Jul 24 / Matt Saunders

7 of the Best Personal Development Books for Freelancers

Pull yourself into the top 1% of freelancers by doing the deep work that most will not. Here are my favourite self-help books for freelancers, complete with three important insights for each.
There are literally tens of thousands of books on the subject of personal development, and plenty of books for freelancers too.

I've read... quite a lot of them 😅

In this article I've taken my top books to help freelancers grow both personally and professionally, to help boost their self-esteem, confidence and general outlook on life. I've distilled each book's core messages into three insights that you can pick up and use right away.

As an accountability coach I am driven to help you boost your productivity and hit your goals so you can build the professional life of your dreams. Let's get started!

Best books for freelancers

These are the books that have contributed massively to my growth as both a freelancer and human being. I return to them again and again to draw on their wisdom and integrate it into my own thinking.

  • Stop Thinking like a Freelancer
  • The Dream Client Playbook
  • The 5am Club
  • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
  • The Marshmallow Test
  • Stop Reading the News
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Each book has been influential in its own right, and so this is not an ordered list. Every one of them is an important read. I'm starting with probably the most relevant to you, in an effort to give this reading list a little more context.

Stop Thinking like a Freelancer

Stop Thinking like a Freelancer by Liam Veitch
I love the title of this book. It speaks directly to a mindset that I believe is keeping many freelancers small - thinking like a freelancer.

As freelancers we often see ourselves as a cog in the machine, deferring to a boss but without any of the benefits of employment. And so this book is about evolving into a fully-fledged business owner.

The author, Liam Veitch, bases the book on his personal experience. He talks about the journey of a freelancer to an agency owner. He demonstrates how you can move from unstable, inconsistent income to a place where you're thriving, working with a team and no longer selling your time. This is the destination that many freelancers want, but fail to achieve because they don't know which steps to take. Well, this book lays it all out for you.

Key insights

  • "Business" is not a dirty word. Many freelancers are reluctant to admit they want money and self-sabotage the moment they taste success.
  • You don't really want more clients, you want better clients.
  • Work on your self-perception to see yourself as a strategic partner more than a functional "gun for hire".

The bottom line: this book is for ambitious freelancers who want to shift toward being a scalable business owner.

The Dream Client Playbook

The Dream Client Playbook cover with Matt Saunders
Full disclosure: I wrote The Dream Client Playbook 😅

The idea for this book came to me by observing the common problems my freelance clients were facing. I wrote it to help them gain clarity on their audience and offer, as well as develop a strategy for reaching their ideal clients.

Before any strategic work however, the book helps you to look into your own mindset by examining your beliefs and values. Your actions are guided by your mindset, so the book contains a free worksheet exercise to help you install the beliefs necessary to thrive. By reframing those negative thoughts and limiting assumptions, you can accelerate your growth massively.

Key insights

  • You don't need a fancy website and 10,000 followers to grow your business - you just need a clear offer and a target market.
  • You can only build a sustainable solo business if you care deeply about what you're trying to achieve. Use your personal values to guide you on this mission (there is a worksheet for this also).
  • Your results are linked directly to your beliefs - get clear on the stories you tell yourself so you can replace them with more productive and useful ones.

Bottom line: your dream clients are out there waiting for you - you just need to be bold in rejecting the wrong ones and tune into finding the right ones. Buy the book here for just £5.

The 5am Club

The 5am Club book cover with Robin Sharma
Robin Sharma, author of The 5am Club is sometimes accused of contributing to "hustle culture" by advocating for early starts, sweaty exercise and cold showers. This sort of stuff is often frowned upon by the freelance community, who condemn it as an unhealthy obsession with perfection and damaging to the work-life balance.

I used to think the same way, until I tried some of what Sharma proposes. I now see that the principles shared in this book are beneficial to productivity and wellbeing. They enable me to make more money, have greater impact and achieve a better overall balance.

Were there parts that didn't resonate? Sure, but on the whole, this book motivated me to make subtle changes to the way I live that have had a massive impact on my life quality. You don't need to wake at 5am and plunge into a cold bath, but there's so much more to this book than that. Be sure to pick up a copy and let the ideas shared infuse your thinking and inspire your growth.

Key insights

  • Your external world is always an expression of your internal state - so work tirelessly on self-improvement.
  • Growth only happens when we are tested, like muscle tearing under the pressure of a weight. Seek out challenges and see huge personal progression on the other side.
  • The closer you get to your genius, the more you'll face the sabotage of your fears.

The bottom line: optimising yourself is the best way to improve your life and the state of the world.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Feel the Fear book cover with Susan Jeffers
As far as books for freelancers go, this is probably the most powerful one yet. Feel the Fear was the first self-help book I read because I had just launched my web design business and realised I needed to lean into my fears. I recognised how much my worries had been holding me back, and it was time to say "no more!"

This is a classic American personal growth book and in it, author Susan Jeffers offers practical, science-backed advice for conquering your fears so you can move forward. This book introduced me to the idea of positive affirmations - brief statements you can speak to yourself to shift your thinking to a more productive place. To this day I still sometimes draw on the statement "I am confident" before running a workshop. It gives me that little bolt of positive energy I need before going live.

If you're looking for ways to access your personal power so you can make big life changes, you need to read this book.

Key insights

  • The mantra "there is no wrong path" - I found it incredibly liberating to hear that whatever path I take in life contains either success or a lesson. Failure isn't really a thing. So when faced with indecision, I now recite to myself "there's no wrong path" and take action anyway.
  • It is easy to slip into a victim mindset when we give away our power to other people and circumstances. Real power comes from taking 100% responsibility for your own life - what you think, feel and how you act are all within your control.
  • Fear is a part of growth - as long as you are growing, you'll experience fear. So get used it it and learn to love it.

