Can attitude beat skills in freelancing?

Which of the following do you think is the most important ingredient for succeeding at freelancing:

A) Experience

B) Skills

C) Attitude

While they can all be important, I believe that the most important of the three is C, your attitude.

Once you understand this, it becomes much easier to compete against freelancers with more experience than you.

And since there is always someone more experienced out there, I think it’s important to spend a few minutes discussing the reasoning that brought me to this conclusion.

1. Your attitude affects the way clients perceive you

Who do you think would seem more hirable to a client: A more experienced freelancer who comes off as insecure, or a less experienced freelancer who appears to be more confident?

Just as the price of wine can affect the way it tastes, people perceive you differently depending on your attitude.

Think about the implications of that: A client could actually like your work better, just because you have a great attitude!

Have you ever seen a business logo and thought, “I would fire that designer”? Well maybe the designer had such a great attitude, that the business owner just loved the logo.

2. A great attitude is a scarce resource

Compared to people with skills and experience, people with great attitudes are a rare specimen.

In fact the two are often inversely correlated.

If you have doubts about that, just walk into a restaurant kitchen, and see if the most experienced chef is also the one with the best attitude — probably not!

Or imagine a class full of students learning a certain skill: At the end of the class, everyone who stayed and passed the class will have the skill — but do you think they’ll all have a great attitude? Again, probably not.

The upshot of this is that, since scarce resources are more valuable than non-scarce ones, a great attitude can lead to more opportunities to get hired, along with better pay.

3. Attitude is instantaneous

Skills and experience are great, but they can take a while to get. On the other hand, working on your attitude shows much faster results.

Someone who’s had an awful attitude for years might not be able to just flip a switch and turn it around, but even in an extreme case like that, I seriously doubt that most people couldn’t turn their attitude around in a matter of a few days or weeks — if not hours. It’s a fast way to start getting better results, regardless of your experience or skill level.

4. A great attitude makes you more productive

Just because someone has skills and experience, doesn’t mean they can produce great work.

There are plenty of experienced and skilled people who can’t do their job right, because their attitude is all messed up.

But when you’re enthusiastic, fired up, and interested in your work, it’s much easier to do a great job — even if you’re lacking somewhat in the skills and experience area.

On a related note, having a great attitude also helps you learn new skills faster and easier, so there’s that too.

5. Skills and experience aren’t everything

It’s a common mistake to think that clients just hire the most skilled person, or the most experienced person. But I can tell you it doesn’t work that way.

When a client is evaluating which freelancer to hire, whether they consciously realize it or not, they’re not just looking at your qualifications — they’re also trying to figure out if you’re going to make their life easier, if you’re going to get along well with their team, if you’re going to follow through on your promises, and other attitude-related factors.

If you want to get clients’ attention, pairing your skills and experience with a good attitude is the way to go.

6. Attitude is more recognizable

Two clients might disagree on how skilled a certain freelancer is (or isn’t) — but chances are they will agree on which ones have a good attitude.

In other words, skills are more subjective than attitude.

You can spend years honing your skills, only to have some people dislike your work (in spite of how great it may be) — but if you’ve got a great attitude, everyone will notice.

Even something that seems as concrete as “years of experience” is more subjective than attitude. That’s because “years of experience” doesn’t say much about the quality of someone’s work. We all know people who’ve been doing something for a long time, yet still aren’t very good at it.

For these reasons, a great attitude often says more than even the best credentials can convey.

7. Attitude can literally put money in your pocket

A client once offered to pay me — very handsomely I might add — to do something that I had no idea how to do.

I even told him I didn’t know how to do it, but he didn’t care. He trusted me to figure it out.

From working with me on previous projects, he sensed that I always had a “can-do” attitude. And that attitude has paid off for me (and my students) many times.

It can pay off for you too.

Final thoughts

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that attitude is the only important factor in freelancing success.

But I do think it’s one of the most important, even more important than skills/experience.

And the best news is that your attitude is the one factor you have the most control over, and can improve the quickest.

(Image Attribution: “The Dog Show. Season 2” by Alexander Khokhlov, Veronica Ershova is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 )

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