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February 13, 2008
Building a Successful Business as a Freelancer

Eleven years ago, I drove home on the New Jersey Turnpike in a shocking state of bewilderment. I had only just handed my then manager their gray, corporate-owned, incommodious desktop slash laptop slash docking-station in exchange for the unpredictable life of a freelancer. I had only one client then to secure my future – albeit immediate... I had rent and a car lease.

As fortune and quite a bit of perseverance, would have it, my then client left that job and went on to another – taking my tiny start-up web design business with her. Now, I had two clients...

To be considered a truly successful freelancer, comes only after delivering on your word – in a timely fashion – exactly what the client needs. They are hiring you, not a big firm, not an agency, you. Deliver a good job, on time (and within budget) and chances are, you will get repeat work, and perhaps a good reference that could only help gain you new, additional work.

Here are some other good traits to cultivate while on the road to building a reliable business as a freelancer:

Professionalism is key -- always. Clients like to know that the person working for them (or sometimes representing them) can deliver their goods in a poised, eloquent and polished manner. A pharmaceutical giant trusted me to present their new public affairs intranet to their board of directors -- including to the CEO.

Have a broad knowledge but be an expert in one particular thing – by expert I mean, REALLY KNOW IT. It is helpful to know your overall industry so you can facilitate a discussion on best choices or approaches, but you should be a total expert in at least one area, be it HTML, Photoshop or Flash. This way, you can be that "go to guy" everyone trusts will answer or solve their issue.

Make certain that your resume is current. The technology field changes ever so rapidly. If you don't keep your skills current and adapt with all of the changes, you can easily become stale – or worse, obsolete! If your resume screams all of the relevant latest technologies, you have a phenomenal advantage. Better yet, if you embrace a new technology or program and really know it, you can be that much appreciated "go to guy" above!

Stand out from the crowd by sending an HTML resume instead. With all of the mail recruiters and prospects receive in response to a bid or a posting, why not make yours applicable to the job. If a web designer claims to know CSS, Photoshop and HTML then how clever would it be to prove it right there, in the email! Believe me, this gets attention, and ultimately a call back. See a good one here: http://www.parallaxid.com/portfolio/

Finally, ask all of those happy clients (and you will have several) to write you a quick testimonial. Selling can be quite a challenge, but it helps if you have solid references to support you. You can even use a professional networking site, such as LinkedIn, to show these.

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Stefan Pinto relies on his 12 years of experience and realistic judgment to design and construct usable websites. His corporate design solutions include intranets for Merck, Merrill Lynch and AT&T.  Recently he designed RandomSource.com an online office supply catalog and Upstage, a social networking site for actors. Stefan Pinto also writes a fitness and weight loss column and works as a television actor. Visit him at http://www.pintofactory.com.

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