When I first decided to build a business, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Sure, I guessed it would be challenging and I’d be working all hours under the sun to get things up and running. However, I had no idea there would be times where I’d be sobbing to my Mum because my primary client no longer had the budget to work with me. Or how about those times where I almost threw my laptop out of my window because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to create a website opt-in form?
Sigh. The struggle has been real.
But, do you know what? I wouldn’t change the experience for the world.
Making monumental mistakes has taught me a lot. In fact, here are 24 freelance lessons I’ve learned in 24 months of running my biz that may help you on your own journey.
1. Freelance Lessons 101: Don’t Sacrifice Your Mental Health For the Sake of Your Business
Naturally, mental health had to be the first thing I write about in this post.
After all, there have been countless times in the last two years where I felt like I had to go that extra mile for a client without getting paid for it or push that little bit harder to meet a very tight deadline.
To be honest, I wish someone had told me that I was going to burn out in the beginning. I would have tried to prevent it from happening by listening to my body and my mind when they both told me I needed to rest.
Instead, I kept pushing myself when I was struggling, which only prolonged my recovery time when I did decide to rest. Oops.
2. When It Comes to Clients, Choose Quality Over Quantity
In the early stages of running my business, I thought that the more clients I had, the more money I’d be making.
It turns out that this wasn’t true.
Essentially, it doesn’t matter how many clients you have if they’re all paying you £10 per project and you have to run yourself into the ground trying to make enough money to pay your monthly bills.
The trick is to find fewer, higher-paying clients that will offer you £100+ for a project and build a client base that’s worthy of the value of your work.
3. Always Follow Up
How frustrating is it when you spend hours crafting the perfect pitch and then there’s nothing but the sound of crickets?
Well, lately I’ve discovered the secret of successful freelancing – and it lies in following up.
Obviously, you don’t want to bombard the poor company. However, if you give them a nudge a few days later or a second nudge a few days after that, I’ve found that this strategy is effective when it comes to securing a job.
4. Sometimes You Have to Fight For Work
I wish someone had told me before I started freelancing that the work won’t just fall into my lap.
(Can you imagine? *Daydreams*)
Newsflash: you have to go out there and get it. And do you know what? It’s hard work sometimes. There’s a lot of competition.
That said, in my experience, it’s a numbers game. As long as you keep sending out pitches, the odds are that you’ll eventually on-board a new client. Perseverance is key.
5. Building Relationships Pays Off
One of the top freelance lessons I’ve learned that often gets overlooked is the importance of developing personal relationships.
Always remember that your client is not just your client or someone who will pay your bills. Your client is a human being first and foremost.
Being friendly and taking the time to get to your collaborators as a small business owner is imperative. I mean, you just never know where your relationship might lead.
(You could end up being best buds, or you could end up running a digital marketing agency with them one day. Who can say?)
6. Don’t Assume New Clients Will Behave As Badly As Old Clients Have
When you’ve been burned several times by past clients, it’s difficult not to build up a bit of a wall between yourself and new clients. It’s like when you’ve been burned by an ex, you’re not going to open yourself up emotionally to a new partner right away, are you? Let’s be honest.
I’ve been defensive with clients previously who I thought were trying to take advantage of me based on some of the negative experiences I’ve had in the past. And then it’s cost me the job. Eek.
Now I start everybody off on a clean slate and only seem to attract positive outcomes, as a result.
7. It’s True What They Say About Having a Niche (Kind Of)
Let’s clear this up: it helps to have a niche (i.e. a specific industry or sector that you specialise in) to position yourself as an authority in your field. The riches are in the niches. However, you don’t necessarily need just one.
For example, I have three (perhaps even four) and it’s never stopped me from obtaining high-paying clients.
Just keep in mind that you might have to pivot depending on what’s currently in-demand and what pays well. Otherwise, you might struggle to grow your business.
8. You’re Always Worth More Than You Think You Are
Full disclosure: I’m terrible when it comes to undercharging. I did it loads in the beginning and I still do it now.
Having said that, I think I’m getting better.
It can be difficult to haggle for more money with new clients when you’ve got bills to pay, but it’s worth it in the end.
At the end of the day, you’re offering immense value and expertise to your client and saving them time and money. Therefore, you deserve to be paid accordingly.
9. A Healthy Work-Life Balance Is So Important
In the beginning stages of freelance writing, I worked all hours. All day, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, bank holidays, Christmas – you name it. I worked it.
Guess what? I burned out. I burned out badly. And it wasn’t fun.
Nowadays, I set specific working hours and have a healthier work-life balance – and it does wonders for both my personal and professional life.
10. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Speaking of working hard, I originally thought that hustling all hours would make my business successful. But, this didn’t turn out to be the case.
In fact, I learned quickly that hustling all hours means nothing if you aren’t able to be productive during those hours.
The lesson here? Work smarter, not harder.
In other words, it’s often better to work less so you can stay focused and ultimately get more done. If you try to do the opposite, you increase the likelihood of burning out, which has a negative impact on your mental health, wellbeing and relationships.
11. Outsource Tasks When You Can
In the beginning stages of running my biz, I thought I had to do everything myself. I took the phrase “one-woman show” literally.
I did all my marketing, promotion, writing, proofreading, editing – and it was exhausting. There weren’t enough hours in the day.
Therefore, when I could afford it, I made the conscious decision to outsource certain tasks – and I’ll tell you what, it made my life a heck of a lot easier. It freed up time for me to do what I do best, and what I’m the most passionate about, which is writing.
12. Success Is Whatever You Make It
I originally thought that success meant working as hard as possible to make as much money as possible.
After two years of learning freelance lessons, I have a different view on this.
I now think having a profitable business with a healthy work-life balance and being mentally well is successful. In this sense, I’m more successful and happier than ever.
