The Professional Freelancer Approach

Great workers recognise that the world of work continues to evolve. There are few predictable career paths anymore but there will always be projects.

This calls for having a professional freelancer approach and playing to their strengths. They then aim to find or create satisfying projects, be professional and deliver positive results.

Such workers have a strong service ethic. They focus on their perfect customers – the kinds of people with whom they work best – and make clear working contracts.

They get some quick successes, do superb work and proactively keep their stakeholders informed. They deliver the goods and sometimes add that touch of class. They then find or create the next satisfying project.

Different people follow this approach in different ways. Some focus on the following themes.


They start by focusing on the following areas: a) their strengths; b) the specific customers with whom they work best: c) the specific ways they can help these people to achieve success. One approach is for them to explore the following themes.


What are my strengths? What are the activities where I can deliver As rather than Bs or Cs? What are the kinds of work I find most satisfying to do? What are the specific things I can deliver to help people to achieve success?

Specific Customers

Who are my perfect customers? Who are the kinds of people, customers or organisations with whom I work best? What may be some of the challenges these people face? What may be the specific goals they want to achieve?


How can I use my strengths to help some of these people achieve success? What are the specific things I can deliver? What would be the benefits of delivering these things – for them, their organisation or their customers?

Imagine that a person has explored these themes. They are clear on: a) their strengths; b) the specific ways they can use these to help certain kinds of people, teams or organisations to achieve success. This can then lead to the next stage.

Satisfying Projects

Professional freelancers recognise that there will always be projects. Some organisations will always want to improve: a) their profitability; b) their product quality – including their customer satisfaction; c) their people management, morale and development.

Such workers focus on how they can help potential customers to fulfil these needs. They therefore aim to find or create satisfying projects. Let’s explore one approach to making this happen.

Professional Freelancers – They Get Work
By Going Out And Helping People To Succeed

Imagine that a person is actually working as a freelancer. They have clarified their strengths and the kinds of people with whom they work best.

The next step is to find some customers. The key is to do this in a way that fits their values system and with which they feel comfortable. Some people take the following approach.

They recognise that most of their future work will come from their network. It will come from either: a) the people with whom they have worked in the past: b) the recommendations that these people make to others in their network.

Such freelancers therefore keep in touch with the people in their network. Some of them take the following approach. They believe that:

Real networking is about encouraging other people and helping them to succeed. It is not about self-promotion.

Sounds crazy? Perhaps. But giving to people – such as encouraging them or passing on knowledge – can be extremely rewarding. It can sometimes also lead to future work possibilities.

How to make this happen? Professional freelancers find a way to keep in touch with people in their network. They may, for example, send them articles, materials or ideas that these people may find interesting.

Such workers do, when appropriate, find a way to have a conversation with potential customers. They then aim to act as a trusted advisor rather than doing a hard sell.

Before having such a conversation, they research what may be happening in that person’s world.  They aim to clarify:

The challenges the person may face in their team, organisation or market;

The knowledge, positive models and practical tools they could pass on to help the person succeed.

During the conversation they aim to help the person to at ease and able to explore. At an appropriate point, they may ask about the kinds of challenges that the person may face.

Following the trusted advisor approach, they then ask if it is okay to share some ideas. If so, they try to pass on knowledge that resonates with the person and can help them to achieve their goals.

Much then depends on the potential customer’s reactions. These may include the following kinds of responses.

They may simply listen and process the ideas in their own way;

They may thank them for the ideas and say they may get back to them;

They may show an interest in the ideas and say something along the lines of: “How can we take this further?”

Imagine that the conversation leads to the potential customer hiring the freelancer to do a piece of work. One approach is to see this as a project that aims to deliver certain results. This can lead to the next step.

The Specific Project –
Making Clear Contracts

Clear contracting is crucial in many areas of life. This is especially so when providing professional services. There are many ways to make such contracts.

Looking at my own work, the pattern has been to agree on this verbally and then summarise it in a follow-up email. Some people prefer to formalise the agreement in a more formal manner.  

Whatever approach is used, it can be useful to make clear contracts in the following areas. These can, of course, be adapted by the parties involved.

Imagine that the freelancer has made clear contracts with the customer. They then focus on the next theme.


