A key element of success in any freelance career – whether you’re already in business or just starting out – is self-knowledge. Yet, like many others, if you were asked right now exactly what you are good and bad at you may not be able to come up with a definitive answer. But by failing to recognise and promote your strengths you’re not only making it hard for others to do so, you’re in danger of letting many profitable opportunities pass you by.
The most effective way of increasing your self-knowledge is to carry out a SWOT analysis –a process whereby you take a careful look at your Strengths and Weaknesses and then relate them to the Opportunities and Threats that surround you. It’s a very simple but surprisingly helpful tool and one that you can use in many different situations – from analysing relationships, to personal and professional decision making.
For now, we’re going to look at how it might help your success as a freelancer. And to do it all you need is a spare half hour, a bit of peace and quiet, a pen and a few sheets of paper.
Start by listing, very quickly, all your strengths including skills, mental abilities, even physical attributes (e.g.” I can stay awake for a long time”). “Strengths” don’t have to be things that you’re the best in the world at, this isn’t a competition. They’re just things that you’re good at. And don’t be coy – try to identify dozens of strengths, not just a few.
This time note down all the opportunities that you know are out there in relation to your work – all the work you might do, all the ways you might get it. Again this should be a pretty exhaustive list. Don’t leave things off because you think they’re avenues you couldn’t successfully pursue– put them down anyway. Next to each note whether you consider they’re short, medium, or long-term opportunities. You may change your opinion later on but for now you want your list to be inclusive.
Weaknesses. Although in the SWOT model the Weaknesses analysis is second to the strengths, I never think this is a good idea. We all tend to recognise our weaknesses far more than our strengths and it’s very easy to get terribly bogged down here and end up feeling you’re no good at anything. Again, be brutally honest with yourself (no one is going to see this list but you) but this time just note down your main weaknesses and leave it at that. Your list should be very short.
Finally, note down any threats that you and your business may be facing at present. Currently these are probably most likely to be related to the economic climate, but they may also concern such diverse variables as relationships, suppliers, your health, or legal developments. When you’ve identified your threats, go through your list and mark each as Low, Medium or High.
This is where you bring everything together and work out what action you’re going to take as a result of your soul-searching – after all, thought without deeds will get you nowhere at all.
Start by looking at your Strengths and your Opportunities and identify at least three where you can see there is a good match. For example, you might decide that there is an opportunity for some sort of instant response service in your line of business and realise that it would be a good one for you because you’re good at thinking on your feet and leaping into action quickly. Or you might see that because you’re greatest strength is solid head-down perseverance, you might want to pursue the opportunity to team up with another freelancer who is more of a get-up-and-go ideas person.
Once you’ve identified (and written down!) some key opportunities that you could pursue (looking first at the short to medium term contenders), you need to turn to your weaknesses and threats to see what might stand in your way and hinder your success. Here acknowledgement is more important than action. Success lies in building on your strengths not trying to fix your weaknesses or overcome external threats. So be aware of them, address ways of getting round them, but don’t let them stop you from moving forward, particularly if the threats are only low or medium.
A word of caution. Although a SWOT analysis sounds a simple process you may find it challenging if you’re doing it for the first time. After all if it simply involved the blindingly obvious, you wouldn’t be learning anything new. So don’t give up if you’re not sure what your strengths are or you can’t think of any opportunities. Keep coming back to it. If you’re stuck try asking other people what they think you’re good and what they, in your shoes, would do. And look at what other successful freelancers are doing – how might that relate to you?
At the end of your analysis you should have a shortlist of opportunities to pursue to help build your business. Based on your newly improved self-knowledge your likelihood of success is now greatly improved.