My, my, how things have changed.
Back then, I was full of hope, excitement, and most of all ideas. I wasn’t exactly new to freelance writing – I had done some work on some freelance bid sites – such as Odesk and Elance. When I had started, I had been more than happy to stroll through cheap client proposals and felt “lucky” to secure gigs which included writing well researched 700 word dental articles for the princely sum $5 a pop (although I now know a hell of a lot more about periodontal disease). But this was different. I had my own freelancing blog. I was a professional now. The world was my oyster, and I was about to take that sumbitch out of its shell and triumphantly hold it aloft, having conquered the four corners of the freelancing empire.
But things haven’t gone quite as planned.
There haven’t been any $100,000 contracts (yet). Neither have I been paid to go to a snowy retreat for a highly paid speaking engagement, despite my latent awesome speaking skills. And far from having hordes of raving subscribers, I can literally count everyone on my email list without using all my fingers and toes.
But what I have done is learned. Learned about what it actually takes to actually run a freelance business, learned about both my strengths and my weaknesses, and learned a lot about myself in the process.
(Cue moving violin music here)
Instead of keeping these lessons to myself, I’ve decided to share them with you. Here are the 10 hardest lessons I’ve learnt in the first year of my freelancing:
1. It’s about promotion stupid.
You will never become successful without consistent effort in promoting yourself. Yes, I know you’re a freelancer and not a publicist. And yes, I know you spend hours upon hours crafting kick-ass contenttm for your blog and whatever client happens to hazily wander past your virtual spider web.
But that isn’t good enough.
Not only is promotion important, but you should be spending more time on promotion than you do on anything else. In fact, popular blogger Derek Halpern, who built a popular blog to over 100,000 subscribers in less than 3 years, actually suggests spending four times as much time promoting your content as you actually spend creating it.
In other words, I’ve learned that no matter how great your content is, you simply won’t achieve a level of popularity without consistent effort to get it within reach of the public and other influencers. So don’t be afraid to be your biggest fan, or to wave that imaginary giant foam finger stating that your website is #1! Promote like crazy, and you will almost certainly see drastic improvements in your business. There are lots of ways to promote your freelance business and website – so develop a marketing plan that will push your freelance business to the forefront of your niche.
2. Without focus you will fail
It’s easy to become distracted as a freelancer. Unlike a regular 9-5, you don’t have a boss to report to. No time sheets to fill out, no security cameras tracking how long taken on your “bathroom breaks”. As a result, it’s very easy for freelancers to lose focus on tasks you might have assigned yourself. This may be something as simple as just spending too much time responding to emails or comments, or going through album after album on Facebook of your friend’s visit to China, seething with equal parts jealousy and wanderlust.
Focus is vital in building a successful career, so if you can’t stay focused your freelance career will almost certainly suffer. Thankfully, there are plenty of methods to help you focus – from getting an accountability buddy to using tools that will help boost your focus and productivity, you too can regain or keep your focus on your freelancing goals.
3. Developing ways to find the right client is really, really, really important.
How you’re going to find the right clients should be the first, second, and third question you need to ask yourself when starting your freelance business. Without clients, you’re up a creek without a paddle, life jacket, or that really cool fishing rod that I really, really want for my next birthday, despite not having yet assembled that last one I got. Finding clients is, in essence, a two part endeavour: first you need to figure exactly out who your clients are, an important step that many freelancers simply don’t spend adequate time on. After doing that, it will be far easier to take the next step and come up with specific ways to find the right clients and convince them that you can provide services that they need, whether it be through methods such as sending out queries or using inbound marketing.
4. Don’t waste time with nickel and dime clients
I’ll be the first to admit – despite posting reasonable rates of roughly 8-10 cents per word for my writing work, I slipped back into taking one a couple of nickel and dime clients. You know them – the ones that want a compelling, well written, and grammatically sound article for $8. The ones that tell you that your article should only take 20-30 minutes to research, plan, write, and edit and then tell you that you’re just “phoning it in” and you can do better.
Yeah. Those clients.
Just don’t bother. Seriously. When they hit you with their proposals of “the pay is low but you can pump lots of these articles out daily!” just tell them no thanks. Tell them that you’re fully booked, that their rate is too low, you have an upcoming clown school appointment every day next week, anything that is either preceded or succeeded by a big, fat, juicy, wet, no. These clients will suck your time while giving little else in return. Even if you can’t secure other gigs, spend time promoting your kickass content, improving your website, guest posting, or just doing anything else besides taking on another cheap client. So for those who are messing around with cheap clients, I suggest that you end your relationship with them and start moving up the ladder to better freelance clients.
4. Guest blogging is the best way to get your freelance business off the ground
If you’re looking to get your freelance business off the ground, you need to guest post. Now. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and write up a list of 10 sites that accept guest posts in your niche that you’d like to write for.
