I seem to have a running theme in my life, that I like to learn things the hard way. lol! Maybe it’s some of my Hungarian stubbornness that makes it so! Freelancing is one of those areas where I learned many things the hard way.
While I think that at some point if you’re really ready to take the leap, there will be nothing stopping you no matter how prepared you are. But, as the NBC promo likes to tell us, “the more you know….”
My hope is that someone out there who is ready to take the leap, will learn from these seven freelance lessons I’ve learned in the seven years I was a freelancer (before going back to full time).
1. Prepare before you become a freelancer!
I wrote a whole post on this because I think if you really want to become a successful freelancer, a lot has to do with the preparation that happens before you become one. To reiterate, those five essential steps include:
- Building relationships – You want to arm yourself with knowing as many people in your industry as possible, because more than anything I’ve seen in freelancing, it’s who you know, way more than what you know.
- Practice freelancing – You need to muster up as much energy as possible to find time to practice freelancing while you still have a full time job!
- Live off half your income – Freelancing can be notoriously hot or cold when it comes to work and income. If you realize that there is no way you could live off half your income with your current expenses, then I would consider rethinking freelancing until you can.
- Have a huge emergency fund – Your freelance life will be so much more relaxed and enjoyable if you have a huge financial cushion. Build this while you still have steady income. I would also encourage you to have your debt (at least consumer debt) paid off before you make the leap.
- Get educated about freelancing – Hey, that’s what this article is for, but there are plenty of books, blogs, articles, etc., that can help you get educated. I’ll add some links at the bottom of this post!
2. Develop a support network.
Freelancing can be lonely for many people who are used to working around or with a lot of people. I happen to be an introvert so I LOVED this part of freelancing, but still, it’s good to have a network of other people, including other freelancers, who can help you with problem solving, getting tasks done, answer questions, etc. Remember that you are going to be wearing many hats including IT, marketing, accounting, PR, etc., so look for seminars, webinars, meetings, and conferences, where you can continue meeting people, building your network, and get help when you need it.
3. Set up your systems.
Don’t wait until a year has passed to set up good systems for your money, accounting, invoicing, and time (this is where your network can help you). Set up regular “business hours” (more on this later) and let your clients know that info. Use invoicing software like FreshBooks (which is what I used and loved!), accounting software like Quickbooks, some kind of expense tracker software, etc., to get everything set up and organized from the get-go. I would also look into getting an accountant right away who can help you set up estimated taxes for the year.
4. Keep your records (especially taxes) organized!
This is a big one and was probably one of the things I hated most about freelancing. Personally, I never got very good at being organized, so by the time February rolled around each year I was up to my eyeballs going through receipts, and bank and credit cards statements, trying to get my paperwork ready before I even met my accountant. Again, I like to learn the hard way! Trust me when I say that if you find a better way to keep your tax records organized all year, it will save you a lot of time and headache in the long run.
5. Set boundaries for your money and time.
First let’s talk about money. When you first start freelancing, you may here this from clients: “if you do this one project for free or cheap I swear… (there will be more work in the future) (this will look good on your resume/reel) (this will be the only time I ask – the next time I’ll have more of a budget).
As freelancers, we’ve heard it all! It’s not to say that you shouldn’t always take a lower paying gig, but make sure there is something in it for you, like a passion project, or non-profit, or the company has a proven track record of hiring again.
I would also discourage, as a general rule, bartering. I have done this in the past and sometimes it works, but sometimes it goes horribly wrong.
Now on to time. Clients are like my cat who begs to go outside. Once I give him and inch and let him outside (just this once), he takes a mile, and then he begs more often. You need to be somewhat like a tree: flexible, but grounded. Otherwise you will find yourself working 24/7.
6. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Hustle!
Here is another lesson I learned the hard way. Because I had worked in video for SO LONG before I started freelancing, I thought work would kind of magically come to me. I actually had to start working on my own projects, which had zero budget, before people really started taking notice of my work (I wrote more about that in this article) and I started working on projects that meant more to me. Doing so was a huge factor in how I landed my full time job.
You need to get out there and pitch, hustle, pitch some more, and work on your own thing, to really make it.
7. Set goals and adjust them as needed.
Here is another area where you need to be a tree. I always set goals for my freelance business at the beginning of the year, then broke them down into monthly and weekly goals so they were more manageable.
But, things happen, money gets tight, and situations change. Be open to revising your goals during the year as needed and don’t be upset if you have to change them or you didn’t accomplish them. A tree sways in the wind without breaking.
So those are my seven freelance tips for seven years of freelancing. I asked some of my favorite fellow freelancers to send me articles where they have their own tips so you have even more resources!
Any other tips freelancers would like to add in the comments?
Good luck future freelancer!
Freelancers Union – they have a plethora of useful information!
J Money from Budgets are Sexy: What I’ve Learned After 5 Years of Self-Employment
Michelle from The Shop My Closet Project: The #1 Thing I Hate About Freelancing
Kayla from Shoeaholic No More: Why Solopreneurs Can Never Quit #Hustling!
Brian from Luke 1428: 5 Important Life Lessons From My Freelance Writing