December 7th will mark my 8th year in this gig I call my job, my business, my life… and what a ride it’s been! There have been crazy ups, nasty downs and busy times, but it’s been great for the most time. I decided to write this post to give you a little insight into the life of a freelancer, in case you want to be one or hire one. 😉
What is a freelancer, actually?
Well, there are many types of freelancers. ContentCafe is a digital copywriting company that writes content for people’s websites. My first job was writing SEO articles for an agency, and I did a few private freelance jobs, until I found Upwork and pretty much worked full time on there since. Of course there have been several referrals and leads contacting me privately through social media over the years, but I’m pretty proud of my Upwork profile, which has since evolved to that of a manuscript editor (my other great passion!), too.
A freelancer works for herself. There’s no boss breathing down her back, but she’s also responsible for managing her own time. Unlike a salaried job, which pays a steady monthly income, a freelancer gets paid on a “per project” basis. It takes a lot of commitment to get up every morning, do your marketing, handle your admin, and complete clients’ jobs to their satisfaction and starting all over at the end of each project.
Clients can hire you for a once-off project, or on an ongoing basis. I’m grateful for all my clients, especially those who have been around right from the start.
But you didn’t come here to read about my achievements. You’re here to read about my EXPERIENCES, my life lessons after 8 years in business.
Lesson #1: Most people don’t understand freelancing. Be patient with them.
As a freelancer, it will take some time for friends and family to understand that you actually DO work, that you have deadlines to meet. Be kind when you set boundaries as to when you’re available for visits or favors.
When new people try to hire you, they may not understand that you have other clients too, which is why they will demand work instantly. My advice? Learn how long it takes you to deliver work and be upfront about how long it will take you to complete it, even if you’re desperate for the work, never, NEVER over-promise and under deliver!
Lesson #2: You’re NOT Supergirl. Delegate!
As entrepreneurs – and especially freelancers – we try to take multitasking to new levels. There’s enough to do in business, and when you add to that your daily responsibilities as a spouse, parent, friend and family member, you can easily become overwhelmed. Look at the areas that are not your forte, and delegate those to people who are good at it. Find ways to streamline. If admin is not a strength, hire someone to do that for you on a part time basis (of full time, if business is really good). Nobody expects you to do it all! In fact, you’ll probably handle your core functions better if you’re not stressing about those pesky chores you don’t enjoy.
Lesson #3: Build a list.
If there’s one thing I regret in my business, it is the fact that I didn’t listen to all the advice and started a mailing list sooner. Over the years I’ve worked with well over 220 clients, but my list is only 83 strong. A list is a powerful tool for re-marketing and staying on top of your clients’ minds.
Building a list costs nothing. And staying in touch is also free until your list is huge. Even then, it is worth it. I get results whenever I mail my tiny list.
Lesson #4: You will work harder than ever, and it will be worth it
You’ve probably seen that quote by Richard Branson…
And it’s 100% true. You may not necessarily be in the office 100 hours a week, but your mind will be on your business no matter what you’re doing. It’s therefore important to choose your career wisely.
Lesson #5: There will be good times and bad times
Like the waves of the ocean, you will experience high tide and low tide. It may take two or three years to get into the rhythm of things, just for an international recession to hit and throw you off balance. Hang on – I think I’m talking about myself… But you get the drift, so to speak. Strange things can impact on your earnings, so you need to be prepared.
I was earning a good chunk of money every month, when the platform I was working on decided to increase their fees from 10% to 20%. I didn’t think much of it, until I noticed that I was working a lot harder for much less money. Then the exchange rate became less favorable, which further affected my income.
By diversifying your knowledge, skills and services, you can continue to earn money from different sources when a specific source dries up. Never put all your eggs into one basket.
Lesson #6: Never stop learning
Technology is constantly expanding, and with that, services. If you want to be a freelance writer for example, understand exactly what you have to offer. Freelance writing can range from creative writing (poetry, church newsletters) to marketing copywriting (brochures for schools or hotels) to digital copywriting (for websites, social media). Know your skill set and advance from there. Potential online employers will want to see your portfolio and if they want a high level brochure for an architectural firm, your poetry or SEO portfolio won’t cut it. You need to provide the skills that they are seeking in a freelancer. Digital copywriting is very different to any other type of writing and in addition to good English skills, understanding SEO, marketing psychology, the industry you’re writing for, and online marketing, you should at least have Hubspot Inbound Certification.
Hubspot Inbound Certification deems the bearer fully capable and skilled in Inbound Methodology. She has been tested on best practices and is capable of applying them to attract strangers, convert visitors, close leads and delight customers.
Lesson #7: Learn to juggle
Figuratively, of course. It’s so easy to get caught up with everything online. Learn to manage your time and be strict about that – with yourself and others, including family and friends. I find that keeping my communications on email help eliminate the distractions caused by phone and Skype when someone “just quickly want to ask something”. When someone emails you, they need a valid reason to do so. They’ve put thought into it, and won’t waste your time with questions that may never turn into business. Even if their emails are frivolous, you can then deal with it when it suits you, rather than when you’re focused on a specific project.
I have learned that my attention span is precious and should be guarded in order to keep my work-life balanced.
Lesson #8: You CAN put your clients first and still have work-life balance
Clients can be unrealistic. In a world of instant gratification, they may expect the work the second they pay. Actually, many want the work before they pay, but since I exchange time (my family’s time) for money, I charge upfront.
Still, clients can be demanding. You can get angry and tell them to get lost, or you can do your best to give them a fair estimated lead time. I try to “pad” my timelines in order to ensure I always deliver well ahead of the deadline.
On that note, it is important to remain available to them. The online freelancing community is highly competitive, so don’t expect leads to wait around until you’re ready to deal with them. If you’re not going to be available on the phone, you need to be checking your emails at least three times a day during the week, and at least once on a weekend. By all means, take off one full day, but don’t let people wait more than 12 hours for a response during the week or more than 24 hours on a weekend.
A hot lead turns cold in a heart beat, or he can hire someone who is quick to respond.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. I look forward to many more years of adventure with my awesome clients. Are you looking for a freelancer with Hubspot Inbound Certification? Head on over to Upwork and invite me to your gig.