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Starting a business

The Ultimate Guide to Being a Successful Self-Employed Independent Contractor

As an independent contractor, you’re in control of your time, your business direction, and your destiny. You do the work you love, you set your own hours, and you don’t have to [put up with annoying co-workers.][1] The flip side of this seeming paradise? [Your success is not guaranteed, and you’re unlikely to have the safety net — or the regular paycheck — that comes with a traditional job.][2] Are you a freelance writer, virtual assistant, digital nomad or another type of freelance consultant that bills clients on an hourly basis?

Surround Yourself With the Right People

Independent contractors have to create their own network to provide the guidance and support they need. When you connect with people who believe in your vision and add them to your team, you set yourself up to make wise business decisions. Most freelancers find they need support from people in these roles:

  • An attorney: Your attorney can help you set up your freelancing business while also negotiating contracts on your behalf to provide you with legal protection.
  • A marketing expert: You need clients for your products and services, and a savvy marketer can make sure your work is seen by the people who can hire you.
  • An accountant: Tax advice and financial planning are key to the success of any freelance business, and you may need help keeping your financial house in order; working with easy-to-use Cloud-based accounting software like QuickBooks Online also smooths the way here.

Practice Excellent Time Management

A common myth about independent contractors states that all their time is free time. In practice, the opposite is more likely to be true. When you’re an independent contractor, you’re always on the job. Weekends are an opportunity to earn more money and get more work done, and since you don’t have paid vacations, you’re more likely not to indulge in time off. Because of this, time management becomes crucial in two vital ways.

First, it’s important not to start to believe the myth. If you treat your time as free time, you may not meet your deadlines, or you may end up working too few hours to grow your business or even to pay your bills. On the other hand, you can easily work yourself into the ground, never giving yourself the break you need to rejuvenate and relax since you don’t know where your next gig is coming from. The trick is to find a balance between the two extremes. Plan your work schedule ahead of time, and make sure you’re working all the hours you need to keep your clients happy and your business healthy — but don’t feel constrained by normal working hours if you prefer a [more eclectic schedule.][3]

Deliver What You Promise

Your independent contracting business rises and falls on your continuing relationships with your clients. You can gain new clients by undercutting your competitors’ prices, but you can only retain those clients if you deliver what they contracted you to deliver. A charming personality and a great sales presentation don’t make clients stick around if you keep coming up with excuses as to why you’re not delivering your project on time or up to standards. Note that time management comes into play here as well, especially if you’re juggling several projects and clients at once.

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Keep Learning and Growing

If you keep providing the same product or service to your clients with no change, you could easily look around one day and discover that what you’re offering is out of date and no longer viable in the marketplace. Staying competitive is vital to your success as an independent contractor, and that means you must constantly be improving. Stay on top of changes to your industry, and keep learning new ways to provide better services and products. If you fall behind, your clients are likely to go somewhere else.

Build Your Own Network

One of the benefits of working for a company is the built-in network of contacts your position provides. When you’re an independent contractor, you have to create that network yourself. Spend time developing relationships not just with your clients but also with the various consultants you work with. You can even reach out to your competitors to expand your network. By establishing relationships through lunch, coffee, or workshops on topics of mutual interest, you set yourself up for recommendations for jobs down the line.

Set Your Rates Wisely

As an independent contractor, you can set your own rates. But if you charge too much, you may lose clients if they can’t afford you or feel you’re not delivering enough value for what you’re demanding. And if you charge too little, you could find yourself in financial trouble. In addition, you send a message that devalues your products or services going forward.

Leverage the network you’re building to get a sense of what fees the market will bear. Be prepared to raise your fees as your reputation grows or your costs increase — but also be ready to offer long-term clients a discount, at least for one or two projects. You can also attract new clients by establishing rates that are worthy of your services, then providing a discount to acknowledge the new relationship.

While some people view freelancing as a complicated version of pursuing a hobby, as an independent contractor, you know you’re really running a small business, even if you’re the only employee. Stay flexible and focused, devote yourself to turning out excellent work, and put real effort into building relationships to thrive as an independent contractor.

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