Even in a relatively strong economy like the one we're enjoying these days, job security can be hard to come by. And that especially holds true when you work for yourself and don't collect a steady paycheck to begin with. Still, that doesn't mean freelancers can't take steps to protect themselves and lower their chances of winding up out of work. Here's what my self-employed colleagues and I are doing to hang onto our jobs.
1. Getting better at what I do
Selena Maranjian: By definition, freelancers have less job security than salaried workers, but they can still increase their job security. In my view, one of the best strategies is to keep getting better at your work. If you're a writer, improve your writing skills, and if you're a graphic designer, get better at that. Ideally, the folks paying you will notice, and will value your contributions more.
Being better at what you do can result not only in better work output, which is good for those paying you, but it can also be good for them because you become more of a pleasure to work with. If your writing is cleaner, it will need less editing and less time spent on it. If your designs or editing or photography are just what was needed, you won't end up contacted and asked for changes or -- worse -- bypassed in favor of another freelancer.
In the best circumstances, you'll actually get some guidance regarding how you might better yourself and your services. Whether you get informal hints or formal feedback, act on it. And if you don't get any feedback, consider asking how you might improve to offer more value.
2. Never saying no
Daniel B. Kline: One of the first lessons I learned as a freelancer is that change is constant. You may work on a successful project that falls out of favor or something else might happen that lessens (or cuts off) the flow of work. To avoid that, I've always been willing to take on new projects, work in different areas, or be part of experiments.
I volunteer liberally and never say no when asked to participate (unless I'm truly not qualified to do a good job). At The Motley Fool, this has led me into writing in areas we did not cover when I started. It has also brought me onto projects that went well, some that succeeded but ended, and others that have gone on steadily for years.
If you're open to anything, then you'll probably be asked to do more things. That might mean accepting the occasional difficult assignment, but generally, for me, it has meant exposure to more people, invitations to be involved in interesting work, meeting new friends, and, of course, greater job security.
3. Going above and beyond
Maurie Backman: One major perk of being a freelancer is getting to dictate your own schedule. For me, that often means taking a day off to go hiking when I please, or extending a vacation I'm on if I'm not quite ready to come back home and resume the daily grind.
At the same time, I never take my job for granted, which is why I make it clear to the people I work for that I'm more than willing to help in a pinch when that's needed. I was once asked to stay up late and watch a news conference to cover a breaking report -- which I gladly did, even though a big part of me wanted to call it a day after having already worked a good eight hours earlier. Another time, I was asked over a weekend to write a specific story and have it ready by 9 a.m. on Monday. That meant working on a Saturday and Sunday when I would normally be spending time with family and friends, but I did it anyway.
The people I work for are good to me, so I'm genuinely happy to help them out. But I won't lie -- I also know that if I become that person who can always be counted on, there's a good chance they'll (hopefully) be motivated to keep me around.