Simply put, freelancing isn’t for everyone. People who have difficulty staying on task, setting their own schedule, setting their own work goals and, most importantly, those who dislike an unpredictable income, are likely not best suited for freelancing. For those who are disciplined, organized and enjoy the challenge freedom of setting their own income, freelancing might be a great fit. Take a look at the traits that separate the good from the great with these 7 habits of highly efficient freelancers.

Find out what separates the good from the great by discovering these 7 habits of highly efficient freelancers.

1. Be Proactive
Unless every client you have is on retainer, you need to be prepared for dry spells, when you feel like the clichéd outfielder watching butterflies while you wait for work to come in. And if you’re waiting for work, you’re doing it all wrong. Take a look at your weekly schedule, how much time do you have devoted to job searches and pitches? If your answer is none, you need to rework your schedule. The old adage rings especially true with freelancing; the best time to look for a job is when you have one.

Being proactive isn’t just about you, though. It pays to be proactive with your clients, keeping the lines of communication open and frequently assessing their needs. No need to behave like an annoying waiter, just check in from time to time and suggest scheduling short, regular calls so that you can touch base with your client. I’m a former salesperson, and I can tell you that the quickest way to lose business is to a.) not recognize when your client’s needs aren’t being met, b.) when your client is unhappy, and c.) when you’re not identifying needs your client may have (and may not communicate).

2. Begin With the End in Mind
How do you define success? How much do you need to earn to live comfortably? How much do you want to earn this month, this year?

I begin each year by reflecting on the last; what can I do better? What skills do I need to strengthen? Where or what do I want to focus on? What worked well and what didn’t work last year? I take all of the answers to these questions into account when I’m setting my goals for the year. While I use goals to motivate me throughout the year, I’m careful to make them realistic — there’s nothing worse than feeling defeated throughout the year! I begin my year with a monthly goal, a 6-month goal and a stretch goal I want to meet by year end.

3. Put First Things First
My first year freelancing was spent ping-ponging around and mostly out of balance. I was working seven days a week and often waking at 4:30 in the morning to get work done! Needless to say, my family life suffered, and once I got my business up and running, and the rush from getting jobs wore off, I crashed. Don’t be like me. If you push yourself to the point where you’re questioning your quality of life, it’s time to reevaluate; after all, one of the biggest perks of freelancing is the ability to set your own hours!

4. Think, Win/Win
As a freelancer you are providing a service that benefits your client and benefits you. When the relationship is imbalanced, at least one party is unhappy or dissatisfied, weakening the relationship. Freelancing is built upon relationships, and when your relationship is in trouble, you’re in trouble. Think equal partnership and you’ll do well.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
Remember that relationship I was just talking about? The key to every relationship is communication, and the foundation for communication is listening; client relationships are no different. Understand and anticipate your client’s need by listening to what is being said…and what isn’t. Again, you’re in the business of providing solutions, and the ability to anticipate client needs makes you a more valuable asset. If you’re not the best communicator/listener, bring in other tools, such as the needs analysis used in sales, to use prompts during your discussion with your client.

6. Synergize
While freelancing can often be a lonely endeavor, you’re not really alone. Whether you realize it or not, it takes teamwork to be a successful freelancer. All of the habits I’ve discussed — maintaining a strong relationship, keeping the lines of communication open, listening to your clients needs (and anticipating them) — are the result of working together. With your client, your teammate, you’ll be working together to tap into creativity and generate ideas. As a ghostwriter, it’s incredibly important for me to develop a working relationship with clients. I need input from my client to have the ability to adopt their voice and speak to both their business needs and their customers.

7. Sharpen Your Pencil Saw
Remember that balance I spoke of earlier? You are only as strong as your biggest weakness. Caring for your own needs, the ability to balance home and work life, and your needs as well as the needs of your clients, is what will keep you on your game. I find that scheduling at least two conferences throughout my year helps me tighten my focus and reinvigorates me.

Want to work smarter, not harder? Exercise these habits and become a highly efficient freelancer!

What strategies do you use to stay organized, productive and build your business?