I distinctly remember the year 2005. I had quit my full-time job in favour of a freelance career. There were butterflies in my stomach and a head full of apprehensions.
It was a big step, after all. I was leaving the cushion of a guaranteed salary and stepping into the unknown during a time when freelancing wasn’t a thing.
Now many successes, failures, and learning experiences later (16 years, to be precise), I’m thankful that I mustered the courage to follow my dreams and took that plunge into freelance writing!
To say it’s been easy would be a lie, all-great, would be an exaggeration. But what it’s been is one humungous learning experience.
In this article, I’ll share my biggest takeaways and lessons learned from a life of freelancing.
I hope someone somewhere who’s debating whether or not to follow their heart finds inspiration from this post! 🙂
16 Freelancing Lessons from a Seasoned Freelance Writer
1. Getting Started is Your Biggest Victory
It may sound clichéd but, the moment you take that first step towards your freelance dream is the moment you become victorious. Now, embrace this feeling of victory, and when things get tough along the way, look back at this moment in time and remind yourself why you started.
This little exercise works wonders to help you get back up and get moving on your path to success!
2. Not Everyone Will Understand Your Path. That’s Okay.
Freelancing is quite common today. But it wasn’t when I started, which meant a lot of doubtful glares and questions from people. Though it didn’t stop me from following my path, it did make me realize that there will always be someone who’ll doubt your choices.
You know what? It’s perfectly fine as long as you don’t start doubting yourself.
3. It’s Always Impossible Till You Take That Plunge
You’ve probably heard of the proverb, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. For a freelance professional, it stands true every time. You see, especially when you’re starting, you won’t have everything figured out from Day 1. There will be many loose ends and numerous unanswered questions. Don’t let them stop you from moving forward.
Believe that the moment something becomes necessary to solve, you will instinctively find the courage and resolve to seek the correct answers. It’s just how the human mind works!
4. Savour the Good Days. Learn from the Difficult Days
No two days are ever the same. But especially when you freelance, this difference becomes even more pronounced as there is always an element of uncertainty in our line of work. Projects may come and go in a matter of seconds. And sometimes, it’s all too easy to have your motivation dry up.
It’s in these uncertain times that every freelancer needs to adopt a balanced mindset. Bask in the glory of a good day and learn the lessons from the difficult ones. As they say, every experience will teach you something.
5. Be Clear On Your Policies and Get Organised. Early On
A crucial aspect of setting up your freelance business is knowing what your terms and conditions will be. And the sooner you have your policies in place, the easier it is to interact with clients and pitch for work. So before you do anything else, hash out your terms and conditions.
These can include details like – What will be your payment model? How many revisions do you offer? What is the typical turnaround a client can expect when working with you? What is negotiable and what is not?
With these important questions answered, you will be in a much better position to build your business, interact with prospective clients and finally, work with your dream clients.
6. You Will Need a Sounding Board. Find Your Tribe
It tends to get lonely in the freelance world, even more, if you work without a team. The one thing that you’ll definitely benefit from is having a support group of like-minded people. It can be a friend, a relative or a peer with whom you can discuss your progress and maybe get a few pointers when you feel stuck while making important decisions.
If you are a writer, you may also want to run your latest piece by someone who can give you honest feedback.
Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes and ears is all you need to overcome a writer’s block or a creative impasse.
7. Your Attitude Determines Your Success
Often, freelancers give up their journey too soon because they don’t see the results they have dreamed about. Here’s the thing. Overnight success doesn’t exist. But what does work is consistent action and the right attitude.
So if you want to be successful as a freelancer, you have got to have a winner’s attitude even on days when things are less than perfect. Much like what I’ve discussed in Point No. 4!
8. Leave the Rat Race to the Rats
Now more than ever, freelancing has become an over-populated industry. Amid such chaos and so much over-saturation, my advice is to stay away from the rat race. That is neither worth your time nor conducive for your energy. That’s not to say that you should be oblivious to what’s happening in your industry.
By all means, stay on top of the industry news and keep yourself informed. Just don’t get engulfed in the never-ending race to the finish line — cause there isn’t any!
A better approach is to put your energies into making steady progress on your path to success, so you are better than who you were yesterday. That’s the only race that matters.
9. Develop Your Value
Whether you are a freelance writer, designer, or consultant, your legacy is you. So from early on in your freelance career, start building on the value you bring to your clients – as that will help you differentiate yourself from others.
That means you should get new experiences, work on different projects, learn as much as possible and always be willing to go back to the drawing board. And don’t forget to keep updating your freelancer portfolio with all the awesome projects you complete.
Put in the work every day and with every project. And you will start seeing the results.
10. Know Your Worth
We all start somewhere. But with experience and consistent hard work, you’ll reach a point where you will begin to appreciate what and how much you have achieved as a freelance professional.
Stay humble yet appreciate how far you have come. It is this realization that will help you to expand your business and charge what you are worth.
11. Always Work With People Who Respect You
When you are just starting, it can be difficult to know which projects are right for you and which are not. Interestingly, this realization only comes with experience. But remember to follow this rule of thumb – if they don’t respect you, they don’t deserve you!
So, always, I mean always work with clients who respect you and your craft. And if you do, you will never regret taking on a project in your life.
12. It Is Okay & Necessary to Say No
We get told to say more yes’s than no’s in life and to embrace new experiences. And all that is great. But as a freelancer, it’s okay if you find yourself saying no often — to the wrong things.
You see, it may seem tempting to accept a new project as a challenge only to realise that you weren’t qualified for it. Or say you force yourself to take on a project when the client promises you way lower than your worth.
It is in times like these when you must learn to agree to disagree.
Sometimes, a timely NO is better than a costly YES.
13. Remember. It’s Not Always About You
After an initial conversation or email exchange with a client, if you don’t hear back from them in a few days, it’s easy to blame yourself for your inability to bag that crucial project.
Listen, most of the time, delays happen at the client’s end and, it has nothing to do with you. So before you jump the gun, give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
There’s no harm in politely following up with the client and letting them know you’re interested in working with them.
14. Stop Obsessing. Start Completing Your Projects
We all want to do an excellent job for our clients. And that’s commendable. Just don’t become paralysed by perfectionism, as that will delay your projects and might even make you miss delivery deadlines.
So, optimise your work time with better focus and concentration.
Follow easy ways to boost your writing space and productivity.
Then balance the time you spend on the actual job vs perfecting it.
15. Have a Hobby
As you work hard to build a successful freelance business, do make time to indulge in activities that give you happiness and relaxation. These can be simple hobbies like gardening and cooking to scuba diving and pottery.
Hobbies are a great way to keep yourself happily occupied when work pressure is low, refresh yourself after a busy day, and keep your momentum and motivation up.
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16. Work Hard. Amaze. Repeat.
It brings me to the biggest lesson I have learned from my 16 years of freelancing. And it is simply this – if you wish to have a good run in all your years of building a career as a freelance, treat every project as the one that will define your SUCCESS.
In other words, Write. Amaze. Repeat.
The decision to go freelance may not be the easiest one you have made in a long time. But it may turn out to be the best one yet, especially if you have the right attitude. There’s a lot you will learn about your work and yourself along the way. Remember to hang in there when the going gets tough and savour every experience as a learning experience.
I hope you liked reading about the lessons I learned from 16 years of freelancing. How has your freelance journey been so far? What are your biggest takeaways from a life of freelancing? Tell me about it in the comments section below.