Today’s blog post topic is the love child of conversations with a couple of friends who are about to make the step into this freelance world and a pretty big case of impostor syndrome that I had this week. What do these two things have in common? The question “how do I actually add value as a freelancer”.
At first glance, this might be an odd question to ask yourself if you’re a freelancer. After all, there’s usually at least one conversation where you pitch yourself and what you have to offer. But this conversation is often focused on the functional expertise you bring to the table - the design skills, the knowledge of the local market, the development expertise.
However, there are multiple other ways how you add value as a freelancer that go beyond your functional expertise. And don’t forget or underestimate them - sometimes they are even more important than the tangible skills you were hired for!
- Bring in a fresh pair of eyes. If you’ve worked in a job for a longer time, you know how it is - you tend to start suffering from tunnel vision pretty quickly. The ugly email design that really bothered me in the first weeks of my old job? Well, that wasn’t so bad anymore after a month. The fact that the business plan is maybe half-baked? Naaaah, it’s not so bad. A fresh pair of eyes (your eyes!) works wonders. Sometimes it just takes one person to point out something really obvious for change to happen.
- Act as an idea generator. You’ve probably seen a lot of things in other companies and during other projects - systems, tools, processes, benchmark numbers, hiring policies, things that didn’t work, things that worked brilliantly. Bring that knowledge to the table! Sure, not everything is applicable, but your position as an a-political outsider enables you to throw new ideas into the room. Share your knowledge, share your experience, share the blog posts and books that you’ve read and encourage conversations that spark ideas.
- Tell the truth - give feedback to the highest level. A big problem for a lot of management teams and CEOs is that they don’t get feedback. And if they do, it’s usually riddled with political and personal agendas. Your position as a freelancer, your external view on the company and maybe your experience in a management team put you in a position where you can share your observations and give feedback to them. This step can be a little bit scary - after all, who are you to tell them what they’re doing wrong, right? Wrong. In my previous position, I would’ve been very thankful for someone from the outside to provide constructive feedback and suggestions how I could improve. I think this is true for a lot of management teams - just make sure that your feedback is concrete and actionable. And don’t give feedback because you want to sell an add-on to your current project. Do it only if you really care about your clients (which ideally you do for every single one of them) - that’s the only way to make sure that the feedback comes from a good place, a place for growth and encouragement.
- Improve communication. Often, people don’t realize what others know or work on until it’s too late because it interferes with their work. Connect people with each other who are working on similar projects. Open up new communication channels - e.g. by establishing weekly meetings for people who haven’t really worked together before. Use your work to increase transparency about who does what in the organization.
- Generate an overview and foster focus. Sometimes, organizations are so busy with day-to-day work that there’s simply no time to generate a company-wide overview of projects and initiatives. But this is really important - it helps focusing the energy (especially of a startup) on the right things and improves communication and collaboration. Make yourself useful by generating an overview of all ongoing projects and asking critical questions why certain projects are done right now. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to realize that the project you thought was priority 1 a month or two ago is in reality not that important anymore right now.
A freelancer is - ideally - never only hired for her functional expertise. She’s hired because she can bring something to the table others cannot - a fresh pair of eyes, great ideas, honest feedback. As a freelancer, don’t stop at “just” doing the functional job you were hired for. Try to understand how you can help your clients in other ways as well - figure out what they need and then help them achieve that. And don’t do it because you can sell more that way - do it because helping a company and seeing it grow and succeed is one of the most rewarding experiences you can get.