If there’s one thing that’s paramount to success in freelancing or small business, it’s the quality of your work. At some point we’ve all (or maybe not) phoned in some work or put in a half-arsed effort because we know we can get away with it or our clients are one of those easy-to-please types. But there’s only so long you can get away producing less than stellar work. Hint: it’s not very long at all.

The other huge risk of not striving for quality on every project is that you’ll inevitably stop improving.

And here’s the thing with quality. It’s not constant. It’s always changing and the bar never ever goes down. What’s merely passable today could be unacceptable this time next year, hell, depending on your industry it may be garbage next month. I’m sure at any time over the last week or two you’ve seen work in your industry that’s so good you almost fell off your chair. Soon this standard of work becomes the norm. Get used to it.

As a freelancer, you’re responsible for every success and failure that comes your way and I think both are highly related to how much you invest in improving the quality of what you put out into the world. As soon as you stop improving, your business becomes vulnerable.

How do you keep improving?

  1. Keep up with best practices
    Seek out the best publications in your industry. If you don’t know who they are it’s pretty easy to find them on Twitter. Just search for your industry, look at the hashtags and you’ll see people sharing great content they’ve read. A lot of the time it’ll all be coming from the same high quality sources. In general, Twitter is excellent for staying in touch with the latest advancements and pioneers in your industry.
  2. Learn from the best
    The old expression that ‘no matter how good you are there’s always someone better’ definitely rings true here. Don’t let that discourage you. Learn from them, keep up with what they’re working on and even reach out to them for advice. You’d be amazed at how generous and down to earth even the very best are, because they’ll most likely be flattered as chances are they’ve been in the exact same position you’re in.
  3. Know the trends and when to follow them
    We see trends all the time. They come and go, some are better than others and some stick around to become best practices. If you work in UI / UX design you’ll find trends everywhere. Just head over to Dribbble or Behance to check out the trend du jour. The trap here is that a lot of the time your clients will be aware of these trends too. You need to exercise some discipline in these situations and resist jumping on the bandwagon just to appease your client and have the latest shiny thing in your portfolio.
  4. Educate yourself
    It’s never been easier to teach yourself something new, especially if you work in creative fields like design, development, writing or photography. Websites like Treehouse, Codeschool and Creativelive have so much to offer you really have no excuse. Sure, some of these services cost a bit of coin, but there’s an insane amount of free resources, too.
  5. Be aware of changes in your client’s industry
    Monitoring the changing landscape of your client’s industry is often overlooked in favour of progressing technical skills. Delivering an aesthetic and technically sound product is critical but should never take precedent over meeting the business goals of the project.

With the maturity of the internet we’ve reached a point where every industry is hyper competitive and teeming with dedicated freelancers who keep raising the bar. Being passive and simply consuming the work of others and hoping a skerrick of inspiration rubs off simply won’t cut it anymore. At the end of the day, if you want to not only survive but thrive, you need to be active in your learning and development so you bring your A-game to every project.