Four Common Challenges for Freelancers and How to Overcome Them

If you're a freelancer, you might have noticed a recent rise in popularity. We surveyed nearly 600 AIGA members as part of our annual Creative Team of the Future project, and more than half told us they expect in-house creative departments and agencies to rely more on freelance talent in the next few years.

It's definitely nice to be in demand, but the consulting lifestyle can be demanding – and not all creatives are cut out for this type of work. Here are four common challenges solo creative professionals face along with advice for overcoming them.

Challenge 1: Drumming up prospects. "The best way I've found to find new clients is to get comfortable with self-promotion," says Lisa Hazen, a Chicago-based web designer, copywriter and social media strategist with more than 15 years of experience. "I used to be shy about tooting my own horn, or even owning up to what it is that I do with my business. Now, my husband jokes that I can't go for a haircut without coming home with a new client." Hazen doesn't talk about – or solicit – work constantly, but she's not shy about speaking up to raise awareness for her services. She also markets herself through her website, email newsletters, Facebook and Twitter.

Challenge 2: Quickly learning a new brand. In our survey, in-house and agency creatives told us they struggle to get freelancers up to speed on their brands. How can you help solve this pain point? Ask for a style guide and study existing marketing materials. If it's a smaller company or strategy work, do some hands-on research. "I've developed a standard questionnaire that I ask," says Luke Mysse, head of Creative at Crossgrain, a Southern California-based design studio. "And I'll ask if I can talk with other key stakeholders in the company." Mysse explores everything from competitors to overall business goals, and likes to chat with a company's best client (when possible) to find out why they chose the brand.

Challenge 3: Carving out time to run your business. You need to make bookkeeping, business planning, marketing and other tasks just as important as client projects. "To me, the work you have with your clients represents the present," says Ilise Benun, founder of and co-founder of the Creative Freelancer Conference. "And your bookkeeping and marketing represents the future. If you're not taking care of your future, you'll get there and you'll be scrambling." Some freelancers set aside one day a week – say Monday or Friday – for these tasks while others tackle a little bit each day.

Challenge 4: Learning to say 'no.' You want to please clients, but "yes" isn't always the right answer for your business. "People are going to ask you to do things that you either can't do, don't want to do, or don't have the resources to do," Hazen says. "When you try to extend yourself beyond these natural boundaries, absolutely no one ends up being happy." Benun says it's often a matter of knowing what kinds of projects are right for you in the first place. Is it in your target client area? Is the pay profitable? Is the deadline reasonable?

What are your biggest challenges as a freelancer? And how do you work to overcome them?