I remember it very well. The picture of a well-tanned man reclined in a hammock with a laptop – on the beach.
Beside him was a nice looking beverage with beads of sweat running down it.
What caught my attention, however, was the caption under that photo. It read, “This is the view from my office”.
I was hooked.
From that day, I wanted to be a freelancer. And thankfully I am. But guess what? I’m not writing this sitting on the beach.
But thankfully, I am working from home (and no, not in my undies).
Has the journey been rosy? Well, the best answer I can give you is that I wish I had known certain things before embarking on this lifestyle of freedom. These are things every freelancer needs to know. Even if you’re not a freelancer, chances are you’ll soon become one.
How do I know?
According to research conducted by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, more than 50% of the American workforce will be freelancers by the year 2027 – that’s just 9 years away.
That means in order to position yourself for success you need to avoid some of the biggest pitfalls freelancers fall into. Let me give you the 5 things I wish I knew before I started freelancing. These are, in my opinion, the most important things every freelancer should know.
1. It’s Not All Sandy Beaches and …
Many are lured into freelancing with the notion that there will be a lot of free time on their hands. I certainly thought so.
But in reality freelancers, especially in the initial stages of their business, work harder than full-time employees. One of the reasons this is so is because as a newcomer, you will have to prove that you are competent enough to handle the project at hand.
Besides that, as a freelancer, your income is determined by your output. This means unlike a full-time employee whose income is set to come at the end of the month (or week), you as a freelancer have to work hard to make sure you get paid.
If there’s one thing you need to work on straight from the start, it’s the discipline to set a work schedule and stick to it. It’s very easy to give in to the temptation of watching just one more episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix. After all, there’s no one to push you to work. But if you succumb to the temptation, you’ll definitely fail at freelancing.
It is only when you establish yourself as an expert and authority in your field that you can increase your rates and earn more for less work you put in. And that’s when you can go and work from the beach, right? Well, no. That will be time to reel in more clients and put your business in order.
Which brings me to the next thing I wish I knew before getting into the freelance world.
2. Treat Your Freelancing Like a Business – Because it Is
The mistake I made when I started freelancing was to treat it like a job.
As long as you treat your freelancing as a job you will never grow it to become the vehicle of freedom that will take you to the beach.
There’s nothing as great as being your own boss – nothing. But then again, there are always 2 sides to every coin. The other side to this coin is that apart from doing client work, you also have to steer your ship as a business owner.
Just because you are a solopreneur it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat your freelancing as a business. Yes, even if it is a side hustle it’s still a business. That means you will need to understand how to run a business.
One of the core things you will need to establish from the onset as a business owner is how you will pay yourself. I learnt this the hard way on my journey by spending what I had the moment it came in. The time I desperately needed some cash, I was as broke as a church mouse.
Putting systems in place that help you run your freelancing gig as a business will benefit you a lot in the long run. So the sooner you start treating yourself as a business, the better.
3. The Feast and Famine Cycle is Real
Looking at that picture of the man who was working from the beach, one would think that every day is payday for freelancers.
I wish someone could have told me about the feast and famine cycle before I landed my recurring first client. I thought I was set for life and made a budget and commitments based on that client. Sure, the first few months were awesome. There was plenty of work and the money was rolling in like clockwork.
And then the projects became inconsistent. The famine kicked in and I started sinking in debt.
Listen friend, the feast and famine cycle is real. You need to make sure you prepare for it by saving up in the feast years. Had I known then what I know now, I would have saved at least 3 months’ worth of living expenses. For most freelancers, 3 months is more than enough time to get more clients.
To cut the long story short, create a cushion for yourself in case things go south. One of the biggest risks that every freelancer faces is the fact that work and pay are never really guaranteed.
4. A Mentor Will Help You Reach Your Goals Faster
This is actually something I didn’t experience but have seen so many good freelancers suffering from – the lack of a mentor.
I can’t stress this enough – if you don’t have a mentor you won’t get very far in the cutthroat world of freelancing.
A mentor is an invaluable asset that will help you overcome challenges, push you to go beyond your limits, and show you systems and strategies to get results faster – both for yourself and for your clients. In my own case, my mentor helped me achieve in a year what I other freelancers boasting of achieving in 3 years. I also learned a lot from reading the blog posts, emails, and books of those whose lifestyle I emulated. One such in particular is freelance copywriter Jacob McMillen.
If you don’t have a mentor, it’s best you get one fast. And if you don’t know how, the easiest way is to look within your network for someone you can easily reach out to and have some meaningful conversations. Otherwise the next best place to get a mentor is by joining a Facebook (or LinkedIn) group.
But whatever you do, get someone to show you the ropes – even if you have to pay a hefty fee for it.
Mentorship is borrowing someone else’s experience and using it to accelerate your progress. If you want to succeed, and that at a fast pace, you can’t do without a mentor. So go ahead, swallow your pride, open your purse and get yourself a mentor.
5. Brand Professionally
This is a big one I wish I had done right from the beginning.
Many freelancers, myself included, assume that because they are freelancers, they don’t have to brand themselves professionally.
Well, guess what? You do.
The way you present yourself has a big bearing on the type of clients you attract. Most high paying clients will do a thorough background check before they employ anyone. This means they will check, not just your portfolio, but your social media accounts as well. This means if you want to land the big fish, you better create social media profiles that resonate with the kind of services you provide and the type of clients you want to attract.
This is especially important for platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other platform you use professionally. One great example I can think of is Sam Ovens, a successful consultant that has raised a lot of millionaires. Wherever you find him on the internet, you will definitely trust him to mentor you to your first million dollars. His brand speaks for itself.
The best way to succeed at this is to create a profile that is consistent across all channels. That profile must be engaging and at the same time tell the reader what exactly you do. And don’t forget to include a professional headshot too. Research shows that people are more willing to do business with a person whose social media profile looks “human”.
6. Marketing Never Stops
When I got my first retainer client, I made the biggest mistake of my freelance career – I stopped marketing myself.
As a freelancer, marketing never stops.
The simple reasoning behind that statement is two-fold:
You get better clients. By continuing to market yourself, you are setting yourself up for success. That is if you market yourself right by pitching better clients.
You protect yourself from seasons of famine. As a freelancer, never put all your eggs in one basket. Relying on a single client is a sure recipe for disaster. By continuing to market yourself, you’ll ensure that you have a couple (or more) clients that you can depend on.
I know marketing is one thing that many freelancers dislike but it is a necessary part of the success equation. In order to succeed at this, set aside a time in your schedule that you will devote to marketing your services.
To Be Forewarned is to Be Fore-Armed
As the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. That definitely applies to freelancing as well. The more information and knowledge you have as you jump into the freelancing jungle, the higher your chances of succeeding.
If you’re in your initial stages of freelancing, I believe this information has helped you gain better understanding of what freelancing entails and how to set yourself up for a successful future. If there’s something else you wish you could have known before getting into freelancing, why not join the conversation and share it with us in the comments section below.