Great workers often behave like professional freelancers. They believe it is vital to do superb work, give great service and deliver success. They behave in this way even if they are full-time employees.

Recognising they are always on stage, they behave in a positive and professional way towards all people. They also apply their specialist knowledge to help people to succeed.

Such workers aim do their best each day. Some imagine that they are on a rolling contract that is to be reviewed every three months. They therefore aim:

To continue to make clear contracts with the key stakeholders about the specific results to deliver;

To get some quick wins, do superb work and keep people informed about the progress being made towards achieving the results;

To encourage people and embody the ethic of continuous improvement on the way towards achieving the results.

Such workers continue to deliver high professional standards. Bearing in mind the agreed goals, they then focus on the following theme.

Positive Results

Professional freelancers do what is required to deliver the desired results. They keep doing superb work, providing great service and helping people to succeed.

Such workers are often good finishers. They find solutions to challenges and deliver the goods. Sometimes they do this by adding that touch of class.

Professional freelancers recognise, however, that their contribution may be evaluated by different stakeholders in different ways. These may include the following criteria.

The Professional Freelancer’s Contribution

The key stakeholders may ask the following questions
about the professional freelancer’s contribution

Did they deliver the agreed specific results? Did they behave in a positive and professional way? Did they use their skills to encourage other people and help them to succeed?

Did they, in their own way, pursue the principles we like to follow in our organisation? Did they focus on helping us to achieve our goals rather than any personal agenda?

Would we hire them again if a possibility arose? If so, what would we like them to keep doing? What might we want them to do differently? Would we see them as an asset to our organisation?

Professional freelancers continue to maintain high standards. Sometimes this can even lead to them being offered a full-time role. They may take this positive but they also retain their entrepreneurial mentality.

Such workers are aware that things can change quickly. Companies can be taken over, crises can happen and unexpected events can shake the market.

They continue to give 100%. But they recognise that their present project – even if it is a full-time role – may end at some point. They therefore often develop a back-up plan.

Professional freelancers – and those who have a similar mentality – focus on shaping a positive future. They therefore continue to explore the following questions.

What are my strengths? How can I use my strengths to help people, teams or organisations to succeed? How can I find or create the next satisfying project?  

The following sections explore some of the steps taken by people who follow these principles. Several have already been covered. Bearing this in mind, some will be described in more depth than others.

Defining Your
Professional Offering

Professional freelancers play to their strengths. They also recognise the kinds of work they find satisfying. This becomes more important as a person develops during their career.

Imagine, for example, that you have been offered a role. Looking at the job spec, it is something you can deliver but it is not stimulating. The role may be something you did five years ago.

Certainly you can take it and do a superb job. This will put bread on the table. It may also be possible to expand it by adding other satisfying projects. You can then deliver the required scorecard and also get stimulation from the other activities.

Imagine another scenario where you have the time to think about your perfect role. Bearing in mind your strengths, you may want to clarify the qualities you would like in your ideal role. 

This was the approach taken by the customer service director. She did the following exercise when looking for a new role.

My Ideal Role Would Have
The Following Qualities

It would be one where:

I am playing to my strengths – which are orchestrating multiple teams and people to achieve a compelling goal – and I have the autonomy required to deliver success;

I am working with a product, service or company that I believe in and we are doing pioneering work that helps customers to achieve both present and future success;

I am able to, if appropriate, act as an ambassador for the product, service or company by producing success stories and videos that show how it can help people to achieve success.

I am able to play a mentoring or coaching role where I can help people to develop their professional skills and shape their careers in ways that help both them and their stakeholders to achieve success;

I am able to maintain my own and my family’s wellbeing by being in control of my diary and by doing satisfying work that also pays a reasonable salary.

She did the internal work and moved on to the external work. This involved translating what she wanted to do into an offering that would be attractive to a company.

Bearing in mind the kind of employer with whom she worked best, she researched the challenges facing such companies. She then translated her offering into three headlines that described the specific things she could deliver to such a company.

My Professional Offering

Bearing in mind the company’s goals, the specific things I
would like to deliver to help the company to achieve success are:

* To …

* To …

* To …

She began having informal conversations with people in her network. This involved saying something along the following lines.

“I am happy where I am at the moment, but at some point I will be looking to move on. Looking ahead, I would like to deliver the following things to a company.

