If you want to be successful as a freelancer in this digital sphere, there are things that you need to succeed. And while some of them may seem a little obvious, I’m going to state them anyway because I’ve seen people make these mistakes. So, let’s talk about the things you need to really set you apart in this digital world of freelancing.
Mandatory Tool #1 – A Reliable Computer
You might be thinking that’s obvious. If you want to work as a digital freelancer of course you need a computer, but I can’t tell you how many times over the past twenty years I’ve been working with freelancers and they say to me: “Oh I’m days behind.” So, I ask why, and they say: “Well, my computer died,” or “my hard drive fried” or “my computer crashed.”
Look, time is money in the digital freelancing world and as a digital freelancer you will rely on your computer. It is an absolutely necessary component of your success. So, you need a reliable computer.
Now I can’t tell you what type of computer you need because different types of freelancing require different types of computers. If you’re a VA and using Google docs, websites, and other light stuff like that, then you don’t need a super powerful computer. An average computer will be fine.
However, if you’re a video editor or a graphics person or a coder, then you need a more powerful computer. Remember, as a freelancer, you’re investing your time and getting paid for the time you’re investing. So if you have a slow computer and it takes you ten percent longer to do everything, then you can increase your productivity by ten percent if you simply upgrade your computer. That’s ten percent more income for you!
So, what do you need in terms of a computer?
At the very minimum, you need a computer that can handle the tasks your job requires at an efficient rate. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a PC or Mac, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s a desktop or a laptop. You will get more bang for your buck with a desktop, but one of the beauties of freelancing is that you can work from anywhere, so if you want that freedom then a laptop is perfectly fine.
I personally don’t use a desktop because I love being able to pack up my laptop and bring it with me wherever I go, a coffee shop, vacation, anywhere. I always have my business right there with me.
Mandatory Tool #2 – Reliable High-Speed Internet
Again, it may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but trust me, I am stating these things because people have made these mistakes. You absolutely must have a reliable high-speed internet connection.
This is super important because if you don’t have a reliable high-speed internet connection, you risk making your client very unhappy. If your client sends you a file and it takes you forever to download it? You will have an unhappy client. If you’re trying to have a video conference and your internet keeps dropping? Unhappy client. If a client is trying to get a hold of you for something important, and your internet’s out? You guessed it – unhappy client.
And the last thing you want is an unhappy client, especially over something as simple and preventable as an internet connection.
The rule of thumb for the average freelancer is 20mbps down and five megabits up, minimum. That will likely serve all your needs. But keep in mind that if you’re doing video stuff and/or graphics, and you’re moving around large files, then you will need a faster connection.
If I hire someone and they’re billing on a project per hour basis and their internet is slow, I’m going to move on. I had a client once in Manilla who was doing video work, and his video would take forever to upload because his internet was so painfully slow. He eventually had to upgrade.
So, at the very least you need to have a connection that can handle a video conference. And I also recommend that you have some sort of backup connection. This may not be necessary depending on what you’re doing, but I require it of my fulltime employees. A back up connection can be cellular, because most of us have cell phones and our phones have fast connection. This way, no matter where you are in the world, if your main internet goes down, you can at least communicate via your backup.
So do yourself a favor. Invest in a reliable high-speed internet. Time is money, and if you waste your time, or your client’s time with an unreliable, slow connection, you will end up losing money, or even worse, losing clients.
Mandatory Tool #4 - A Headset
As a digital freelancer, you need a headset. Why? Because you need to be able to talk to people online. In many cases, when someone hires you, they will want to talk to you. They will want to talk to you on Skype, or on Zoom, or on something like that. And I’ll be honest, there have been people I haven’t hired simply because I couldn’t hear them during an interview.
I’ve had people show up and the background’s been so noisy, I couldn’t hear a thing they were saying. You might have the best skillset in the world, but if I can’t communicate with you, if I can’t hear you and you can’t hear me during an interview, what do you think my first impression is?
Again, this is such a simple problem to fix. Don’t use the little mike that’s built into your computer. It’s crummy. Get a Logitech USB Headset with a noise cancelling mic. You can pick one up for around twenty or thirty dollars. This way, if you are in a coffee shop, or your children are upstairs trampling around like elephants, or there’s construction right outside your window, you can still have a good conversation.
Gone are the days of only communicating via messaging. This is still one way to communicate, sure, but most clients will expect a face-to-face, or at least a voice-to-voice at some point during a project. Small projects, like the ones you find on Fiverr, won’t require this, but any significant project with any significant client likely will. Which leads us to the next mandatory tool…
Mandatory Tool #5 - A Webcam
When you’re dealing with clients who are hiring you for bigger projects or long-term tasks, they’re going to want to talk to you in Zoom or Skype or any other platform of choice. Now, too many people just fire up their laptop and use the built-in camera. But please take heed when I say - those cameras are terrible!
Please don’t use the built-in camera; go out and a get a decent webcam. Something as simple as a Logitech or Microsoft USB camera will more than serve its purpose. They offer much better video quality and it’s these little things that will set you apart from the competition. Let’s look at it this way:
Mark wants to hire a freelancer for a big project. But before he hires one, he wants to speak with his shortlist candidates via Skype first for a quick interview. Both the candidates have the same skill set. They are both around the same price. And they both have equal experience. Ruth is up first. She logs on. She has a strong internet connection and a good headset. She can be heard clearly, and she has a clear streaming video. Sally logs on next. She doesn’t have a headset and her background is noisy. The client can barely hear her. Her video is crummy. Her internet drops.
