I’ve been running a freelance hustle for seven years. I’m pretty sure I could have done it better.
The thing with freelancing is that you have to sell yourself. I’m good at telling businesses what their marketing needs, how to shape a tone of voice, and how to position their brand. I’m great at writing sales copy that converts leads.
So why can I not sell myself just the same?
Freelancing is a lonely gig, and we all think we’re the only ones who’ve been through a situation before. Whether that’s a non-paying client, realising you could’ve charged three times as much, or taking the low-paid work just ‘for the portfolio’. We’ve all had nights where the self-doubt became crippling, the social life suffered, and we wanted to jack it all in and go back to working for The Man.
I made a lot of mistakes when I was starting out. If I hadn’t made these mistakes, maybe I would have been far more successful by now.
Therein lies mistake one:
I Misjudged What Success As A Freelancer Meant To Me
Freelancing is all about the money and the flexible lifestyle, right?
Apparently, it isn’t.
My biggest mistake when starting out was trying to focus on where to make the big bucks, fast. I spent more time researching niches that could make me money than finding something I enjoyed and was interested in writing about.
It turns out that, for me, success is seeing a solid portfolio with regular work across a range of industries. That shows off my skill as a generalist: master of all trades, but only for the time in which I need to write about them.
If I’d realised this years ago, I’d be in a position to sell my services with more confidence. I might not know what your industry is about – yet – but I’m the fastest learner around in this town, and my super power is turning complex terms and jargon into read-easy copy.
I Never Charged For Research Time
I used to only charge my clients for the time it would take to write and edit their copy. Seriously. I never charged for research.
I didn’t want clients to think I knew nothing, or that I wasn’t good enough in their field to write for them, so I did the research on my own time.
Recently, I estimated that I’ve lost around 3000 hours in the last seven years, because I felt bad for charging to research. When you work that out at an hourly rate… I lost about three years’ full-time salary.
Now, I charge for research – and my clients respect me for it.
I Got Swept Up In The ‘Make Money Blogging’ Craze
I’ve been writing, and blogging, in various forms, since before it was cool. It’s in my nature to write.
I should have known that I don’t need to learn how to make money from blogging, because I already DO make money from blogging – in my own way.
I spent countless hours trying to work out how to get into affiliate programs, learning the Secret Sauce that these bloggers with huge income reports seem to have access to, and figuring out how to monetise my site.
I’m not saying these are things I’ll ignore for the future, but I do know that, as my site stands now, and as my experience tells me: I make money blogging. However, I don’t do it by telling other people how to make money blogging (which, to be honest, seems to be the only way to make big cash – and that feels unethical to me).
I make money blogging because I send my portfolio, and my blog, to potential clients. I use old-school networking. I use new-school social media networking. I find clients, rather than potential bloggers who also want to make money.
I Felt Guilty Asking To Be Paid
Possibly the most common thread between all freelancers is the payment issue. When do you charge clients? How much? Is it OK to request payment before work begins? How do you deal with a non-paying customer?
Every time I sent an invoice, I’d feel a pang of guilt. Maybe I was charging too much. Maybe they weren’t happy with my work.
The terms of my invoices used to be a long 30 days, and clients would almost always miss that deadline. I’d wait another 30 days before daring to send a reminder email.
As my confidence has grown, so has my determination to be paid just like any other supplier. My terms are now split between an immediate upfront and a balance paid upon submission of the writing. Paid immediately. That’s it. There’s no wiggle room.
I learned that if you treat yourself like a business, clients will respect you more as a business, too. An insider once told me about a new manager going nuts at a reminder email I’d sent, for an invoice that was 6 weeks overdue (which I happened to know had been signed off for payment 5 weeks prior). They were, at the time, my biggest client. When I heard this had happened, I dropped them.
Two weeks later they were back in my inbox, offering to pay upfront and for a large project. I still said no. Suddenly, I had more time for new clients, and more confidence to charge the rate I was due instead of the rate I thought they would pay.
I Thought Full-Time Was The Only Way It Would Count
I went full-time once, and failed miserably. A combination of ill health and inexperience at self-marketing meant I simply couldn’t keep up with the balance of promotion to land clients and completing work for existing clients.
I went back into full-time office work as an agency copywriter. Four months later, I was redundant. The freelancing came back into play.
This time, I made it work. I learned my mistakes from my previous failures, and networked my booty off. It worked!
I was a full-time freelancer for a long time.
But I missed people.
I missed a steady pay cheque. I missed the routine of the 9-5. All of the things that I thought had driven me away from full-time office work actually ended up being the things which drove me back.
Now, I have a full-time job as a content marketer – and I freelance as a side hustle. I get to write about the things I enjoy, and am also more selective about my clients. My time is more valuable and, as such, I find clients who are willing to be patient for quality work rather than desperate for fast-and-cheap copy.
My employer knows I freelance, and doesn’t raise too much of an eyebrow when I clock in at 6am to do my own work until 9am. I’ve found the balance. I get the steady job, the steady pay, and the camaraderie of an office, but also follow a passion for writing on the side.
It’s entirely OK to realise that full-time freelancing isn’t for you.