I’m going to give you some advice that you’re not going to like, so let me preemptively apologize for it.
As soon as you read it, you may want to click out of this article. I caution you to fight through and keep reading. Because if you bristle after reading the following quote, it’s probably because you know it to be true:
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
This advice is so simple and true. It should be what your wisest friend or therapist says to you whenever you get stuck in another complaining loop.
Want to lose weight? Get in shape? Get a better job? Find the love of your life? Change something.
I would love to sit on my butt day after day eating pizza and lose a healthy two to three pounds a week, but that’s highly unlikely. In order to make a change, we must do something. In order to not change something — don’t change.
Let’s think about applying that to your freelance career. Whether freelancing is your full-time gig or you’re dreaming about making your side hustle your main hustle, you’re squeaking by on the same measly paycheck month after month.
You immediately click and read any article with a title like, “How I Made $___ Freelancing in a Month.” You hungrily read each and every article, but month after month, your income is the same.
I’m going to tell you, dear reader, some things that you need to quit doing if you want to actually make a difference in your career. As a writing coach, these are things I say to my clients and now I’m saying them to you because I want your career to level up. No amount of reading is going to help you get there unless you start doing.
Here’s my non-exhaustive list.
1. Quit Working in a Vacuum
I love how unfettered I feel freelancing. No morning commute. No hour or longer meetings where nothing actually gets accomplished. No drama or other time-wasters. I make my own hours and I get my social interaction with people I actually want to hang out with.
Having a network of freelancers that you connect with on a regular basis can help you level up your career. I have been a member of several groups (slack channels, masterminds, Telegram and WhatsApp groups), and they have each proved valuable in different ways.
We have run ideas by each other. I’ve received and given advice about everything from lead generation to creating a brand. I’ve learned about new publications and spaces to pitch to and received links for valuable free and paid resources.
It’s even where it was first suggested to me that maybe I should think about providing coaching services, which has become a part of my business.
You may feel like you work in a vacuum — but you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t. Tim Denning writes his own compelling argument for this as well.
2. Quit Ignoring Your Customer
I formed a brand after I’d been writing for a while. Other freelancers think of their ideal customer first, but I came at it ass-first. I probably spun my wheels a while longer than they did. After I’d been blogging a while, I realized the vast majority of my commenters were educated, professional men who cared about relationships and personal development.
If I wanted to keep writing for these men, I needed to learn more about them — what made them curious, what made them happy and sad, what did they easily spend money on? I did research. I used helpful question websites like AnswerThePublic.
If your ideal customer is single professional millennial women: Do you know what they want, need, or desire? Are you providing a product they care about or need, or writing content for magazines of the publications they read?
Don’t get so self-absorbed that you forget your customer, especially if you’re trying to build a brand, portfolio, or a successful career.
3. Quit Ignoring Good Advice
As a coach, I meet a lot of people who want success and more money. They come to me for advice, yet when they are given actionable feedback based on experience, numbers, and market research, they have a million reasons why the advice won’t work for them or why it’s actually bad advice.
Let me go back to the earlier quote: If nothing changes, nothing changes.
For example, if you get a viral post or article — capitalize on it! Don’t lose that momentum by not being strategic.
Only ask for advice if you actually want to follow it. Otherwise, you’re just running on a hamster wheel — stuck in the problem.
If you truly want to succeed, seek out the winners. The people who are making your dreams come true for themselves. Those are the people you want to get advice from and definitely follow.
4. Stop Putting Your Eggs All in One Basket
Freelancers who make more than six figures a year always have diverse income streams.
They write, edit, market, brand, and do web design. They freelance for lots of different clients. They sell courses or e-books. They invest their extra earnings and enjoy the returns on their investment. They are coaches or consultants. They sell items on Amazon or Etsy.
As a successful freelancer, I have five different income streams:
- Freelance writing (ghostwriting, content writing, copywriting, as well as writing here on Medium).
- Freelance editing (copy editing, substantive editing, developmental editing. Sometimes sold as part of my freelance writing or my coaching services or by itself).
- Selling an e-book/paperback.
- Coaching services.
- Affiliate programs (Amazon and others).
As a freelancer, your footing can be unstable. When a recession hits, contractors are the first to be slashed from the budget. For me, having six different income streams helps me not quake with fear (having a six-month emergency fund helps a lot too!).
5. Stop Writing “How To’s” Before You’ve Done the Work Yourself
Success is a subjective thing. Pete Best was replaced as the drummer for the Beatles by Ringo Starr right before they really hit big. He still experienced success, but did he ever experience Beatles-level success? No.
You may consider yourself successful earning an extra $100 a month freelancing and want to share that good news with everyone. That’s fine and awesome, but most people would not consider that success. Most people would also probably not care for your how-to guide if they knew you weren’t making the kind of money they wish to be making.
If you want to get somewhere further with your career, quit wasting your time trying to sell your knowledge to others before you have any. Do the work and people will come to you.
6. Quit Getting Hung Up on Your “Art”
If you’re freelancing, you’re not only going to have to be prolific but flexible. You will need to accommodate the needs and preferences of your clients if you’re getting paid for your services. They expect you to deliver the product they want or need. If you want to keep working for them and getting referrals, that’s what you need to do.
Just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you’re magically free of other people’s opinions. Freelancing can be romanticized because it does come with a lot of freedom, but it doesn’t come with all the freedoms.
The most successful freelancers collaborate, listen, research, diversify, and focus. It’s an amazing career, but all that freedom and self-employment isn’t as sexy as it sounds. If you want to do well in this field, you’ll need to be resilient and hard-working. You’ll need to make some changes too.