Like all professionals, agile talents want to know, “What do I need to do to be successful at attracting top clients, interesting work, and earning higher rates?” The Career Stages of freelanecing offers a helpful perspective. For individual freelancers, it describes high performance over a career. For managers or HR professionals who need freelancers, it offers a way to define the “right stuff” they are looking for, and whether the freelancer has it. For executives in the talent platform space, it provides a way to accurately matching freelancers with clients.
Stage One Freelancers – Build Credibility
High performers at this stage help, learn and earn the trust of clients and colleagues. They demonstrate the skills necessary for proficiency at the assignment for which they were hired, and general competence at their craft. High performers at this stage learn to do the right job at the right pace and in the right way.
Stage Two freelancers Contribute Independently
This is our typical view of high-performing freelancers. They have four qualities we value:
- A reputation for technical expertise in an area of importance to clients
- The ability to operate independently (and often remotely) and produce expected results
- Strong planning and project management skills
- Good team and interpersonal skills; easy to work with
Technical expertise is the necessary condition for success in Stage Two. But, strong Stage Two freelancers bring more. They must be comfortable operating with limited supervision and support, able to get the job done within the timeframe, finding solutions to problems, and overcoming obstacles. The most successful are easy to work with, and have good business and interpersonal skills. Accountability for results completes the performance cycle; at this stage, successful freelancers know “you are only as good as your last performance.” They have learned to accept responsibility for disappointments as readily as they do accolades for success, and must be excellent at learning from these experiences and remaining up to date.
Stage Three Freelancers – Help Others Grow And Perform
Super Stage Two is a challenge. An alternative path is to shift in contribution from individual contribution to contributing through others. Stage Three freelancers may still write code, but they play a more senior role for clients as a project or task lead, an expert advisor, an innovation leader, or as a formal or informal mentor. To deliver this higher level of contribution, they must:
- Grow in technical breadth and perspective; seeing the “bigger picture”
- Support the development and performance of more junior colleagues or client staff
- Learn to lead, teach and coach, formally or informally
- Broaden their professional and industrial networks
Stage Four Freelancers – Help Shape Future Direction
It is entirely possible to have a successful freelance career without progressing beyond Stage Three. However, some freelancers continue to increase their achievement by providing a more strategic contribution to their clients. Stage Four is the stage of “helping to shape future direction.” It is the most valued Career Stage, and Stage Four freelancers deliver by:
- Developing a deep understanding of the W.O.T. of their client organizations
- Building strong and often lasting relationships with clients
- Helping shape and influence a client organizations’ strategic tech or business direction
- Managing change: As one CEO put it: “Change leadership is the essential skill of Stage Four freelancers.”