Is there Future in Freelance? How to Make Self-Employment Work For You

They say freelancing is the new future. What with all the growth predictions the field has been getting. But just like any job, people are bound to have different experiences so it’s best not to make the jump on mere forecasts alone.

Rather than just bank on freelancing’s growth as a market, why not make it work for you whether things are on the rise or not?

It’s a lofty ideal, but one that’s certainly possible if you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone and put the work in. Here are a few things that can help ensure that your transition to self-employment becomes a lasting, successful career decision.

Invest in Yourself

When gearing up for a new venture, the last thing people think about is investing in themselves. I mean, it’s hard enough to invest in a career change and on top of that, you have to invest in yourself too?

I say, yes. Freelancing is a business and that business is you. So it only makes sense to invest in yourself as early as possible.

One such investment is your personal brand. Ever since the web has invaded our everyday lives, our digital footprint has been an integral part of our personal and professional direction. In fact, the OG of personal branding who brought the term into mass consciousness a decade ago, Tom Peters, summed up its significance best: “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

I, for one, can attest how important personal branding is.

Since starting freelancing in 2011, I have only started building my personal brand a good four years after. See, I’m a low profile kind of person and I value my anonymity intensely. It was good for my self-image but bad for my business. Four years in and I still don’t have any clips or published articles to show for it. Not to mention that I’m also virtually unfindable since I typically shunned social media.

Of course, the outcome was that I had a more difficult time conveying my value across. I have to resort to telling them, instead of showing them when the latter is a much more effective way.

It made me realize that if I want to win more opportunities, I have to be willing to put myself out there.

A lot of companies and clients often vet the people they hire first and they do this through the web. Nowadays, people feel kinda iffy working with someone they have zero knowledge about. They often think that a person has something to hide when his or her background is as sparse as the hair on a balding head (no offense to bald people).

A superb personal brand will be able to show your unique value proposition or what makes you different from your competitors. If they know what you do best and your “best” fits what they’re looking for, then clients will get you to provide them what you’re offering.

If you don’t proactively shape your brand to your liking, you will be left with a brand that may or may not totally reflect what you want or the value you can offer.

In order to steer your personal brand to the direction you want it to, you have to be deliberate in what you post in your public and personal profiles. Whatever you publish on the web can get around and often stays forever once others make a copy of it.

There are a lot of things that come with forming a personal brand. But basically, you have to have relevant social media profiles where people can check out what you generally do or what your background is. Having your personal site is helpful in most cases as well.

For the most definitive guide on the web for building a personal brand, check out this exhaustive blueprint by Neil Patel.

Do Your Research and Have a Strategy In Place

do your research and have a strategy

“Fail to plan and you plan to fail,” Franklin once said. With any kind of change that entails risks, you have to take the time out to plan your course of action to improve your chance for success.

Before starting out, you have to have an inkling of what to do. Where will you find your clients? How much will you charge? How do you write a proposal? These are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself before you start. The only way to answer the said questions is to do your research and map out a plan from there.

This is an essential part of having a successful freelance career. Although the amount of information on the web is staggering, it’s up to you to choose the ones that are relevant and helpful to you.

Starting out comes with its own sets of challenges and you’ll be no exception to it. Of course, you don’t have to face the difficulties you encounter alone. With the right resources in your hands and by using the knowledge of others, you’re sure to have a more smooth-sailing start compared to going at it alone.

On the financial front, you should be able to have enough savings to tide your transition over. More than just serving as the source of your living expense, it’s good to have a little bit of extra to spend on the necessary tools to jumpstart your freelance business.

Another excellent strategy would be to find clients in advance. Start networking both online and offline and let people know the nature of your business.

Other places where you can source work include job boards (if that’s your kind of thing), freelance marketplaces, social media, and through cold email outreach.

Have a System in Place and Follow It

I’ve heard a lot from just transitioned freelancers that they often get overwhelmed with the freedom and autonomy of working alone. To counteract this, you still have to have some form of working structure or system in place to guide you.

Having a process in place means you don’t have to make a guess every time and just hope that things work out. Typical aspects of your freelance business that should have a process include marketing, writing proposals, working, and finding new clients, just to name a few.

You can do this by scheduling your work and break times, so you don’t get lost in the numerous tasks and deadlines before you.

Planning your day makes it easier to go through the things you have to do since you already thought of it in advance and the only thing left is to do it. Of course, you don’t have to accomplish every possible task you can think of. Do only the most important ones that absolutely need to get done in the next few days.

Banking on a system to do things instead of sheer willpower or self-discipline alone will ensure that you get to finish the things you’ve set out to do.

Science backs this up and states that willpower is a limited resource. Every time you resist the temptation to scroll through Facebook and Instagram or binge watch on Youtube—you’re burning off precious mental capital. If I had known this before, I would’ve just succumbed to every clickbait I’ve come across the web. Kidding.

Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart

If research is to be believed, elite and average performers actually don’t differ in how many hours they practice. The only difference is that they’re spending their time deliberately with scheduled breaks in between. Compared to the average group, the elite performers actually get to sleep more by an hour and feel much relaxed. They feel better despite not putting in more practice hours. Simply put, it’s all about quality over quantity.

Simply put, it’s all about quality over quantity. It’s not about working yourself to death, but making sure your mind and body have time to breathe.

