Tag: freelance work


10 Lessons I’ve Learned From 10 Years of Freelancing

Last week I posted an announcement about the celebration of paNASH’s 10-year anniversary. In it I told how I started my freelance business, the fears I faced in leaving a secure job to go out on my own, and how my business’s mission has evolved.

Today, I want to share some of the freelance lessons I’ve learned over those ten years in working for myself. I hope they will serve as an encouragement to those who are thinking about starting their own thing, are new to the freelancing world, or have been in it long enough to have faced some common struggles.

Freelance Lesson #1

I had to be disciplined. Being your own boss requires A LOT of discipline. Why? Because there’s no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re showing up on time or getting your work done. Discipline has always come naturally to me, and I was raised by a former Marine Corps officer who further instilled this trait in me. This is not to say that discipline can’t be learned later in life. But the discipline required to work for yourself will make things easier if you’ve already mastered it through other methods such as playing a sport, sticking with a commitment, etc.

Freelance Lesson #2

I had to use my love for life-long learning. I’ve always loved learning new things. And I realized the need for constant learning when starting a business because “a skill does not a business make” according to my friend and colleague Melody Bowers, co-owner of VirtualCollective.

You need to either already have some business sense, or be disciplined enough (see lesson #1) and have the ability to learn it as you go while managing your other responsibilities. If there’s something you can’t learn, there’s always someone else who has the knowledge you can pay to either teach you or to do it for you.

Freelance Lesson #3

I learned it was normal to question my decision almost every single day. I also realized it was normal to feel like giving up on a regular basis when things got hard. But, once I began working in a way that was true and authentic to my own personal mission in life, those doubts and insecurities started to diminish. I became okay with the discomfort of a process that isn’t linear. Instead, it looks more like this:

freelance lessons

Entrepreneur Darius Foroux further explains the figure above in his encouraging article Don’t Quit When It Gets Hard. I love it when he says, “If you never feel like quitting, that means life is too easy and you need to take action in your life.”

Freelance Lesson #4

I learned I had the ability to figure out the logistics. It turns out the things that seem intimidating at first (i.e. getting a business license, paying for your own health insurance, tracking your income & expenses/P&L, etc.) aren’t really all that scary. In fact, a lot of this not-so-fun part of having your own business is easier than you think.

And Freelancers Union has made a lot of it very simple. They provide tips and resources on the logistics of running your own freelance operation and even provide access to affordable insurance.

Freelance Lesson #5

I learned what I’m worth. The toughest thing for me was figuring out my pricing. At first it was hard to know how much to charge. And even when I thought I knew, I then had to figure out which pricing model worked best. An hourly rate? A day rate? A package or retainer rate?

Like most people first starting out, in the beginning I was devaluing my skills and expertise. But, after I started getting clients and began listening to their feedback on the services they received, I started to better understand my worth.

Yes, it helps to look at your competition and the average rate others charge for the same service or product to get an idea of what you should charge. But, what helped me most was asking current and past clients if they would’ve paid more based on the value they’d already received. To my surprise, most of them said yes, and even some told me flat out I was undercharging.

Now, most people (both potential and current clients) say my pricing is reasonable and fair. It took some tweaking and trial and error, but now my pricing structure is in harmony with the service I’m providing.

Freelance Lesson #6

I learned when to say no. This included being selective of potential clients, turning down certain speaking gigs/presentation requests, not wasting my time with potential contacts who only wanted to talk about themselves but never wanted to listen or make the relationship mutually beneficial, discontinuing professional relationships when trust had been broken, etc.

This is difficult to do when first starting out. Especially when it comes to turning away money. But, I can tell you the times I listened to my gut and turned away the opportunities that weren’t the right fit for my business, I was always glad I did. And the times I didn’t listen to my gut, I always regretted it.

Freelance Lesson #7

I learned not to compare myself with others. My pastor’s wife always says, “Comparing yourself to others makes you either small or smug, and neither of those are good.” I realized because I do what I do in my own unique way, comparing myself to my competition is a waste of time because it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

The same is true for you because you also have your own unique way of delivering your service or product that no one else can duplicate. Instead of comparing, focus on what makes you and your brand solely yours. This is what becomes your selling point!

Freelance Lesson #8

I learned (and am still learning) when it’s time to shift gears. When learning to drive a stick, you start to develop a feel for when it’s time to shift gears. This doesn’t mean you won’t grind your gears on occasion.

