When people think of freelancing, they imagine being able to wake up at any hour they want, not have to deal with a demanding boss, and basically living the dream.
However, most freelancers quickly realize this is rarely the case. Well, the sleep part is still true, but it’s rarely as easy as most people think it is.
It starts out slow. You get your first few gigs here and there (which you realize you’re usually wildly underpaid for), and the excitement begins. You’re thrilled. You start posting quotes on your social media about people being suckers for following the 9-to-5. (Sending a side-eye to my 21-year-old self for doing that).
You get more gigs. This is great! You imagine what you’re going to do with all this freedom.
After a few months, you start to feel the stress.
Maybe it’s a tough client. Maybe you’re not making enough to make ends meet. Maybe you’ve decided to start working through the weekends.
Now, you’re missing nights out with friends or dates because you have to stay in and keep hustling.
But there’s a silver lining, right?
Not unless you start to take it seriously and treat your work like a business.
See, that’s exactly the mistake I made and tons of other freelancers I know did. They became obsessed and not in a healthy way. Then, all of a sudden you feel trapped. Instead of building a business, you’ve built your own type of prison. You’re responsible for your income and now it feels like every hour not working is hurting your bottom line.
This is when most people jump ship back to a “regular” job. They don’t want to wear a million hats, learn marketing, keep closing clients, learning about how to scale… They just want to go to work and get a guaranteed paycheck.
(On a side note, there’s nothing wrong with a traditional job. If I see one more blogger hate on regular jobs, I’m going to eye-roll so hard I’m going to go blind. Never, ever hate on what people have to do to survive in this world.)
After freelancing for basically my entire adulthood so far, there are a few things I wish I had focused on earlier. I’m passing these on so someone else can avoid a very public melt down in the middle of downtown Denver. (Seriously, not recommended.)
1. Learn as much as you can about running a business.
Freelancing isn’t some magical world where you throw off your business suit, put on your pj’s, and the world showers you with money.
If you’re going to be a freelancer, you need to act like the boss now. Before, your boss had to make all the executive decisions and think long-term about where the company was headed. Now, it’s your job. You need to start wearing all the hats until you can start to outsource (which rarely happens as fast as you think it does).
If you’re not prepared and mentally ready for building a business, you’ll quickly find yourself making less than you would at a minimum wage job.
The same skills required to build a business apply to the freelance world. You need to have a solid skill set, the ability to network, and a contract that will cover your ass in every situation.
This doesn’t mean you need to learn everything, but it wouldn’t hurt to stop reading freelancing books and start reading business books.
2. Learn how to do things that scale.
Simply put, this means you stop trading your time for money. Usually, you charge for a service to be done and you put in a dedicated amount of hours to finish it. People are paying for your time and expertise. When you do things that scale, for every hour you work you can create 10x your value.
This could mean creating products (physical and digital), teaching classes, creating content, or anything else that isn’t a direct one-on-one trade of time for money.
See, for yearssssss I was caught in this. I only took on client projects and didn’t think about packaging my work. Sure, it’s fun to work with clients but if you want to take some time off, there’s no way to keep making money when you’re not working. However, if you sold a product it could keep selling even when you’re not working. It takes a long time to create a solid product or class that keeps selling on a consistent basis, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind.
Package your brilliance and sell it.
3. Increase your rate.
If you haven’t increased your rate in the last two to three years, it’s time. Ideally, you should increase it every year.
There are so many scripts out there on the internet you can use to gently tell your clients that your rate is going up. I generally like to email clients during December to tell them about the new rate and to give them a chance to buy anything before the prices go up in the new year.
If you have the experience and you get your clients results, there is no reason you should be at the same rate. If Starbucks can raise the price of their coffee every so often even though it’s the same cup of coffee, then so can you with your growing experience.
4. Position yourself in a new way
Positioning is everything.
If you put two of the exact same computers next to each other, but one has the Apple logo on the back, which one do you think customers are going to think is more expensive?
This means doing the hard work of buckling down and figuring out exactly what makes you different then getting out there and telling the world about it.
5. Cash flow is KING.
If you’re not making money, you have a hobby.
Take a hard look at the activities you do everyday and if they aren’t making you money it’s time to cut them out.
Sure, there’s something to be said for taking the time to build a following online, but if that’s currently distracting you from doing the hard work you need to do, then it’s time for it to go.
6. Your network is your net worth
Ugh. I know. I hate that quote, too. But, like gravity, it's one of those laws of nature you can't really deny. The problem with freelancing is that once you leave an office, you don't network as much as you used to. You spend more days in your PJ's than out talking to actual humans. As a result, work usually starts to dry up.
Yes, it can be hard to get yourself excited to go out to networking events as much as you used to, but it’s an important part of business and
7. CUT YOURSELF OFF
For the love of god, please make a schedule and end work when you say you’re going to. Go out for date nights. See your friends. Stop looking at every hour like a chance to make money. As someone who sacrificed far too many good things in the pursuit of business, please learn from my mistakes.
Work isn’t everything. It’s a huge part of life, but it’s not everything.
If you keep saying no to invites, people stop inviting you. If you put relationships on the back-burner, they fizzle out. If you don’t spend time on your hobbies, you’ll realize years have gone by without spending time on them.
You started freelancing to have more of a life, so make sure you have one.