Although hard work isn’t bad, too much can be counterintuitive to your progress. We know that hard work is difficult, but it should still leave you enough energy to enjoy the day after.

It shouldn’t be a totally depleting experience. If it feels like life have been sucked away from your body every time you finish then that’s overworked. Can you imagine working like that every damn day of your like? That would probably be hell.

This just goes to show that hard work isn’t always an accomplishment. Most times, it’s just a recipe for a stressed out life that’s sure to burn you out sooner or later.

Book Clients in Advance

book clients

I know one of the things that keep people from jumping to self-employment is the instability that comes with it. There are months you’ll be teeming with work and months with nary a fly on your schedule. A better way around this is to find your first clients in advance before leaving work. Once you’ve found your first few clients, don’t get comfortable and proactively look for clients for the coming months.

I had to learn it the hard way, but you can’t always rely on the projects you get. Clients will suddenly disappear, some will suddenly stop a project, and some often give delayed payments.

Another reason why a lot of freelancers fail is that they get complacent when they have current projects to work on. When you’re knee-deep in work and have an income that keeps things on an even keel, a future of having to grovel for work don’t loom as large.

Another tip I often hear from seasoned pros is to never be always available. This has its ties on the concept of scarcity. Being available all the time might show that you’re not particularly in demand and as is typical with human nature, clients want those they can’t get.

Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers told a story illustrating just this. It was in 2011 when she had a client asking her to work on his project. She was extremely busy at the time and honestly couldn’t email the client back. She already told him all the reasons why he should find a different copywriter, but that only made the client more insistent on working with her. Once Joanna relented, the client hired her on retainer for a year for $150/hour, 10 hours a week. That’s already $72,000!

Watch Your Own Back

Now that you’re solely responsible for your career, you have to get in charge and look out for yourself. Ensure the growth and progress of your freelance business through constant improvement and investment in yourself. Of course, it follows that your improvement should also be reflected in your rates.

If you believe in the value of your work and you have the results to match it then, by all means, raise your fees. No one will do it for you.

Succeeding in this field is totally doable as others who have done it can attest. What matters is the willingness to learn and the open-mindedness to improve and try out new things that can make you better.

The points above are to hopefully help you steer clear of countless trial and errors. Because although some sort of failure is good—persistent, dire failure can be dehumanizing. It makes you feel helpless and keeps you from achieving what you’re capable of, which is always a shame since we all have our gifts to share.

Chronic failure may be due in part to a lack of motivation. Ideally, of course, it’s better not to rely on motivation alone to work or produce quality output. But the thing is, we’re not in an ideal world and most people need something that will prompt them to action.

Theories of motivation state that motivation is key to sustaining behaviors that are goal-oriented. In short, when people are not motivated, it often shows in their actions such as in the poor quality of work, the shoddy consideration to details and so on and so forth. To complete our cause and effect loop: when you’re not motivated, it’s often because you don’t like what you’re doing.

As the beaten-to-death maxim goes, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” If you don’t have any will to do something, stop and take a good look at why is this so. Do you not like the kind of work you’re doing? If your answer is yes, then there’s only one solution to that. Stop doing it.

Remember that one of the best advantages of working for yourself is having the power to exercise your own choice. If your reason is, “I don’t have any choice.” Of course, you do, you just chose to not have any choice and to not look at any other options. 

I admit there are those who have bills to pay, cats to serve, and a stomach to keep from growling. If that’s the case, work until you can choose to have a better choice.

Grit your teeth and try not to let your lack of motivation and desire for the job kill your competence and discernment for quality.

Of course, you shouldn’t require yourself to feel absolutely gung-ho on a project for you to be able to give your best. It’s all about balancing the not-so-good things with the excellent aspects that come with a job. There’s a difference between lacking interest or being unable to stand something and fearing something new. The former is soul-crushing while the latter is an opportunity for growth.

Final Takeaways

freelance takeaways

Running a freelance business is not a cookie-cutter job. Don’t just follow these tips or how other experts are running theirs. You have to know your skills and what you want to make sure it fits your goals and is something you really want to do. Not just because you want the same results.

If the solution is as simple as taking stock of your personality and values against the potential pitfalls and successes of a job, why aren’t more people doing it? The answer is because taking the time out to know yourself can be gut-wrenching. You’ll get to know the truth of your nature and you’ll have to face your inner demons and shortcomings. Not a pretty sight for many I tell ya.

The truth is, we all have our own journey. Getting caught up with the progress of others will only serve to stunt your own. As long as you put in the work and figure out what the best for you is along the way, then any detours will only serve as an added knowledge for you.

Just don’t work for yourself or put up a business to solely gain money or accolades. These are the by-products when you have all the right ingredients factored into your work life. This is why any work that you do or career you’re in should fit your personality and goals. Otherwise, it’s highly less likely that you’ll get to genuinely enjoy and excel in what you’re doing.

If I could sum up how people with long-term successes arrived at where they are is that they found something they enjoy and they’re also good at.

I mean, you have to be one heck of a saint to withstand a lifetime of grueling work that you absolutely hate, right? And we all know how saints turn out in the end—they only receive their glory posthumously. I, for one, want to enjoy things while I’m still alive, of course.

Although it’s much easier to follow a pattern and live the life of others—don’t. Subscribing to what others believe in without taking your own interests into account can only lead you into a never-ending quagmire of defeats that you don’t necessarily have to go through.

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