5 Things You Should Know When You Start as a Freelancer

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When I began my side gig as a freelance brand and marketing strategist, I had no clue what I was doing (proof available on my IG story from month three of life sans corporate). I didn’t know what my services were, how much I should be charging for them, or how I would generate clients. The answers to all of these questions are relative to each person. It’s a beautiful blend of art and science rather than steadfast rules, and it takes a bit of trial and error to get into a stride. But a little preparation and perspective will certainly make the transition more digestible and manageable.

Here are the first five lessons I learned as freelancer:

1. You may not have work right away or even for a while. Oh, and jobs can fall through at the last minute.

I didn’t work for a solid six months after I left my job. Not having work lined up for myself immediately was certainly a personal choice, and one I recommend for just about everyone. I needed to decompress from the years of exhaustion, slaving away in corporate. Even if you choose to jump feet first, I think it’s smart to brace yourself for all possibilities – like a job falling through or a client being unable to pay your invoice. I haven’t had the latter happen to me yet, but I definitely had a (big) job disappear just two days before the start date due to shifted priorities.

2. A financial cushion will help you build and navigate your career more thoughtfully.

Adding to my first point – your financial cushion will be everything. Having peace of mind financially can lend you the opportunity to be more mindful about what projects you bring on and who you work with. You can literally shift your mindset from “scarcity” to “abundance” and have the true freedom to turn down clients who just give you a bad gut feeling. I had my fair share of meetings with ill-fitting clients before, and I have not regretted trusting my gut and giving them a hard pass!

Think about it this way: Would you want to start your new freelancing career chasing after every project and client that comes at you? Or would you rather start it by investing the time now to build solid, long-term, quality clients? Clearly my approach is one with the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

3. You’ll experiment with your rates and become more comfortable with telling them to people when they ask.

That stigma around pay? Yeah, this will be the time you’ll need to shake it all off. Depending on the type of work you do, there are benchmarks you can keep in mind when setting your rates and fees. You can usually find this information through other freelancer friends, who hopefully aren’t the types to feel threatened and see you as competition, or by perusing freelance platforms like UpWork.

Personally, I didn’t do a ton of competitive research when it came to establishing my rates and fees. The reason why is because I have a certain number of hours I want to work a month, a revenue goal I want to hit, and a strong belief that what I do is inimitable. Why? Because there’s only one of me with my experience, my intuitive sense, and my brain, just like there’s only one of you. My perspective and approach differentiates me. It’s just my job to articulate this. Now, this might sound extremely egotistical, but my self-confidence isn’t something I pulled out of thin air. This is information I gathered, and continue to gather, by seeking feedback from the people I engage with to better understand my strengths and my unique selling proposition.

4. As you work with more clients and projects, you’ll begin to witness your own value. And then, you’ll probably give yourself another pay raise.

The most fun part about being your own boss is that you can give yourself a pay raise whenever you want, as long as people are willing to pay and your work warrants it (no ripping people off, please!). In the beginning of your freelancing career, you might start off pricing yourself on par of the average rate of other freelancers who do similar work as you. But as you gain more experience and confidence, your value will increase. This formula is the same for working in corporate and pretty much anything else you do: more experience (usually) equals more value. The difference in freelancing is that the pace of learning can be much faster and the self-realizations can be more profound because you’re pushing yourself so far outside your comfort zone. The key, however, is that self-awareness is what leads you to identifying your greater value, so be sure to carve out time to reflect and be introspective.

5. Your own clients will be your best advertisers.

Going back to my second point – when you spend the energy to thoughtfully bring on the right clients and nurture those relationships, that early investment will pay off. It’s a mutual win when a client is pleased with your work. But it’s an even larger win if your client is pleased with your work, looks forward to working with you, and wants to see you succeed. These clients will be your best advocates, and it’s likely that they know people who would fit well with you. So, any referrals they send your way would inherently be vetted, and they would likely meet you with a preconceived positive impression on you than a cold-calling freelancer. And as a free agent, you want to shorten the sales cycle so you can save yourself for actual revenue-generating activities.

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