1) To …

For example, to …

2) To …

For example, to …

3) To …

For example, to …

“Let me know if you ever hear of a company that would like these things delivered.”

Two months after the first conversations, one employer said:

“Those are things we would definitely be interested in. Can we discuss these a bit more?”

She met the company several times. They agreed on the specific outcomes she would deliver and this led to a job offer. She took the role, stayed there for three years and delivered the goods.

Being a professional freelancer, she then moved on to her next project – which was another full-time role. She continues to be a well-known and well-liked figure in her industry.

Performing Superb Work

Professional freelancers rehearse before meeting their potential stakeholders. These may be the managers, leaders, customers or other people.

Imagine that you want to take this step. When meeting with such people it will be important:

To show the stakeholders you understand the world their point of view, the challenges they face and their picture of success;

To describe how you want to help them to achieve their goals and, if appropriate, to then make clear contracts about the results to achieve – the picture of success;

To describe the potential early wins, the ways you will proactively keep them informed and anything else you will do to deliver the picture of success.

Great workers then move into action, get some quick successes and do superb work. When doing so, they behave in a positive way to all people. They do this because they want to help people and also because they remember the old saying:

“You Are Always On Stage.”

They recognise that people will watch them and make judgements about their professionalism, their behaviour and how others feel after interacting with them. This highlights a paradoxical point.

Professional freelancers believe that – whilst they are on stage – their role is to support others. It is not to be the star. Their work is about helping other people to succeed. It is not about them.

People sometimes need a setback before they realise that others are making judgements about their professionalism. One person expressed this in the following way.

“My turning point came 10 years ago when I was rejected for a senior role. The positive feedback was that I was superb with clients. But my colleagues weren’t impressed with my behaviour in office.

“They did not like me showing my frustrations or arguing in meetings. My view was that I was just being honest, but I hadn’t realised how it affected people.

“My bosses wanted me to retain my passion but to channel it in more constructive ways towards colleagues. So I had a decision to make. I could ignore or listen to the feedback.

“I chose the latter route and got the senior role within 12 months. The tough messages were the turning point. They taught me to think about how I behaved in front of colleagues.”

Imagine that you work in an office. What are the situations where you are on stage during the day?

People may look at how you behave when you arrive, work at your desk, participate in team meetings, meet customers, deal with crises and do other activities.

What are the key messages they are getting from your behaviour? Bearing in mind you are always on stage, how can you continue to behave in a positive and professional way?

Delivering Positive Results

Great workers keep their stakeholders informed about their progress towards achieving the goals. They then do their best to deliver the desired positive results.

Such workers retain their hunger to improve. Sometimes they refresh their approach by using the rolling contract approach. They ask themselves the following questions.

Good leaders sometimes take this approach with their team. This can be particularly useful if people become complacent. Adapting the questions, they invite the team members to produce ideas on the following theme.

The Rolling Contract For Our Team

Imagine that our team is on a rolling contract with our company. What would we do to encourage the key stakeholders to keep extending our contract?

Please share your ideas here:

* We would …

* We would …

* We would …

We will then build on these ideas and make an action plan. The aim will be to continue to give great service to all our stakeholders.

Superb workers keep developing as people and professionals. Let’s look at some ways it is possible to take these steps.

The High Value And
Hard To Replace Approach

Professional freelancers continue to develop their offering. One approach they take is to measure themselves on the employability scale.

The world of work is constantly changing. So how can you continue to make yourself employable?

Take a look at the employability model. This plots your value to an employer against your replaceability. (Few people are irreplaceable, but some are more replaceable than others.)

Looking through the eyes of a potential
employer, ask the following questions

Where do I fit in the model? Which is the quadrant where I would like to be in the future? How can I continue to be of high value to an employer?

High Value – Hard To Replace

People in this quadrant are often brilliant niche providers. They perform outstanding work and yet are also willing to pass on their wisdom.

The second part highlights something that seems counter-intuitive. Great workers often make themselves valuable by giving away their knowledge rather than by hoarding trade secrets.

Different people do this in different ways. One approach is to coach others and enable them to perform superb work. 

This is in contrast to, for example, older style experts. Some of those aimed to make themselves hard to replace by obscuring their work in the black arts.