13. You Have to Learn to Be a Project Chameleon
Sure, having a specific niche (or niches) is important. But there might be times where one of your regular clients wants you to do them a favour (like write about pregnancy mattresses instead of fashion trends, for example).
In this case, one of the most valuable freelance lessons I’ve learned is that it helps to be versatile and step out of your comfort zone every once in a while. Especially if you want to maintain a good relationship with a client.
In fact, I’ve grown to love these odd jobs in different niches. Why? Well, it adds another string to my bow so-to-speak – and it makes my working day more varied and interesting. Win-win.
14. You Have to Learn to Roll With the Times
In the last two years, I’ve panicked that my weekly workload has slowed up and I won’t be able to pay my bills at the end of the month many times.
Essentially, every freelancer goes through quiet spells. It’s just the nature of the industry. That’s why it’s so important to have some savings in the bank that you can dip into during these quiet spells (if you need to).
You also have to learn how to reduce your anxiety until the work picks back up (which is a work in progress for me!).
15. Try Something Different (You Might Like It)
When I first started freelance writing, I limited myself to blog content as I felt comfortable and had the most experience with this type of writing.
Then it wasn’t long before my regular clients learned of my marketing background and I got more requests for copywriting jobs.
It took a long time but I finally opened myself up to another side of freelance writing, which I now really enjoy.
One of the major freelance lessons here? Don’t be afraid to try something new. And diversification is a super smart way to grow your business.
16. There’s Room For Everyone in This Industry
When I first started my business, I was constantly worried that no one would want to work with me because there were already tons of freelance writers on the scene and OMG what if my writing sucked and I wasn’t as good as the competition?
That said, I quickly realised that there’s plenty of work to go around in the creative gig economy.
I mean, as more people start online businesses, more specialist freelancers are required to assist with outsourced tasks. Panic over.
17. Strangers Won’t Fully Understand What You Do For a Living
In the last couple of years, I’ve avoided being asked what I do for a living many times. Why? Well, because nobody seems to fully understand it (apart from fellow freelancers).
Take freelance writing, for instance. I know this is still considered a relatively “new” job in the digital age, but I’ve learned to keep it short and simple when people ask me about it.
Otherwise, I’m just met with blank stares and “oh, nice” before the conversation is swiftly moved on (no matter how hard you try to explain it). (You learn not to take this personally…)
18. You’ll Never Know Where You Are With Money
Due to the fact that I’ve had lots of different freelance writing clients who prefer different payment schedules over the last two years, I’ve had to accept that I’ll never know where I am with money.
I live paycheque to paycheque, just like every other freelancer in the world. And this was difficult to adjust to initially after coming from a 9-5 corporate environment – but you know what? It’s not the worst thing.
It just means that you have to learn to be patient and budget until your next paycheque comes in.
19. It’s Impossible to Switch Off
Even now, two years on, I still find it super hard to switch off from my business.
I mean, my boyfriend is constantly telling me off for answering emails at 10pm or popping on my laptop to do a bit of editing on a Sunday afternoon.
Freelance writing might occupy my thoughts always, but that’s because I’m passionate about what I do. To me, it’s the best job in the world. And to be honest, I wouldn’t work when I’m supposed to be having time off if I didn’t enjoy it – and all of the benefits it brings.
20. Your Business Is the Baby You Never Had
Another reason why I can never switch off from my business is because it’s essentially my baby. I grow it myself and look after it. I’m solely responsible for it.
This also means I’m incredibly protective of it. I will always prioritise it so I can continue building a career that I love.
21. There’ll Always Be Something You’re Unhappy With
Like a human baby, my business is never going to be perfect. I get that now. There’ll always be an aspect that you’re not happy with or needs drastic improvement.
Having said that, as long as 90% of it is going swimmingly, I’ve learned to accept the 10% that’s not.
(And work harder to make it better!)
22. Cold Pitching Is Always Going to Terrify You (a Little Bit)
I haven’t met any other freelancer in my career so far who isn’t the slightest bit terrified of cold pitching.
How come? Well, it’s the fear of the unknown and being rejected by strangers. I totally get it.
That said, as time goes on, you learn to take rejection with a pinch of salt. Business is business, at the end of the day. People miss emails. People often don’t have the budget for freelance projects. And people don’t always need extra help.
In other words, it’s not personal. Realising this is liberating.
23. Staying True to Yourself Is Key
There have been so many times in the past couple of years where I’ve doubted myself.
I’ve thought I should be writing a blog post on a certain subject because someone else has done it or I should be using the same social media marketing method as one of my freelancing heroes because it was working for them.
Having said that, I’ve recently learned what works for one freelance business might not work for another. It’s important to stay authentic and just do what works for you and your biz.
Don’t feel pressured, be unique and embrace your individuality. Ultimately, there’s only one you – and that’s your superpower.
24. The Possibilities Are Endless
The wonderful thing about freelancing writing is that there are so many different avenues you can go down.
In addition to a range of niches, there’s several types of content you can specialise in and numerous publications that you can write for.
It’s the same story with other freelancing industries. And this is kind of what makes being a solopreneur so exciting – right?
The Bottom Line: We’re All Still Learning Freelance Lessons
There are lots of freelance lessons I’ve learned in the past couple of years and I’m sure that there are lots more to come.
We’re all still evolving when it comes to freelancing. It’s considered a relatively new movement in the online world. And the gig economy only continues to grow.
Regardless, I’m extremely happy with where I am right now, even though I still have big dreams to achieve. In fact, the most important thing freelancing has taught me so far is that it doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop.
Here’s to many more years as a freelancer!
Do you relate to these freelance lessons? What are some of the freelance lessons you’ve learned since running your biz? Comment below!