Skills needed to become a freelancer

Running a freelancing business will take a variety of skills. You don’t have to become an expert at them all, but you need to be able to understand the basics enough to keep your business running.

Your Core Skill

Your “core skill” is the set of skills that are behind the services you provide. A web software developer will need to know their programming language, HTML, and how to build software.

Since you’re going to be hired as an expert or at least as someone experienced with your core skill, you will need to master it or be on the road to mastering it.

Your Satellite Skills

Your satellite skills are the skills that revolve around your core skill. Following the web software developer example, their satellite skills might include:

  • Web design (CSS)
  • Graphic design (Photoshop, color theory)
  • JavaScript
  • System administration
  • Automation (shell scripting, build tools)
  • Version control

You won’t need to be advanced or an expert at all of these satellite skills. You’ll need to know enough to complement your core skill and to be able to work with experts in the other areas.

That said, becoming an expert in a satellite skill is a great way to stand out or change your core skill over the long-term. e.g. a web developer who can design the frontend and the backend.

Your Business Skills

The previous skills have all been about the service you provide, the technical “thing you do”. They are all different from person to person. Even if two people have identical core skills, they might have different satellite skills based on their focus (full-stack developer vs devops).

I have more of a focus on automation and system administration to complement my software development but I know a developer who focused more on web and graphic design.

Business skills are different though.

They are the same.

Every business requires the same set of activities in order to function. The amount and actual details of each activity will be different from business to business, but they all share a common function.

At a minimum freelancers need to learn:

  • accounting – enough to do basic bookkeeping
  • finance – enough to understand the relationship between income, expenses, and cash
  • marketing – enough to have a systematic way of attracting potential clients and leads
  • sales – enough to build a relationship with potential clients and have them become actual clients

Of course going beyond the basics will be beneficial to you business. Of them all, sales and marketing are the two with the highest leverage. This is because they affect the income side of the P&L statement (which you’ll understand once you understand finance).

Once you have a basic understanding of each skill, then you can evaluate if hiring our outsourcing it to someone else makes sense. But not until you have learned enough about it.

Your Management Skills

The next set of skills are between your business skills and your core skill. These are your management skills.

Management skills are your ability to keep things moving and remove roadblocks to your core skill while performing your service. It includes:

  • communication
  • running meetings
  • creating reports
  • following up
  • fire-fighting

Even if you have no employees or subcontractors, you’ll have to manage your projects and clients.

Start small

This probably sounds overwhelming. There are dozens of skills you could learn and you need at least a basic understanding of many of them.

But you can learn many of them as you go. With the exception of your core skill, everything else can be learned just-in-time (JIT). Basically right before you need it.

You do need to start and I recommend starting small. Start with each of the four areas above and then learn one tiny skill from each. Spend a few minutes researching and practicing it. Once you understand it, pick a new tiny skill.

Continuous growth and learning is a big part of freelancing.

Eric Davis