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Why freelancers need to break out of their comfort zones

Dee Primett

Wicked Creative UK

PRO

17 years ago, I was in Fiji with my friend Lisa. We’d gone to meet friends who had been travelling for the last year. It’s the furthest I have ever travelled. Well to be fair, after two 12-hour flights and a stopover in LA, it’s probably about the furthest you can get from the UK anyway.

We were young, single and carefree and up for experiencing everything that the island had to offer. That’s when we saw the leaflet advertising skydiving. The friends we had met had already skydived in New Zealand and loved it.

As someone who is petrified of heights and suffers from bad vertigo, let’s say I took more than a little convincing. The concept of jumping out of a plane as 12’000 feet was about as far out of my comfort zone as it was possible to get.

But with Lisa desperate to do it and not wanting to make the memory alone, the pressure was on. “What’s the worst that can happen”, she said. Oh, I dunno Lise, we could DIE!!!

This fear was only exacerbated when we met our instructors for the tandem dive, when we discovered that Lisa’s one had one leg!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that we did it. We jumped out of a plane at 12’000 feet in just vests and shorts, landing on the soft white sands of a beach in Nadi. And since I’m telling you this tale, we clearly didn’t die. In fact, it is, without doubt, one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

And as I look back on the memory, and tell my kids all about it, I am so, so thankful that I took the plunge to step outside of my comfort zone. But the potential regret that I could have felt if I had missed out has got me wondering, why do we find it so hard to so anything that we feel falls outside the margins of our comfort zone?

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What is a comfort zone?

A ‘comfort zone’ is a psychological/behavioural state wherein which things feel familiar and easy to the person experiencing them. This enables them to operate without fear, stress or anxiety, using a limited set of behaviours that are without risk.

The phrase ‘comfort zone’ was first coined back in 1991, although if you are the same age as me, you’ll probably be surprised that it was as late as this!

What holds most people back from stepping outside of their comfort zone is their confidence and the amount of risk involved. The trouble is, if you don’t take risks, it’s all too easy and quick for your progress to plateau.

However, if the risks you take are too big, you can slip into a state of blind panic, which is also counter-conducive to productivity and success. In other words – stepping outside of your comfort zone is a real balancing act.

I’m the first to admit, I like comfort. I like sleeping with MY pillow, snuggling on the sofa with my favourite blanket, going back to the same holiday destination where everything is easy and familiar. And many people are the same.

I’ve also got to admit that until around the end of 2019, my work life wasn’t a lot different. I had a few steady retainer clients that I was perfectly happy working with. They were consistent, the work was straightforward, and we just fell into a very easy and comfortable routine.

But after a while, I realised that everything was becoming just a bit too easy. There was no buzz anymore and I was starting to fall out of love with being a copywriter.

“Each time you try something for the first time you will grow – a little piece of the fear of the unknown is removed and replaced with a sense of empowerment” — Annette White

Busting out of my freelance comfort zone

I don’t honestly know exactly when I made the conscious decision to push myself out of my comfort zone and start looking at new opportunities.

I suspect it was around the start of the pandemic, when the shit hit the fan and lots of businesses and freelancers were starting to struggle, and when I realised just how important adaption really is to survival. The comfortable little freelance bubble I’d created for myself may end up being my own undoing.

So, what have I done that’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, and what have the results been?

Tackled video calls

As we know, businesses were forced to move towards digital interaction with Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts and many more platforms becoming the go-to channels for meeting with clients.

The humble telephone has been drastically overlooked (a travesty in my eyes, I’m still very old school as my friends and fellow copywriters Louise Shanahan and Catherine Jones both know!

Just 12 months ago I did everything I could to avoid video chats. Today, I spoke to 3 different clients on video in the same day. And I didn’t get the sickening butterflies beforehand that I used to.

Taken on new projects

Back when I was firmly in my comfort zone, blogs and website content were my bread and butter. To be fair, they still are to a certain extent, but I find them so familiar that they don’t present much of a challenge day-to-day.

In the past, I would always turn down a project that I was unfamiliar with. However, I’ve quickly learnt that the best way to ramp up your skills as a freelancer is to jump in at the deep end.

Rather than saying ‘no’ to new and different projects that I have been offered, I’ve started saying yes. As a result, I’ve diversified what I can offer clients, I have a much more versatile portfolio of work and I feel confident in my services too.

Increased my rates

Rate setting and pricing projects is something that many freelancers hate and knowing what to charge is a skill in itself. At the start of this year, I realised that I had been underselling myself for quite some time.

I’ve got more than 6 years of experience, much of it in technical and specialised fields. I’ve got lots of client feedback that says I’m good at what I do.

So, why was I still underselling myself? Having greater confidence in the services I can offer gave me the push I needed to raise my rates to reflect my skill and experience.

In a snapshot, pushing myself out of my comfort zone has:

  • Helped me to communicate more effectively with clients, and as a result, my processes are more efficient, my work is better, and clients are happier.
  • Meant that I have worked with more new clients in the first half of 2021 than in any previous entire year.
  • Enabled me to work on a wider range of projects with a more diversified client list.
  • Helped me to see my own value and charge accordingly.

Of course, much of this wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing freelance and copywriting communities, who are always on hand to offer support, advice and encouragement. You know who you are, and I thank you endlessly!

So, the purpose of this blog is simply one thing. To tell you that while it’s ok to stay in your comfort zone if you really aren’t ready to come out if it if you are brave enough to, amazing things could happen.

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First published on wickedcreative.co.uk

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