Going It Alone? Tough Lessons for Freelancers

Going freelance seems like the dream… until you realize how tough it can get.

It’s extremely difficult to stay motivated, find qualified leads, manage your time, and give yourself a good talking-to when you need it.

From setting rates to dealing with difficult clients, here are some freelancer lessons to help you avoid burnout and stagnation.

Use this fellow freelancer’s tough love as a way to become a better and more successful freelancer, yourself.

Don’t overestimate the perks

Freelance life has its perks like freedom and flexibility, but don’t get enticed by these shiny new toys.

Freelancing is great, but it’s also hard work.

You will have to put in a lot of work to begin with- there is no slacking off.

Those glorious dreams of a life untrammeled by expectations and timelines may not be feasible.

You need to actually love what you do and be prepared to put in many long hours.

Develop a strategy…to develop a strategy

Planning, planning, planning.

Just let me loose at the work already!

In an organization you can blend in with other people’s plans, visions and strategies.

Now however, it’s up to you to create your own.

*Gulps* Keep calm and strategize:

  • Where do you want your business to go?
  • Who are you pitching to?
  • What are your main barriers to success?
  • What sets you apart from your competitors?
  • Where do you need to invest more skills or money?
  • What does your promotional plan look like?

Write a detailed business plan and keep coming back to it on a regular basis to make sure any new opportunities fit your strategy.

Learn the art of saying no- not every opportunity that comes your way is a good opportunity. 

Don’t work harder, work smarter

Ok, so you still have to work hard.

But can you also work smarter?

  • Make a roadmap of where you want your business to go in the next 6 months.
  • Look at your roadmap and think about where your energies are best diverted. Place your focus there. Don’t get hung up on small details- this is a stress coping mechanism that won’t get you anywhere.
  • Don’t work nonstop every day, putting in crazy 16-hour days even on the weekend. You will need distance and perspective to breathe and avoid burnout.
  • Reassess your productivity levels- can you get more out of your day? Explore different methods like the Pomodoro Technique. Mix things up to see how you work best.
  • Work with, not against, your natural rhythm and patterns (but be aware that clients will probably need you during the day).

Work around your weaknesses

Outsource, ask for advice, or take on some more training in the areas where you aren’t so strong.

Maybe you are not the best bookkeeper.

Maybe you aren’t so good on the phone.

You can easily outsource business processes like accounting and brush up on essential business skills online.

Know yourself and grow yourself.

Don’t let weaknesses hold you back.

Evermore, know that the worst kind of weakness is the unacknowledged kind.

Develop a personal brand…and promote, promote, promote

Oh cool, you have a nice logo and website?

That’s pretty useless if no one can see it.

You will need to get yourself out there and promote yourself in a way that you may find uncomfortable at first.

Here are some key freelancer promotion lessons:

  • Sort out your brand’s touch-points before you promote; as people will judge a sloppy website or an unfinished project.
  • Get your USPs and key selling points right. Can you offer something unique?
  • Think about all the different lead-generation platforms: Pinterest, Twitter, leafleting, business cards, emails, phone calls, LinkedIn etc. Then decide which ones work for you. Focus your efforts and measure your conversion rates.
  • Use social proof: testimonials, reviews and advocates are much more effective than you shouting about how good you are. Don’t ever miss out the opportunity for a great testimonial and always make giving one easy.
  • Up selling may be the new selling- see whether you can maximize your existing client relationships.

Find a niche

It’s easier to sell something if it’s unique, so find yourself a niche.

By specializing in a niche you have to have the confidence to become an expert.

Once you have found your niche you will be able to charge more for your expertise.

To be really successful in a niche you will need to have relevant branding, relevant clients, and a portfolio to match.

Try to get out of the gates with at least some of those in place.

People skills- you need them

Networking, socializing, satisfying clients.

Without people skills you are going to struggle.

You will need to:

  • Effectively communicate with people to encourage repeat business and get positive social mentions.
  • Network to get new clients and reassure existing ones. Check out these 7 business benefits of networking.
  • Ask for referrals and testimonials diplomatically.
  • Go out and socialise outside your sphere to develop new ideas.
  • Develop your ability to persuade, reassure and manage people.

Work for the right people

Easier said than done.

But if you thought freelancing was the end of dealing with difficult people, think again sunshine.

Finding the right clients, and dealing with existing ones will take up a lot of your time.

·        Qualified leads- try to vet the timewasters out. Use a web form or conduct initial screening calls.

Ask prospects to give you something to see how serious they are about hiring you.

  • Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to a client, but try not to burn too many bridges.
  • If a project sounds awesome, but you know you can’t do it- either hire someone else and do it together, or refer the business on. Trying to take on something you can’t do is not a good idea.
  • Friends and family are great. But they might not make the best clients.
  • Leverage the networks around you and sell to existing contacts or leads. These people already know you and trust you and are more likely to convert. Just remember to not be too pushy.

Track time and then re-evaluate prices

Whether you are going for hourly rates or fixed project costs, getting the price right is crucial.

Costing new projects is especially hard, and you are likely to undersell yourself on the basis of time.

Get good at time tracking (a tool like Toggl is great) so that you can charge realistic prices based on the actual time worked.

Remember to factor in admin, research and planning into project time.

Be firm with your rates

A lot of freelancers make the mistake of charging too little at first.

Raising your rates can be tricky, and there will be people who just won’t get it.

“You used to cost this, now you cost this”!?

Don’t undersell yourself – working for free or for a low rate will just perpetuate this kind of attitude and keep you from growing.

You are better off finding people who will appreciate you.

Word of warning- don’t get too greedy and charge astronomical rates.

Make sure a rate hike is based on your market value.

Stay motivated kid

Don’t give up!

  • Try to stay motivated during this exciting journey, but remember that everyone has low points. Be kind to yourself.
  • Use some encouraging quotes to help you steer your daily perspective on to a more positive course.
  • Take inspiration from the people you admire, follow them on social media and read their blogs. Use the people around you as well- there’s plenty of great advice and expertise everywhere.
  • Don’t be afraid to revisit your initial plans and reassess if you need to.

Even with all the challenges – freelancing is great.

Have you ever gone freelance before?

What do you wish you had known before you took the plunge?

Gareth Simpson is a freelance web consultant from the UK. As a new entrepreneur who is going through the usual challenges of entrepreneurship, he is learning the importance of a positive mental attitude. He enjoys sharing practical lessons and his experiences with others through his writing.
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