hand in hand with confidence when you’re working freelance: top-notch listening skills. Being an excellent listener will not only help you understand the nuances of a given project, it will help you pick up on important cues from your manager and coworker that are essential to assimilating into new surroundings. As Sean points out, “Great freelancers are highly collaborative and communicative while understanding that their work is just a piece of the pie on a granular level.”

Motivation and drive

One of the most commonly cited reasons for going freelance is the ability to work on a range of diverse projects, sharpen one’s skillsets and gain exposure to a variety of different industries. That said, solving difficult problems and taking stagnant projects to the next level requires a strong internal drive.

Some freelancers don’t have a lot of day-to-day supervision and simply turn over a project at the end of their time with a given company. And most don’t get to see the project they’re working on truly come to fruition — a moment that motivates many permanent workers. All of this means they must find the motivation to press on from within.

Going freelance is a big decision and should not be taken lightly, but the good news is that there are plenty of resources available to help you decide whether this is the right path for you. If the qualities listed above sound like you, then consider giving this a shot. Many of the individuals who go freelance absolutely love it and wouldn’t dream of going back to the full-time world. You might ultimately be one of them!