Doesn’t that feel better?
Guest posting is still the easiest and most effective way of propelling a new freelance business. Not only can guest blogging greatly increase your traffic, but it can also demonstrate your authority in a niche (making clients more likely to hire you) and also greatly increase your exposure to potential clients. Not only that, guest blogging is free, and in some cases will actually pay you. For proof positive how well guest posting works for small businesses, look no further than the Freddy Kreuger of blogging, Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing, who turned a business whose website only had 30 hits per day into one of the biggest internet marketing blogs on the planet through guest blogging.
Of course, guest blogging is only useful when done right – so check out this detailed guide on how to guest blog the right way.
5. Your plans will change – embrace those changes
If you’re a freelancer, any detailed plans that you may have made for your business may change within the next year. It may be due something that you have no control over, such as suddenly getting laid off. Or it may be simply due to the fact that you’ve found a more lucrative niche or you decide that another area suits you better. Whatever you do, don’t run from change. Embrace it, and figure out how to best work it into your freelance business in a natural and effective manner. For example popular freelance blogger Tom Ewer started off as mass niche site builder who created sites for Adsense earnings. Everything was going great until Google kicked the ladder from under him and dumped his site from the top of the search engine rankings, turning a formerly profitable venture to ash. Almost on a whim, he turned to freelance writing, and within a year he was earning over $4000 per month in a field that he hadn’t even considered entering a year before.
6. Don’t be afraid to be stand out (in a good way)
Let’s make this clear – if you only do what the majority of freelancers do, then you’ll only reach the same level of success that most freelancers reach – which is making just enough money to pay off your cable subscription (or should you have switched to Direct TV?). In fact the vast majority of freelance writers never even come close to making a living wage from their efforts – with one survey estimating that over 78% of freelance writers make less than the suggested Editorial Freelance Association average rates.
So when freelancing, make sure that you do things differently. Maybe it’s consistently over delivering on key projects, or maybe is specializing in a particular niche. There’s plenty of advice for how freelancers can build a blog that stands out or build a fantastic freelance brand , so start figuring out how you will stand out today.
7. You’re going to screw up – and that’s ok, but only if you learn from it
No matter how good you are, you’re going to make mistakes. For example, even the keenest of eyes will accidentally make an egregious spelling error, or inadvertently tell a potential client that they smell. But you know what? You can still be successful if you make a mistake. The important lesson here isn’t the mistake, but to take notice of the mistake and make sure not to repeat them. So next time you make a mistake – make a note. Figure out what went wrong, and how to avoid making that mistake or other similar mistakes in the future, which will allow you to improve on the quality of your work.
8. Investment is necessary
Some sort of investment will be necessary to become a successful freelancer. For many, the word “investment” suggests that you will have to pay for something. And in many cases, you will have to fork over some cash in order to build your freelance business. This may be in the form of your own self hosted wordpress site, or other tools to keep your business running. It may also be in the form of training, such as an investment for a freelance writing course or group. But in other cases, it will just be an investment of your time. For example, time to help out other freelance writers with questions that they have, or the time to read a blog post on how to improve your writing or how to build your business. Just remember that this investment will be necessary to build your business, which leads me to my next point…
9. Time is your greatest asset – use it wisely
If you’re a freelance service provider, you are in essence being paid for your time. Sure, your expertise is what clients are asking for, but that’s something can’t be used up while on the job. No, what’s really valuable is the time that you take to create compelling content. And for many freelancers, they unfortunately do not feel that their time is very important or valuable. This results in freelancers undervaluing the work that they do, and allowing themselves to become frustrated when long hours spent on a client project results in barely enough wheels to keep your head afloat. The important lesson I learned here is to value your time. In fact, here’s one awesome article on the importance of time to freelancers, and why you should charge what your time is really worth.
10. Hard work pays off
It’s easy to think that freelance business success is just a flash in the pan, or that people tend to be “lucky” if they become successful. But you know what every successful freelancer has in in common?
They all worked their butts off!
For example, popular freelancer and internet marketer Jon Morrow was instructed by his then boss at Copyblogger to write 100 headlines per day, every single day, with no excuses – and if you’re keeping count, that’s 35,000 headlines per year! Thanks to hard work put in through honing skills such as headline writing, he can now charge clients $10,000 per product…and be oversubscribed! There are lots of other successful freelancers, who get to that point due solely to the hard work and long hours that they put in. So if you really want to be successful, you need to put a plan in place that will allow you to build a successful freelance business and follow it.
With every lesson should come something learned. And I’ve definitely become a lot better at charting my freelance journey with the experience that I’ve gained in my first year officially freelancing.
What are the most important lessons that you’ve learned? I don’t care if it’s your first day freelancing or you’ve been doing it for 20 years – please share in the comments section below!