Professional freelancers build on their strengths, provide great service and help people to achieve success. They also focus on the following theme.

The Currency Curve

Take a look at the currency curve. This plots your currency – the way you earn your living now – with your career development.

How do you earn your living now? How did you earn your living five years ago? How do you want to earn your living in the future?

People can be at the top of a curve but may need to keep developing. Otherwise they may be doing the same things in the future but with less satisfaction. They may also be facing challenges in the workplace.

Certainly you may pursue similar themes in your work, but it may be important to improve your offering to customers. Here are some questions you may want to consider.

Looking at my work:

What is my present currency? How do I earn my living now? Where am I on the curve? Am I still climbing the curve? Have I reached a plateau?? Am I going down the other side of the curve?

How can you shape your future career? One approach is to continue to develop your currency – the way you earn a living. It is to ask yourself some of the following questions.

Looking at my chosen field:

What are the changes that may take place in the next year, three years and in the future? What may be the challenges that my customers face? What can they do to achieve sustainable success?

How can I keep developing my currency? How can continue to build on my strengths, add to my repertoire and deliver consistently high standards? How can I do my best to help my customers to achieve success?

Great workers keep developing their currency. This helps them to continue to help other people to achieve success. The following pages describe some of the skills they may wish to add to their repertoire.

Communicating With Architects,
Builders And Craftsmen

Professional freelancers sometimes need to present their ideas to different kinds of people. Let’s explore one approach that can be useful in such situations.

Imagine you are due to make a presentation to a leadership team. The group will be made up of people who process information in different ways. There will be architects, builders and craftsmen.

You may prefer presenting to certain kinds of people, but this may not always be in your gift. Here is an introduction to how it may be possible to connect with the different people.


Architects are often decision makers and see the big picture. They like headlines. They immediately want to know the relevance of the presentation and, where appropriate, the improved results it will help them or their organisation to achieve.

Such people often leap to the destination quickly. They go ‘A, B … and leap to … Z’. Visionary by nature, they tend not to get into details. But they may also ask the odd curve ball question to check if you have done your homework.

Architects sometimes have a short attention span. So double-check they are still interested, otherwise they may get bored and cause difficulties. Once onside, however, they can be great advocates.


Builders may pursue a logical thought process. They may go: ‘A, B, C, D, E …’. They often focus on the processes to be followed to get the job done.

Such people may be project managers who concentrate on the implementation plans. It is important to have your facts ready to answer their questions. They will be the people who make sure things happen.


They are specialists who know the details in their field. Such people they are likely to discuss the intricacies of engraving each brick.

Sometimes they can throw presentations off-track by interrupting in mid-sentence, saying:

“Do you realise the problems involved in point C?”

Craftsmen care deeply about their work and may ask questions about certain details. Some presenters manage such issues by producing a detailed compendium that addresses the key questions.

They refer people to this material and explain that the issues are covered in the back-up material. They then continue with the flow of their presentation.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you may need to communicate with a group of people? How can you communicate with the different kinds of people?

Before the session try to have one-to-one meetings with people. Start by getting the architects onside and, if possible, then meeting the builders and craftsmen. During these meetings you can aim:

To show you understand the world from each individual’s point of view;

To show how the ideas you are going present can help the team to achieve success;

To answer any concerns or questions.

There may be many times when it is not possible to meet the individuals. You may then meet the group in a relatively cold situation. It is then important to remember some of the key rules regarding presentations.

The session is about them it is not about you. It is about sharing ideas that can help them to achieve success.

These points can be hard to remember, especially if your future depends on the presentation. But this approach can enable you to relax and rise to the occasion.

Shaping A Positive Future

Professional freelancers continue to do superb work on their present project but they recognise that all projects come to an end. They therefore have back-up plans.

Some people take a similar approach to shaping their futures. They continue to give 100% in their present role. But they also focus on how to find or create the next satisfying project.

Imagine that you want to follow elements of the professional freelancer approach. How can you do this in your own way? How can you shape your future?

How can you continue to do perform superb work in your present role? How can you help your stakeholders to achieve success? How can you also explore how to expand your options?

How can you clarify your strengths? How can you use these to help people, teams or organisations to achieve success. How can you find or create the next potentially satisfying project?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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