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What I learnt in my first 6 months of freelancing

In January 2019, my partner and I arrived in Melbourne, Australia.

We’d rented out our London flat and were ready for a new adventure. One month later I started my freelance business. Talk about going through all the changes at once.

When I was first starting out, I spent so much time reading about other people’s experience of freelancing. I was desperately trying to gain the nugget of wisdom that was going to be my golden key to unlocking the secrets of freelancing that I was convinced the rest of the world was privy to.

Turns out, there are no magic secrets. Instead, it’s a lot of hard graft, a few sleepless nights, and countless highs and lows along the way.

Still, I’ve learnt a lot. Probably more about myself than anything else but hopefully these lessons will help you along your journey too.

It’s all up to me

I knew that working for myself meant that I was going to be a marketer, salesperson, operations manager and accountant, but I didn’t really realise what that actually meant. It really is all up to me, the good, the bad and the… well, the ugly.

Being someone who always struggled with the concept of heading to the same office for the same set hours day after day, I loved the fact that I could set my own work times, choose my workspaces and design a day that worked for me. 

At the same time, this freedom comes with a lot of extra responsibility. Despite having a Bachelors in Economics, I still struggle to remember to log my accounts.

I still have feelings of guilt if I’m not at my laptop by 9am, finding myself convinced that someone’s going to catch me out for being late.

And I’m still getting used to the fact that I am a team of just one, no matter how many times I chew my partner’s ear off at the end of the day in an attempt to bounce ideas off him. Luckily, he’s pretty good at bouncing them back.

I can say no

When I first started booking clients, I said yes to everything. My prices were pretty low and I took on every project that came my way.

I’ve since learnt that I can fight my own corner and push back if needed. If I think there’s a better way of doing things, my confidence has grown enough to let a client know. If I think a project budget won’t quite work, I’ll say so and suggest an alternative. 

This doesn’t just benefit me but it benefits my clients as well. I always remember that old Henry Ford quote “pay people peanuts and you’ll get lazy monkeys”.

Whilst I don’t consider myself a lazy monkey I do believe that I produce better work when I feel valued and respected by a client. This has meant raising my prices (which coincidentally has attracted more and higher-quality clients) and setting boundaries around my workload. This means my clients get the best of me, and the best standard of work in return. 

A niche doesn’t happen overnight

Back when I was reading all the ‘how to freelance’ articles, I read a lot about the importance of niching and how essential it is to growing a successful freelancing career. But I’ve also realised that a niche doesn’t happen overnight.

I’m a firm believer in learning as you go along. If you keep on waiting until you conjure up your perfect business strategy, you’re never going to start. Better to dip your toe in the water and start swimming, then find your perfect stroke. 

By gaining more client experience I’m discovering which projects I enjoy the most, and I’m learning where my expertise add the most value. I’m creating a client list that fills me with joy, whose work excites me. And that feels really good. 

Connections come from the most surprising of places

I started out by putting myself in every single place I could think of. I wanted to be easily found by any potential client. And this did work well for some time. I actually experienced a lot of success by using People Per Hour (a controversial topic I know) and this really helped me to grow my confidence when I was first starting out.

But now I’m finding that connections come from the most surprising of places. As my network has gotten used to my new career, I’m finding referrals coming in from every single direction.

I’ve had old colleagues contact me for support on new projects, friends of friends reach out and even family members get in touch for work. I’ve also gotten a bit more creative with my marketing, running a giant giveaway early last year, and this has brought me countless new leads as well as a handful of bookings.

I’ve learnt what I already knew but forgot to apply to myself – that connections take time to nurture and that by sharing content of value you’ll draw the most interesting people to you.

The power of community

I have to admit, when I first started freelancing I was a little intimidated by the freelance community. It felt a bit like the cool kids club at school, I wasn’t sure if I’d fit in or be welcomed. But I’ve found them to be the warmest and friendly bunch.

From community events here in Australia to digital chats with folks in the UK, there’s something about freelancers that just binds people together in the most wonderful of ways.

Whether you’re asking a question in a Facebook Group or getting involved with conversations on Twitter, there’s no end of friendships to go around.

I was also lucky enough to team up with the sister of an old friend of mine, who started her freelance career a few months before me.

Although we haven’t yet met in person, we’ve become virtual colleagues and have monthly meetings to review our workflows and tackle any common challenges together. I feel very privileged to have someone as my virtual colleague, even if they’re halfway around the world.

Right now I’m feeling incredibly excited about the future. I feel as though I’ve found a career path that really works for me, with room to grow and evolve as I continue to learn and develop myself. All this makes me feel very very lucky.

How long have you been freelancing? What have been your biggest lessons along the way?

What do you think?

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