They say that hindsight is always 20/20.
That's definitely the case when it comes to navigating the freelance world.
If you could go back a couple of months, weeks, or even a few days ago, what would you say to yourself concerning your business?
Don't sign with that client. They'll end up being a nightmare to work with.
Take the time to research an accountant with small business finance experience.
Make monthly contributions to your savings account.
I did some reflecting, and it turns out that there are tons of things I wish I could go back and tell myself at the start of my freelance career. Maybe you already know these things, and to that, I say, YES! More power to you. But if this advice helps a fellow freelancer in any capacity, then I've done my job.
So without further ado, here are six things I wish I knew when I started freelancing.
1. You call all the shots.
Okay, this one seems obvious, but hear me out. Of course, when I started freelancing, I knew that I would be making every single decision that impacted my business—from client work to what accounting software I decided to use.
But one thing that took me a while to feel comfortable with was the fact that I worked for myself and no one else. During the first few months of freelancing, I found myself feeling like I needed to be online at all hours or that if I wasn't responding to every email within an hour, I was somehow failing as a freelancer. I felt guilty for not being online when my clients were, and I struggled to enjoy the freedoms that come with this type of career path.
If you're like me and struggling with that mindset, I'm here to tell you that it's completely normal. Think about it: unless you didn't report directly to someone at your old job, it's a bit of an adjustment to go from having a boss to being one yourself.
My advice is this: figure out when you're most productive and create working hours around that time. If your clients are emailing you outside of that time frame (and I know this may be easier said than done for some), don't feel guilty about not responding right away.
You choose when you're working, not your clients.
2. Your first year is not indicative of what the rest of your freelance career will be like.
As I said above, freelancing is a wild ride. There were many points throughout my first year of freelancing, where I felt like I wasn't improving or that I wasn't where I needed to be with my business. The first year is when many freelancers get caught up in the comparison game—and believe me, I did and still do sometimes.
But the thing is, just because you don't feel like you're where you want to be with your business or that you still have much to learn doesn't mean you're failing. The path from where you are now to where you want to be is not necessarily linear. There will be twists and turns and pivots and decisions.
My advice is this: focus on sharpening your skills, improving your processes, and learning as much as you can. Don't concentrate on where you are compared to other freelancers in your industry. All that does is prevent you from propelling forward.
3. Mistakes will happen. Learn from them.
Like with anything in life, you will make mistakes. That's the reality.
I've made plenty of mistakes in my career that have kept me up at night. But that's not a productive nor healthy way to live, is it?
And it's not all bad. The big mistakes I've made have helped shape how I run my business, handle professional relationships, and set boundaries. As cheesy as it sounds, mistakes are how you learn and get better.
My advice is this: take a step back, pin-point what when wrong and why, and figure out a way to make sure it doesn't happen again. Processes help prevent repeat mistakes, especially the ones that can be easily avoided.
4. Invest in your education, but do the work, too.
When you're starting, shelling out money for courses, masterminds, and events can feel like you're setting yourself back financially. But investing in quality resources, in people who genuinely want to help you grow your business, and in yourself is what will ultimately propel you forward. If you've listened to my first Unemployable podcast episode, I talk about how my first significant investment as a freelancer was in Kaleigh Moore's Copywriting Coaching program. It completely changed everything for my business.
As amazing as Kaleigh and her program are, I didn't merely enter my credit card information and expect all my business woes to evaporate. My success with the course stemmed from completing the homework assignments, reaching out to those she connected me with, working on my positioning, and, well, listening to her expert advice.
Now, I'm in no way suggesting you purchase every course or attend every conference because that would be irresponsible.
My advice is this: you can buy all the courses you want, but unless you put in the work you aren't going to see any results. Do your research and select a few educational resources that you feel will help you advance. Read course reviews, check out the past speaker lists of conferences you're interested in attending, and don't be afraid to ask your peers what they recommend.
5. Let your uniqueness shine through your brand.
When I started freelancing, I had no idea what I wanted my brand to be or look like. I thought I did, but looking back on it now, I was striving to be like other writers, not myself. I didn't know what I wanted, and as a result, I turned to other successful writers and wanted to be just like them.
The problem with that? Those other writers aren't me, and I'm not them. They are unique in their own way with their own unique services, processes, and communication styles. I eventually found my own way and have created a brand that reflects me and my services. And you will, too.
How was I going to show potential clients my value—and what makes me different—if I tried to blend in?
My advice is this: make a list of reasons why clients should or would want to work with you. Let that list guide you in creating your brand, your website, and even your client processes. The idea is to communicate that clients should want to work with you because you're you, not because you're like another freelancer.
6. There's tons of opportunity out there; you just have to find it.
When I set out on my own, one of my biggest fears was that there wasn't enough opportunity to go around. Like I had somehow missed the S.S. Client Work, and there I was, standing at the end of the dock waving goodbye.
That couldn't be further from the truth. There is tons of opportunity out there, and the reality is that the demand for freelancers is sky-high. A report from the Freelancer's Union found that 32% of freelancers saw an increase in the need for their services. Plus, we have the power of technology on our side. Finding clients and gigs is easier than ever before.
But because of the breadth of opportunity, it's equally as important to recognize a good fit when you see it. With each new client you sign, you learn something new about yourself, whether it be your workstyle, holes in your process, or what type of work you genuinely enjoy doing. As you gain more experience, you will fine-tune that client/project radar and can focus on the opportunities you know you'll love.
My advice is this: be strategic in your client search. Explore every opportunity that comes your way, but don't ignore red flags. Even the newest freelancer has a red flag sense (and it only gets better with experience), so pay attention.
Want more advice on how to run your business better? Sign up for the Unemployable newsletter.