The same is true in running a business or working as a freelancer. You’ll start to learn when to give something a little more time to grow before uprooting it. When to pull the plug on what’s not working. And when to simplify if you’re trying to do too much or be too many things.

This type of self-awareness can mean the difference between success and failure.

Freelance Lesson #9

I realized the real risk. At first I thought the obvious risk of starting my own thing was leaving the security of a full-time job with benefits. I was wrong! Since leaving my job at a prestigious university where there were constant hiring freezes and multiple firings, I’ve had more job security than ever before.

I’ve been able to develop the grit and skills required to work for myself and bring in a steady stream of clients, to supplement my income at times when the stream was unsteady, and to eliminate the salary cap I had at my previous job.

The only real risk I faced was potentially losing any or all desire to work for someone else again. Let’s face it. It’s pretty hard to go back to working for someone else after having worked for yourself. But if I ever had to again, I’d be very selective in who I worked for (see Lesson #6).

Freelance Lesson #10

I learned fear is inevitable. Fear is not a reason to not venture out on your own if it’s what you truly desire. Instead, it’s often an excuse. Everyone who’s ever done this has had some level of fear.

Do your research. Prepare (but don’t wait until you feel fully prepared because that will never happen!). Then push through the fear.

Related Posts

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Don’t Quit Your Daydream (Or Your Day Job)

I used to have a full-time job with benefits with a very prestigious university. I later quit to pursue my own business. However, it wasn’t so cut and dry. There were (and still are) a lot of layers to pursuing a dream of working for myself.

The process I went through looks a lot more realistic (and doable) than some of the mythical stories you hear these days about making the jump from working for a boss to becoming your own boss. This process can also spark some ideas for you to realistically make the jump too. It may even help ease some of your fears and concerns preventing you from taking the leap. Here’s my story that began about 10 years ago.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

For the first time in my career as a college career adviser, my creativity was being stifled under new leadership. I was also experiencing a lot of micromanagement under this new leadership. I couldn’t continue to work under both conditions and had to start planning an exit strategy.

This strategy wasn’t to quit my day job. First, I started where most people start, looking for another job working for someone else doing the same thing elsewhere. Of course I wouldn’t leave my current job until I found my next job. But, I never found the right fit. Instead, I found opportunities that only served as an escape from my current situation. Not opportunities I could truly thrive in.

Ask yourself:

Are you just running to something that could possibly be worse than your current day job?

Don’t Quit Your Daydream

Next, I started listening to what my friends were telling me. They kept telling me I would be good at wardrobe styling. This was something I’d been daydreaming about for a long time. Wardrobe styling would definitely provide a creative outlet for me. But I still wanted to use the skills I’d developed as a career adviser over the previous eight to ten years. Those skills included interview coaching.

After giving it much thought and doing some research, I decided to start branding myself as an image consultant since image isn’t just about how you dress, but also how you present yourself in an interview. Specifically, I branded myself as an image consultant for up-and-coming recording artists here in Nashville. I knew there were a lot of young artists moving to town to pursue music who didn’t know how to present themselves to a label (which is basically a job interview) or in a media interview (I’d also had some past experience in media coaching too).

I went and got a business license. This is when it became real for me. But I still didn’t quit my day job. Not yet anyway.

Ask yourself:

Is there something people tell you you’re good at? Is it something you enjoy? Do you see a potential market for it?

Making the Shift

I worked on my branding efforts part-time while still working my day job as a career adviser. Following my own advice to my students, I also spent my spare hours networking with the few contacts I had in the music industry and growing my network. I attended as many industry events as I could and conducted informational interviews with several people in the music business, always asking for the names of two or three other people I should talk to.

For nine months I did this and my efforts began to pay off. I slowly began getting clients. I worked with those few clients on weekends, evenings, and any time I had off from my full-time job. Then, one of my networking contacts approached me about a part-time temporary job at his small label. This opportunity gave me somewhat of a safety net to leave my full-time job and pursue my business full-time. (This is just one example of why networking is so important!)

However, I still wasn’t hasty in my exit from my day job. Instead of giving two weeks’ notice, I gave 30 days’ notice because the policy was I could work for the university again in the future if I gave 30 days’ notice. But not if I’d only given two weeks’ notice. I wanted to keep as many options open in case things didn’t work out.

I used the three months for the temp job to increase my networking efforts in the music industry and promote myself to potential clients. This way I would have more lined up once the contract was up.

Ask yourself:

What are some small steps you can start taking toward your daydream? Are they things you can do around your day job? Who are some people you can start meeting and connecting with? Can you come up with some ideas for an eventual exit strategy from your day job? Do you have a potential safety net you hadn’t previously thought of?

