Freelancing can be a tricky field to navigate, but if you learn how to play your cards right, it can be one of the most rewarding business opportunities you could ever have. 

Natalie Zfat is an entrepreneur, writer and social media expert who has cracked the code of the freelance economy. She stopped by Mashable to share some insights on how to navigate new business opportunities, how to set parameters on your first freelancing contract, how the money conversation should go before you sign on any dotted line.

Below, Zfat breaks down the five top tips any professional needs to know to flourish in the freelance economy and make a long-term switch to customizing their career. 

For the full interview and more discussion, check out the above episode of #BizChats. 

1. Read the market 

“If you went freelance tomorrow, what service would you be providing? Better yet, look at the market and those job sites and figure out: ‘Is this is a service that’s in high demand? Does it pay well? Would it pay you enough for your lifestyle?’ I learned a long time ago that social media services were in high demand, and I decided it was kind of more risky to not start my own business than to simply take a salary for a full time job.” 

2. Isolate your skills

“Freelancing is not for everybody, so you want to make sure that the skills you have—like exercising restraint, judgement and discipline—are things you really do have in order to get into the freelance workforce and to not [just] sustain your business, but to scale it.” 

3. Differentiate your services

“How are you going to stand out in the sea of freelancers? Perhaps you’re doing something that nobody else is doing. Or if you’re doing something that other people are doing, perhaps you’re doing it better, or you’re doing it for less money, or you’ve figured out a way to simplify that process. So you really want to make sure you’re differentiating your services. Freelancing is a big word, it’s also a big world so you really want to make sure you’re standing out from your competitors.”  

4. Spot new business opportunities 

“How do you find new business as a freelancer? Are you setting up a referral program? Do you have an agent that’s helping you? I figured out that my first client was actually my full-time employer. I walked into my boss’ office, I asked him if he was interested in saving money, spoiler alert: he says ‘yes,’ and then from there I convinced him that working two days a week and paying me half of what my salary was, was a great way for him to get the same value out of me, and for me to be able to open up three days of my week to find new business opportunities. Whatever way that works for you, make sure you are spotting those new business opportunities so you can make your company grow.”   

5. Stay competitive 

“Let’s say everything I just told you works out; you’ve isolated your skills, you’ve differentiated your services, business is good, why not make it great? So you’re going to now have to figure out: ‘How can I stay competitive? How can I make sure that not just my rates are competitive, but also my deliverables?’ So I’m offering up my client more and more and making them feel like they’re really getting the most out of our working relationship.” 

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