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Six Lessons From My First Year of Freelancing

  1. Depending on One Source of Income Like an Employee

It was about this time last year when I first made a firm decision to be self-employed rather than working for someone else, and it obviously took some adjusting. One of the most common errors people make that needs to be corrected immediately is to get out of the “employee mindset.” Traditional employment consists of having one source of income (an employer), where you work for them until the relationship ends and find another source. In my case, the mistake was finding one platform where I could consistently find work, then trying to obtain and complete as much work as possible from this one company rather than investing at least half of my time into looking for better paying work and alternative income sources. I’ve also read horror stories of people who depended on one long-term client to pay their bills, with the serious issues created by the loss of this one source. This tends to mirror old-fashioned unemployment.

Although I got into the habit of writing everyday, meeting deadlines, and produced some great samples, I wasted way too much time on one platform instead of expanding and diversifying my sources of income.

2. Not having a Set Work Schedule or Routine

While some freelancers do not have much of a set routine, I have found that my income and productivity both increase when having a certain number of hours to work or pages to write every day. When I first started and was just getting by from completing work before the deadlines, I was not considering that the time I spent waiting or procrastinating before turning something in hours before it was due could’ve meant a lot more money if I had just completed the same assignment even a day earlier. This can lead to treating your freelance business like more of a “hobby” than a real job, which can have pretty serious consequences if you end up missing deadlines or ignoring clients.

Ultimately, all the time spent during your typical work hours that isn’t spent actively working on a paying project or prospecting new business is lost money.

3. Job Postings are Generally a Bad Idea

One of the problems with trying to land a traditional job in today’s world is the ease in which anyone can fire off a resume or an application over the internet, creating an overabundance of low quality applications. This problem does not go away when the job postings are for freelance work. Even sites that specialize in posting only freelance gigs that are sorted from sites like indeed or craigslist are still linking to postings that will get hundreds or thousands of responses.

This creates two problems: the likelihood of getting any kind of response or feedback is extremely low, and the client has the option of paying lower rates because there is such a large surplus of applicants. Employers also seem to have developed a bad tendency to make potential candidates go through an excessive and absurd process to land work through postings.

You’re better off in the long-term getting used to finding, pitching, and emailing for work from individuals, business, or publications that match your skills and interests. Most work is actually obtained through processes like networking or referrals rather than applications on job boards, which often go unread. Trying to secure paid work from postings that are visible to the entire internet is basically taking a shot in the dark.

4. Not Setting Limitations on Social Media Use

Even though social media has become a permanent fixture in our world, it can also become a huge time waster if not utilized for specific purposes during working hours. When you first start out as a self-employed individual, it can be tempting to browse twitter for thirty minutes without a boss looking over your shoulder, however those thirty minutes also amount to half of your hourly rate of lost work. If it’s “work time” social media should only be used for very specific promotion or networking purposes rather than idle browsing that ends up cutting into your income. You absolutely will fail if you fall into the office employee mentality of killing time on social media or watching videos every day to get to 5 p.m.

As their own managers, the self-employed need to always be mindful of their own productivity and income levels.

5. Completing High Volumes of Low Paying Gigs to Put Together a Full-Time Income

This is related to the first lesson but focuses on maintaining a realistic, sustainable workload. Grinding through as much low quality work as possible to barely meet your financial goals doesn’t feel satisfying at all. It also tends to put your career in a state of stasis where you don’t have the time to reach for higher-quality, better paying work.

The first time I landed a “real” client that was an unexpected referral from one of my friends, I literally got paid about 3 to 4 times the hourly rate I was getting paid from content mills and low-quality gigs. The amount I earned in the one day of work I initially did for this client would have easily taken me three full days of churning out as much low quality content as possible to earn through the lower-paying platforms I had become dependent on.

Many platforms and content mill sites can also have strict and even arbitrary standards regarding client communications, plagiarism, formatting, and a number of other areas depending on the company. It is fairly common for all of these platforms to burn through freelancers quickly and constantly post hiring ads to prey upon the uninitiated or desperate. There’s actually a pretty large volume of information around the internet about the problems created by content mills. At the end of the day, no one is going to be able to survive on very low wages, and the work is almost never enjoyable.

6. Not Actively Prospecting and Contacting Related Businesses

It certainly doesn’t hurt to reach out to other professionals who do what you do and at least introduce yourself. When you’re an employee there is usually a marketing or business development team that handles these duties, but when you’re self employed no one is going to do it for you. The worst thing that can happen is an email gets ignored, other times this can turn into long-term business relationships or friendships. The right connections can result in a lot of money over time.

You’re depending on other people to pay you as a freelancer, so need you need to make some effort to find individuals who will be open to holding a conversation with you.


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