This is the year of the freelancer, with around 4.2 million people in the UK now classing themselves as self-employed. As such, competition is steep and it has never been more important to stand out from the crowd and find work in the industry. There are countless articles telling you how to do this:

Set up a website, create a brand, understand your target audience - but in order to go even further in your chosen profession, now is the time to get creative. We have spoken to freelancers across many different industries and compiled five of their top tips to help you make 2014 the professional year for you.

1.    Look for opportunities to collaborate

The more skills you have, the more marketable you become - that much is obvious. However, going beyond your industry also means building connections and collaborations with other creatives, looking for opportunities for skill-sharing and putting yourself out there, even when the opportunity isn’t immediately obvious. An aspiring jewellery-maker recently made all of the jewellery for a freelance model to wear during one of her first shoots. In subsequent magazine reviews, both the model and the jewellery-maker got praised - they informed one another without any level of competition.

Collectives are also great opportunities, particularly if they involve a wide range of industries, such as photographers, marketers, designers, artists etc. Even if you are involved in a project that doesn’t immediately make money, you will be able to learn from the experiences of other freelancers in similar industries, add to your portfolio and get your named circulated. This is also a safer space in which to be experimental, as you aren’t working to strict deadlines and client’s briefs.

2.    Nurture client relationships

If the ultimate goal is to make your freelancing business your sole business, you need to treat is as such. Your clients are your most precious assets; they not only pay for your services but they champion you - therefore getting you more clients and expanding your business - or rebuke you.

A mistake one photographer made was to assume the only worth of her services came from the images she produced. As such, she got so wrapped up in shooting that she ignored the feelings of the bride and bridal party. The photographs were beautiful but she got a bad review from the couple because she made them feel on edge and out of control on their special day. You are not only providing a product, you are providing an overall service and this is perhaps one of the most important lessons to remember as a freelancer.

3. Be an emotional marketer

People buy into things either because they need them or because they want them, either way these buyer impulses are often triggered by emotions. Market your product to suit people’s emotional needs, whether that’s vanity, an easier life or a more efficient business process, find out what your audience wants and offer it to them.

In order to find out what your audience are after, either collaborate with a market researcher - perhaps a skill-share would work if you can offer them help on their website or branding - or ask your existing customers how your product affects their lives. Perhaps you can do a few case studies that will make them feel special while attracting news clients. This may feel uncomfortable but by marketing directly to the emotions of your prospective clients, you will better understand what they want and will make yourself a more well-rounded and personable professional. This attitude goes a long way in business.
4.    Be memorable

Networking is a fantastic way to get yourself out there but this is only worth something if you are remembered afterwards. How you look plays a part in this, as does your approach, attitude and confidence - all of this we already know. But once you walk away, it is what you leave behind that can have the most impact.

Get creative with your business cards - if you are a photographer, have a sample of your images as the background of your cards; designers get quirky and show off what you can do. A freelance baker once gave me her details embossed on a cookie, not so great if you want people to remember your number but memorable none-the-less. A TV director gave out cards that looked like a director’s cut board, complete with movable arm and a web designer gave QR codes that took you straight to his ‘master piece’ website. The key here is to show what you are capable of as quickly as possible in a way that takes almost no effort from the recipient. 
5.    Don’t just use social media - utilise it

We all know the importance of social media. We have Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google + and post on them regularly enough. However, using these platforms isn’t good enough. You have to really understand how they work in order to get the most out of them.

Social media is a brilliant way of testing the effectiveness of various products and campaigns. For example, if you have written, been featured in, photographed or deigned a piece and you want it to get as much exposure as possible, you can use platforms such as Twitter to test which is the best way of getting it out there. Using Twitter analytics you will be able to see how many people clicked on your post, shared it or interacted with it in some way and can compare that to another type of social share. Do pictures work best? What kind of wording reaches the most people? Do your clients and prospective clients interact more with Twitter and Facebook? Does your social media effectively reflect your brand and message? Standing out from the crowd is all about reaching as many different people as you can. Social media allows you to target individuals you would not otherwise reach and you are then able to measure your results.

It is not always easy and you will meet many frustrations and challenges along the way, but in order to truly excel at your chosen profession, you must persevere and not be afraid to experiment. Consistency is important too though, so ensure you retain your brand image in all that you do. However, getting creative with the way in which you throw that image out to the world can be exciting. Your efforts may not always prove fruitful but will undoubtedly provide experiences from which to learn and become a better creative freelancer in the future.