Don’t Let Fear Overwhelm You

Once I was on my own, I was already getting used to working for myself and there wasn’t as much to fear as I would if I’d left my day job and then started a business. This isn’t to say I had no fear at all. A few days before giving my notice at my day job, I experienced my first (and luckily my only) panic attack.

Then, when the economy tanked in October 2008, less than two months after I’d left my day job, I started to get nervous. But, what I saw happening all around me was people being forced into becoming their own boss with no real planning or preparation. I was way ahead in that department because I’d already been preparing for nearly a year. And I already had some clients.

When I was short on image consulting clients, I supplemented my work with resume writing and career coaching services for those who’d been laid off and were looking for a new job.

Ask yourself:

Are you still having some fears about pursuing your daydream? Are these fears real or perceived? What are some ways you can calm your fears or put them into a different perspective? What would be the worst case scenario if those fears proved true? What’s the best case scenario?

Rely on Connections to Supplement Your Income

Throughout my time as an image consultant I continually made connections through networking which turned into additional ways to supplement my income with my growing business. While attending a fashion show, I met the president of a small design college who hired me to teach a class on image at the college for a semester. He also ended up publishing the 2nd edition of my first bestselling book, Advance Your Image, through the school’s small publishing company.

While attending an event at the Entrepreneur Center, I met someone who needed a contract employee with career advising experience to do outplacement counseling for his clients. I still do this work to this day because I get to make my own schedule and it’s the complete opposite of micromanaged work. I love it.

The connections I’d made through my original day job led to a part-time (10 hours/week) temporary job at another university, which unexpectedly turned into a part-time permanent position. I was hired to fill in for one semester while one of their employees was on maternity leave. But when she returned, they asked if I could stay on indefinitely. I got to make my own schedule so I could work it around my business.

Eventually they asked if I could work 20 hours a week. As much as I loved working at this university, I’d already put in so much blood, sweat and tears into my image consulting business that I couldn’t afford to take that much time away from it to work for someone else. So I decided to be fair to both myself and the university and leave so they could find someone who was able to give them the number of hours they needed.

Ask yourself:

Are there connections you have now in your current situation which could benefit you in the future? Are there connections you’d like to start making? What are some things you can fall back on when your daydream business is slow?

Be Willing to Shift Gears When Necessary

After leaving that part-time job, I realized I was burned out on seven years of image consulting and wanted to do something different. But what? I had no idea. I just knew I didn’t want to lose all the work I’d put into developing my brand.

Then a year and a half later I realized I still wanted to do career advising, but this time on my terms. (Click here for the story on how this realization came about.) I still wanted to be my own boss. And I wanted to keep the same name of my image consulting business. I was able to do both with a slight shift in my mission and an overhaul of my services.

Now, I offer unique career coaching services focusing on helping people discover and pursue their own passions. This includes helping them either find a new day job they’ve been daydreaming about, or helping them take the steps (not the leap) to becoming an independent freelancer or business owner. Whichever they’re most passionate about.

My business became more successful once I was willing to make this change. I was also able to see how the experience I gained and the tools I developed in my image consulting business fit nicely with my new mission and offerings.

Today, I don’t have to supplement my income anymore. Now, I get to do it simply for the love of the variety in my schedule and the love of the creativity it brings me. Unfortunately my time only lets me do one additional gig to my full-time daydream. But I’ve never been happier in my work.

No one is micromanaging me or stifling my creativity. I get to choose who I take on as clients and which projects I want to invest my free time into.

Ask yourself:

How can I start planning my exit strategy for my day job and my entry strategy to my daydream?

How I Did It

I started setting goals and then taking small steps toward achieving those goals. You can do this too with the on-demand program Don’t Just Set Goals, ACHIEVE Them. It’s the same plan I created for myself that can be easily adapted by anyone regardless of their own goals, passions, or daydreams. You can also get the complimentary hand out for the program when you subscribe to my newsletter at www.howtoachievemygoals.com.

I felt the need to share my path to where I am today as a Passion and Career Specialist after reading Brad Stulberg’s article on “hybrid entrepreneurship” and something called the “barbell strategy.”

Bottom Line:  You may want to pursue your daydream as your own boss but think it’s impossible. And it may be impossible for you if you simply quit your day job to follow your daydream. I want to serve as one of several examples of how doing it with an alternative strategy can now make it possible even for you. Probably more so than you ever imagined.