Remote freelancers and CEOs may not seem like they have too much in common.
But using some of the same skills as a business leader can set a remote freelancer up for success, says Taso Du Val, CEO of staffing firm Toptal. Du Val would know: He leads one of the largest freelancing networks in the world, and has spent years placing thousands of freelance professionals in jobs across the tech, design and finance industries.
"Leadership skills are paramount, regardless if a remote freelancer is some sort of manager or not," Du Val tells CNBC Make It. "They must do it if they want to progress in their career."
That's because while you may not be working in a leadership position, exhibiting some of the same soft and hard skills as a leader — whether that be a CEO, manager or another boss — can go a long way. Du Val says it can help you perform your contract job better, and it can also have long-term impacts on your career, from earning you more lucrative gigs to convincing an employer to permanently hire you.
The advice could be useful for a lot of people: A 2021 report from job marketplace Upwork shows that 36% of the U.S. workforce freelanced last year, roughly the same percentage as in 2020. The majority of freelancers appeared to work remotely in some capacity: About 31% of those freelancers were entirely remote, while 27% did hybrid work.
Here are three leadership skills that you can practice as a remote freelancer to set yourself up for success:
Most bosses have an unshakeable belief in their abilities. Remote freelancers need to as well, according to Du Val.
It can be easy to focus on how you're not a permanent part of a company, but Du Val says you have to believe that you can add the same level of value to a company that any other employee can, regardless of your status as a freelancer and a remote worker.
That mindset will only strengthen your confidence in yourself and your abilities, which will help you perform up to your potential and show your employer that you can handle the goals set out for you.
This appears to be backed by research. A 2020 study in the Asia Pacific Journal of Academic Research in Social Sciences examined the relationship between self-confidence and the ability to perform a task. Researchers asked high school students in the Philippines to fill out two questionnaires, and evaluated those students' performance in school.
Students who reported a high level of self-confidence in the questionnaire performed better in school than those who reported low self-confidence, the study found.
Professionalism doesn't necessarily mean adhering to company dress codes or calling your manager "sir" or "ma'am." Rather, Du Val says, professionalism means working and behaving in way that respects the people around you.
This can be easy to do in person, Du Val says: Simply focus on concepts like having the right facial expression, body language and good eye contact when you talk to someone face-to-face in the office.
It's much harder to do when you're exclusively working remotely. You have to practice "remote etiquette," which Du Val says involves making sure you have a video call setup where your face is clear and there are no distractions in the background, speaking clearly during calls or answering emails and other messages in a prompt manner.
Du Val says he's seen people who do "extraordinary" work fired for coming across unprofessional through the screen.
Practicing that remote work etiquette will have a positive impact on how an employer views you, Du Val says: "That will really transform that person from being just a 'freelancer' to actually someone that they value in the same way that they value their in-house employees."
Technical skills may not seem like a leadership ability, but Du Val notes that bosses typically don't get promoted to their positions unless they show some level of skill mastery.
The same logic applies to remote freelancers, he says: Sharpening the specific skills you bring to the table, which can vary depending on the nature of your freelance work, is what will impress an employer and prove that you can deliver results or even lead a team.
It can also make the labels between you and a permanent worker "fade away," according to Du Val: "Master your craft and you'll be able to shine through, even more than others, regardless if you're remote or freelance."
Du Val says practicing these hard and soft leadership skills can be "career changing" for some remote freelancers.
"We've seen that exact playbook, that exact scenario happened so many times," he says. "It's awesome to see people go off and hold high positions or even join the very organizations that hired them as a remote freelancer."