Freelance careers are unlike traditional employed careers in that the path is less binary. If you work for a company there is a clear path to the top; hard work means more promotions means more pay means more prestige. As a freelancer, however, it can seem tricky and often mysterious when it comes to carving your own path. 

To save you some time, we have carved out the basic stages of a freelance career to help you check in on where you’re at and stay focused on your journey. 

The Beginner Stage: Building Your Name, Reputation and Credibility

  • Beginner freelancers start their journey to build an independent reputation and client base.
  • They are typically offered smaller tasks and less critical work.
  • They are managed closely and often feel as though they are a directed “pair of hands” until they show what they can achieve independently, without oversight.
  • Eagerness to assist, and a willing acceptance of direction are essential in this beginner stage.
  • The freelancer accepts their limits and works through them.
  • The best performers understand the norms of client organisations and operate accordingly.
  • Creativity and initiative are valued, but only after basic competence is assured.  Until the individual shows mastery of the fundamentals, they lack the standing to credibly recommend alternatives.      

The Intermediate Stage: Technical Expertise Grows

  • Technical expertise is the necessary condition for success in the intermediate stage but strong intermediate freelancers bring more.
  • They must be comfortable operating with limited supervision and support, able to get the job done within the timeframe, finding solutions to problems, and overcoming obstacles.
  • The most successful are easy to work with, and have good business and interpersonal skills.
  • Accountability for results completes the performance cycle; at this stage, successful freelancers know “you are only as good as your last performance.”
  • They have learned to accept responsibility for disappointments as readily as they do accolades for success, and must be excellent at learning from these experiences and remaining up to date.
  • The ability to operate independently (and often remotely) and produce expected results.
  • Strong planning and project management skills
  • Good team and interpersonal skills; easy to work with. 

The Advanced Stage: Contribute to the Growth of the Industry

  • Advanced stage freelancers have their finger on the pulse of their tech, and see the broader implications of key trends and developments.
  • Individuals break free of the limitations of individual effort by formally or informally leading others, or mentoring junior professionals, often including client project leads.
  • Their contribution to developing professionals, and the reputation they earn within their professional community, is how their network grows.
  • Grow in technical breadth and perspective; seeing the “bigger picture”
  • Support the development and performance of more junior freelancers or people within their network.
  • Learn to lead and consult, formally or informally.
  • Broaden their professional and industrial networks.

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