What Have I Learned as a Freelancer?

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Freelancing isn’t easy in any industry, but I feel it’s really ruthless in the creative sector. First of all, the competition is really fierce and the higher the competition, the lower the prices, as individuals often compete against one another based on pricing more than on skills and experience. On top of that, many people with little experience or inadequate skills offer creative services for a fraction of the actual price, fostering unrealistic expectations from potential employers.

A lot has been written about the perks of freelancing, such as the possibility to be in charge of your own time, travel the world, work when you want, etc. Of course, some people are lucky enough to be in such a privileged position. But for the majority of freelancers, the reality is very, very different.

Before delving into freelancing, I wish I had been aware of the following pitfalls:

  1. Freelancing without the right contacts or enough experience in the industry could lead to poor pay, quick burnout (fear and anxiety that you are a fraud) and endless time spent online or at networking events trying to meet the right people who could turn things around for you.
  2. Spreading yourself too thinly across too many social media platforms without having enough time and human resources.
  3. Constantly chasing jobs or working without giving yourself time to expand or learn new skills. There will never be enough time to balance learning, completing jobs, and chasing new assignments or money to pay for the necessary or desired training.
  4. Not charging enough. As a freelancer, you are a knowledge worker. Your rate should reflect not only the time required to complete the assignment but also your expertise, experience, software (if you are using any) or any equipment you use to complete your work.
  5. Not having enough savings to carry you through the dry patches or a part-time job that would bring in the money regularly while building your freelancing business could be a mistake. It would put a lot of pressure on you to lower your prices or work on assignments that you wouldn’t have worked on otherwise.
  6. Being undecided about your pricing and not knowing how much you need to earn monthly to have a good quality of life, not just the bare minimum to survive. Of course, you must decide what a good quality life means to you, but that’s another story.
  7. Offering way too much content and information for the amount you charge. This isn’t good for your self-esteem, mental health, or bank account.
  8. Waiting for a miracle to happen without realising that YOU are the miracle, not some outside force. There are instances when magic or divine energy is present, but most of the time, it’s hard work, pushing your boundaries and knowing what you really want to achieve. (Your desires can and surely will change and evolve over time, which is only human.)
  9. Most likely, you will have to work way more than 40 hours a week.
  10. Freelancers usually work a lot, and it isn’t easy to switch off if you don’t have an office or a studio where you can leave the work behind. The time between time off and working time can become ambiguous.
  11. Desperation is a real enemy. One can get pretty desperate without leads or when constantly asked to charge less or work for free on the promise that this will lead to more jobs in the future; it rarely does. Exchanging skill for skill when you help out friends is a different story, but being asked to work for free to build someone else’s empire is a big no-no. Being in the position to say no is powerful, but for that, you need financial backing and security.
  12. Agreeing to meetings that are too time-consuming and lead nowhere wastes your time. Be selective.
  13. Undercharging and overdelivering.
  14. Investing all the money you earn back into your business/practice and paying yourself much less than you deserve or, even worse, not paying yourself at all.
  15. Not delegating jobs that others could do for you while you focus on generating income. I don’t mean outsourcing your assignments overseas. I mean finding other freelancers or hiring someone part-time to perform the tasks, which take up a lot of your time and energy that could be devoted elsewhere. Of course, hiring someone else depends on whether you have the finances, but if you do, working with an expert in their field could change how you work and help you make significant progress.
  16. Not saving and/or investing money early on in your career. Don’t wait for that one massive cheque to save you from all the financial troubles you got yourself into by not saving and investing. From the moment you start earning, you should start saving and investing. Buying expensive bags, shoes, and clothing isn’t investing. Compounding is the name of the game, and the sooner you start investing, the bigger your pot will grow.
  17. Finding freelance jobs takes time, especially in a competitive creative market. It seems that everyone thinks creative jobs are easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone can learn technical skills, but creativity is unique to everyone who uses it to solve problems. That creativity should be treasured and protected.
  18. Freelancing doesn’t offer as much freedom as one would hope for, as deadlines are often tight, and searching for jobs, which includes marketing, is very time-consuming. You need to schedule downtime on a weekly basis to keep your creativity flowing as uninterrupted as possible.
  19. Signing contracts and setting boundaries is a must and will save your skin. 

Before you decide that freelancing is the right path for you, make sure you know exactly why you want to freelance, what you want to get out of this set-up, and, of course, charge your clients the amount of money your work is worth. With every pay you receive, put at least 10% towards your savings, 10% towards your long-term investments and 10% for fun and pleasure. If not, you will end up chasing your own tail, never having enough money to do what you were hoping to do as a freelancer and waiting for your life to begin one day at some point in the future when you have enough time and enough money.

I’m #MadeByDyslexia – expect big thinking & small typos.

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