Bottom line: if you sense that your fears are blocking your prgress, this book will transform your thinking and give you practical tools for working through whatever is getting in your way.

The Marshmallow Test

Marshmallow Test by Waler Mischel
This book is written by Walter Mischel, a psychologist who developed a popular experiment to understand impulse control. In it, children were offered one marshmallow that they could eat immediately, or two if they can resist the urge and wait an indefinite amount of time.

The ability to delay gratification and stay the course without knowing when results will come is fundamental to success as a business owner, which is why I've selected this book as a "must-read" for freelancers.

I personally struggle to work consistently at one thing for a serious amount of time. I see the same trait in my freelance clients. The urge to change course because something "isn't working" after only a few weeks can be catastrophic to our long-term success. Therefore, it is vital that we work on our impulse control and ability to delay gratification. It is only through consistency that we make measurable progress.

Key insights

  • Over 30 years a correlation - and perhaps a causation - emerged between children who could delay gratification by waiting for two marshmallows, and those who went on to have more successful lives (higher income, wider social group and longer marriages)
  • Intense stress over time causes the "thinking" part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) to shrink and the "fear" part of the brain (the amygdala) to increase in size. The lesson - do what you can to de-stress!
  • Resisting temptation can be achieved by distancing oneself from it or by making it abstract in the mind (for example, a dessert appears less appetising if it is crawling with cockroaches). Use your imagination to make temptations less tempting.

Bottom line: those who can control their impulses and work consistently toward their goals achieve healthier, happier and wealthier results than those who give in to temptation easily.

Stop Reading the News

Stop Reading the News Rolf Dobelli
This is probably the least well-known book on my freelancer reading list, but it's important nonetheless. It was published in 2020 and its subtitle is "a manifesto for a happier, calmer and wiser life".

I stumbled across it in my local library and I'm so thankful that I did.

I realised that for me, logging into Twitter or opening up the BBC news website was often a major buzzkill. It put me in a bad mood. I found myself consuming a lot of stuff that I simply didn't need to know. That is to say, this information had no meaningful impact on my life, other than to put me in a state of fear and anger. Imagine trying to grow a business with that hanging over you?

It's important to say that refusing to engage in news consumption, which is essentially entertainment, is not about burying your head in the sand. It's more about being selective with what enters your mind, in a similar way to the food you eat. Get savvy with this, and you'll bolster your mindset, optimism and creativity no end.

Key insights

  • The news is more about entertainment than it is information. To learn, opt for long-reads written by experts in their field instead.
  • News reports are often outside our "circle of competence", meaning we form (often quite strong) opinions on subjects we know little about, and the news format is unequipped to help us develop a real understanding.
  • News is largely irrelevant and even "breaking news" probably means very little, if anything, to us personally.

Bottom line: "news" is mostly irrelevant to your life and bad for your health. Switch it off and focus on the things that matter to you.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
I have fond memories of reading this book, feet up outside a seaside cabin we rented for the day whilst on holiday. But it wasn't just the warmer summer breeze that had me smiling that day - the wisdom shared by author Stephen Covey resonated so deeply that I'm sure by the end of the book you'd find more pages adorned with my green highlighter pen than not.

The 7 Habits is another highly acclaimed, classic self-help book, and for good reason. For me, a great book connects with you on a visceral level, articulating what you already know in ways you never could. This book did that for me, and I return to its teachings on a regular basis.

Key insights

  • There is a space between stimulus and response. This book introduced me to the idea that I can choose how I respond to any given situation and I need not fall back to my default emotional reply. This insight alone changed my life.
  • Service to others - when you're only concerned with helping yourself, you are less effective and less fulfilled. Get into a service mindset to excel in all areas.
  • Begin with the end in mind - the second of the 7 habits for me is the most powerful. It states you should create a vision for what you want then work out the steps back from there to where you are now.

Bottom line: this is basically a playbook on how to live a good life as a fully actualised human being. It should be required reading for all teenagers and without a doubt, every freelancer should absorb its lessons and live them to the fullest of their ability.

Worthy mentions

I read a LOT of books. And with each one I read, I look for some nugget of wisdom I can apply to my own life. Here are some books that didn't quite make the top list, but have given me a new perspective or inspired me to try something new nonetheless.

  • How to Rise: A Complete Resilience Manual Book (Chrissie Mowbray and Karen Forshaw)
  • The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle)
  • Presence (Amy Cuddy)
  • Start with Why (Simon Sinek)
  • Fear Less (Pippa Grange)
  • Atomic Habits (Jame Clear)
  • Key Person of Influence (Daniel Priestley)

How to get the best out of your reading list

There are many books offering advice on business strategy. Freelancers are drawn to these because, let's face it, if you're a graphic designer or a copywriter, you probably don't know much about business (it's a different world that we don't feel we belong in).

But what I have found is that whilst strategic insight is incredibly useful, it's nothing without personal development. You've got to rise to meet the challenges of being in business, and this means building emotional resilience, guarding your optimism and getting into a persistent, long-term mindset.

Not easy stuff.

Books alone can trigger thoughts which turn into actions, but only if you intentionally practice what you learn. Most people read a book but quickly forget what they learn. Get into the habit of taking notes on your phone or using a highlighter pen to mark important passages. If something resonates with you, take a moment to re-read it. Speak it aloud. These little tips will help the information stick long enough for you to put it into practice. And when you practice it enough times, it becomes you. This is how a book can change your life.

Happy reading! 📖
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