A huge part of getting better projects is the nitty gritty of “getting out there” and “working hard” — these are external focuses. These are actions we take and ways we interact with others. However, to make significant progress in our careers, sometimes we need to turn the lens back on ourselves and examine what really isn’t working.

In this companion piece to our recent article on attracting new clients, we will dig deep and be honest about the ways we may be sliding off track and how we can get ourselves moving in the right direction again.

1. You have lost the motivation to self-start

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the immensely talented Ilise Benun of the How Design podcast series. When we discussed the current state of the gig economy, she became very animated about the need for solopreneurs to stop being passive and take active ownership of their careers.

“The self employed must step up and take responsibility for ourselves,” Benun says. “We need to stop being passive and treating our clients like our employers. We need to be the boss of our own businesses and stop taking whatever comes along, which gets glorified and called ‘word of mouth’.”

Self-starting is a skill many people talk up and cram into the qualifications sections of generic job postings (along with “great people skills” and a “can-do attitude”). While being a self-starter is — in a vague sense — a good trait for any job, it is truly essential for independent contractors.

It can become very easy once you hit your stride with a gorilla client (a client who accounts for the lionshare of your income) to get lazy with your outreach and stop growing your pipeline. Sure, some great opportunities will land right in your lap — but others will take a bit more initiative and relationship nurturing to materialize. Get in the habit of taking an active ownership of your business.

2. You don’t really have expertise . . .

There’s a part of me that cringes any time I meet peers who introduce themselves as “experts” — especially experts in three or four different areas that have very little correlation to each other. While our outlook at Nation1099 concerning the gig economy is a very openminded one, we can still learn a lot from the people who acknowledge hard truths.

Entrepreneur contributor and CEO of LeadMD Justin Gray offers an interesting perspective on outsourcing to solos in a piece provocatively titled “Why Relying on Gig Workers to Fill Your Skills Gap is Lazy.”

“The saturation of talent in these marketplaces forces individuals to become jacks of all trades and masters of none,” says Gray, “but companies don’t notice/care that the same worker offering up content marketing services is also an amateur voiceover artist, legal consultant and recipe maker (or worse).”

The reason the term “expert” irks many of us is because it’s quickly losing its meaning in the context of the gig economy. Frankly, not all solopreneurs are experts and if you are going to call yourself one, you need to own it. You aren’t the “perfect fit” for clients in a target market if you are so busy juggling three other target markets that you do not have the time and energy to continually grow in your niche.

It takes some time and effort over months and years to narrow your market but it will ultimately get you higher quality, better paying work. If you’re flailing your way through a handful of specialties ask yourself: Which of these am I am most passionate about? Which of these can I see myself turning into a full career?

3. Your skills are not current

Riffing on the last point, it can become especially hard to find better projects if you’ve been diverted over recent months or years from the focus area that really should be your expertise. As Gray hints, clients can come to see freelancers in these positions much they way they would view a job applicant who has been out work for a couple years.

Whether you work from a coffee shop or a corporate office, the bottom line is you need to keep learning. Resting on your laurels or learning in every field other than the one you’re getting paid for isn’t a recipe for a sustainable career.

I’m not saying you need to stifle your desire to grow in other areas (you might have noticed in addition to being a content writer, I’m also a professional musician), but you at least need to make sure you are continuing to grow your skills in the areas that are most important to your long-term career path.

Sometimes our priorities can come to blows with each other and require some special finessing to manage. The Simple Dollar author Trent Hamm gives some excellent advice on keeping your skills fresh when life pulls in you in unexpected directions in a blog for Lifehacker.

4. Your planning could use an overhaul

You may have recently seen our whole song and dance on the values of smart time management. While I highly recommend you have a look at this post if you haven’t already, there is more to good planning than keeping strict tabs on your hours and minutes. You will miss out on a lot of new gigs and opportunities to grow in your niche if you have to reinvent the wheel with every task you take on.

Successful marketing consultants, writers and designers map multiple assignments out in advance. It can be as simple as scheduling most of your clients’ social media posts for the month or filling a calendar with writing topics or image ideas for weeks to come so diving into your daily work is as mindless as possible (yes, this is a good thing!).

Right the ship today and get better gigs tomorrow

These are not issues that you will remedy overnight and that’s okay. Making yourself aware of them is already a good first step! These are the big picture changes that will benefit you in the long run — but this doesn’t mean waiting until you hit a wall to better your habits.

Take a good a look at your routine and pick one big snag that you need to become more accountable to. Give it some thought each week. How can your business become a better version of what it is now? Better projects won’t always come to you, but you can certainly go to them.

Ben Shanbrom is a freelance writer, musician, and copy editor who works with artists and clients within his native New Haven scene and well beyond (ask him about tracking drums in the studio where Europe recorded “The Final Countdown”). Ben is a tried and true “coffee rings on his notepad” freelancer, and wouldn’t have it any other way.