Who do you think Mark is going to hire?
These are the easy wins, people. These are the small things that you can do that will help set you apart.
Mandatory Tool #5 – A Workspace
As a digital freelancer, you no longer go to an office, but you do still need some sort of workplace at home.
One of the biggest challenges I see when people transition from a traditional workplace, like an office, to a home-based business, like freelancing, is that they are now faced with so many distractions. The laundry, the children, a significant other – working from home comes with a barrage of ‘other things’ you can do that will pull you away from your work. Which is why you need a dedicated working space.
You need a space where you can be productive, and while you’re in that space, you need to dedicate yourself to working.
Now, I can’t tell you how to set up your workspace because everyone is different. My wife, for example, loves having background noise while she works. She’ll be in her home office, crunching numbers (she’s my CFO) and she’ll have TV shows on and background noise. But me? I need dead quiet, so everybody’s different.
A dedicated workspace also looks a lot more professional when you’re on those video calls with clients. Because here’s another lesson I’d like to pass on to you. Just because you CAN work from anywhere, doesn’t mean you should.
I had an interview once with a fairly well-known copywriter. We scheduled a time to meet days in advance to discuss the project to see if he was a fit. And I would have been a big client for him.
The time for the meeting comes and he logs on and I can see that he’s sitting on a sidewalk in a city somewhere. He doesn’t have a headset, and I don’t even know if he was on his laptop or if he was trying to talk to me on his phone. So the entire conversation becomes: ‘huh? What? I can’t hear you, there’s too much noise.’
Want to know how that ended? It ended with me hiring someone else. Because if that’s how serious you’re going to take the interview process, how serious are you going to take the project I send you?
My point is, there are standards when it comes to professionalism. Conduct your interviews at home, in a proper workspace, with a headset and web cam. Do not conduct your interviews on a sidewalk from your phone.
Mandatory Tool #6 – Relevant Software
This is pretty straightforward. This is the software every freelancer should have.
- Skype. Skype has become the go-to communication tool for people to communicate back and forth. Skype has great video conferencing and it’s free to use. If you don’t have Skype, you need to get it. There are other apps, but when it comes to business, Skype is the number one platform.
- Google apps. This is the only other tool you’re going to need that is standard across all freelancers. Google docs, Google sheets, stuff like that. This is what most freelancers are using so make sure you have Google apps.
- Niche Specific Applications. You need to look at your specific niche and the software you need to deliver your projects because as a freelancer, you are responsible for having that software. When I hire someone to write something for me, I don’t give them a license for Microsoft Word; I expect they have it. When I hire someone to do graphic design, I’m not going to give them a license for Photoshop; I expect they have that, too.
Based on what you do, what software do you need? Make sure you have those licenses.
Mandatory Tool #7 – A Back-Up System
This is such an important one. In fact, it’s so important, I need to say this one again.
You have to have a backup system!
Your computer must be backed up, and all your clients’ files must be backed up in real time. I have had freelancers working on big projects, and this has happened at least half a dozen times. They say, ‘oh, I was working on the project and it was almost done (whether it was writing or designing or coding) ‘but my hard drive crashed, and I lost everything.’ And then they sit there in silence, HOPING I’m going to say, ‘no worries – keep working on it and I’ll pay you.’
But that does not happen. That will never happen. Because, and I know it sounds harsh, your bad planning doesn’t mean that your client should have to spend more money.
So what typically happens is I say “You’re going to need to redo all that work on your own time. Or I just move onto somebody else.”
In this day and age there is zero excuse whatsoever for losing documents and files. All you need to do is go to Dropbox or Google Drive and sign up and make sure that any client stuff you’re working on is in your Dropbox or Google Drive. This way, any time you make a change, it’s uploaded, and it’s updated. I use Google Drive – my entire team uses Google Drive.
When I hire contractors, I make sure that we’re sharing files using Google Drive – and everything is backed up every single time so there is zero excuse for losing files. You should also back up your hard drive from time to time as well.
Bonus Tool #1– Dual Monitors
This is not necessary, but it’s something I personally couldn’t live without. If you are a freelancer, productivity is your friend. The more you work the more you get paid and dual monitors will increase your workflow exponentially.
They provide faster multi-tasking which increases productivity. And monitors are cheap today. It’s an investment that will pay back ten-fold. If you have a laptop, you can plug a monitor into it and you’ve instantly got dual monitors.
Bonus Tool #2 – A Standing Desk
This is for anyone who works at computers regularly. One of the worst things we are doing for our health as a human species is sitting. Sitting is the new disease and it’s killing us. We sit all day, every day, but our bodies were not designed for sitting, so standing desks are a great way to stay healthier.
You can get them at Ikea, or most furniture stores. Basically, how they work is they go up and down so you don’t have to stand all the time; you can stand, or you can sit. And by shifting your position throughout the day, you increase your energy and your focus.
They’ve done studies, and if you stand for a better part of your day, you’re going to live longer. And, at the end of the day, our health is the most important thing we have. If we don’t have our health, we can’t take care of our families and we can’t take care of our business. A standing desk is one simple way you can be healthier.