10 things I’ve learned in my first 18 months as a freelancer
Updated: May 18, 2022
A lot has happened in the past 18 months. It’s been a tough year for many of us but we’ve also learned a lot. Back in May 2020, I decided to take the bull by its horns and set up my own company amidst a global pandemic. It was challenging, tiring but extremely rewarding and, as we come to the end of another year, I can’t help but look back…
Lesson 1: The art of payments
Before I started out, I was really worried about asking new clients for either a full or partial payment upfront. I thought it might put people off but, so far, no-one has turned their nose up. Plus, I’m now in a position that if someone did refuse to pay before any work was started, I could confidently push back. This process means I don’t have to deal with any slow payments, or non-payments, further down the line.
Lesson 2: The importance of a sales pitch, that works
Fellow business owners, how would you sell your services to someone in 60 seconds? Can you get that down to 30 seconds? This idea has helped me to nail my sales pitch, which I now have down to a fine art. You also need to find out what works for you. For example, I prefer to find out via email what kind of support someone is looking for before hopping on a call to discuss further. That way, I can put together some recommendations and ideas that are in line with what they want.
During the call, I also establish realistic timeframes, explain how Balance works, and provide information on our background and expertise. This is then followed up with an email that breaks down the retainer packages, highlighting the one that is best suited to the potential client.
Lesson 3: Showing leniency
No-one likes to be pressured into anything, do they? And one of the best ways that I’ve been able to showcase what Balance can provide without being too pushy is by allowing bulk buy options. I give clients the opportunity to buy a set amount of hours that can be used over a certain period of time. That way, they can see how many hours they typically need every month, and can benefit from our services without feeling like they’re wasting money.
Lesson 4: Overcoming the fear of the unknown
I’m a control freak, I said it. I like to know what’s going on, what’s planned for when and how long things will take. As a freelancer, you don’t usually get this certainty though. You don’t know how much you’re going to earn, you don’t know if you’re going to get enough work, and you don’t know if and when you’re going to be successful.
Not to mention the fact that when you finally think you have it sussed, someone then decides they don’t need your services anymore. Whilst it is tricky to keep on top of the non-stop merry-go-round, it’s also part of the thrill. It keeps things exciting.
Lesson 5: Just do it
Making the decision to set up my own business was risky. I’d never done it before, I didn’t know how it would go. But success doesn’t come from making safe choices. Stop telling yourself that you don’t have enough experience, or you need more money behind you. Push away from that inner imposter syndrome and just do it. I promise you that once you’ve landed your first client, you’ll never look back.
Lesson 6: Keep learning
When time is money, it can be hard to dedicate yourself to new courses or bettering your skills but this will actually help you to earn more in the long run. By taking this approach, in the past 18 months, I’ve learned to do more things than I’ve done in the past 10 years.
It’s also ok to admit that you haven’t done something before but that you’re willing to give it a try. As a VA, I’m asked to research and book all manner of things but I simply let my clients know that I’ll get in touch if I have any issues. This not only helps me to learn, but builds confidence between us. Transparency is key.
Lesson 7: Discipline is crucial
Sure, you’re entitled to an early Friday finish. Or maybe, staying in bed and starting work a little later seems appealing on a winter’s morning. As a freelancer, these things are allowed but just remember you won’t get paid for them. Discipline comes easier to some people than others. You need to be able to kick your own ass sometimes. You need to get up, every day, and open your laptop. With no-one to boss you around, you have to do it yourself.
Lesson 8: Charge your worth
Instead of charging for your time, charge your worth. Charge for how long it takes to do as well as your expertise, skills and knowledge. Honestly, when I first started, I felt embarrassed to charge anything. I felt like a fraud. I began charging by the hour, a very cheap hour may I add, and I really regret that now.
I thought building up a client base at a lower rate would see me through, and whilst I was onboarding clients left right and centre, they weren’t quality clients. It meant I was working long hours, and still not making enough for myself - let alone anyone else. Since increasing my rates, I’ve attracted top-level clients and more of them. Why? Because my hourly rate reflects the level of service they receive when partnering with me.
Lesson 9: Networking is your best friend
As a freelancer, you wear a lot of hats - and not all of them are glamorous. You’ve got to work IN the business and ON the business, and when one of these hats slips, the others do too. Networking on social media is key to the success of your business, especially when you’re trying to get it off the ground.
It’s not just about meeting potential new clients either. Follow other successful business owners in your field, build up relationships with them and foster a community of like-minded individuals to learn from.
Lesson 10: It can be lonely
The truth is, it can be really isolating when you’re working as a freelancer. To combat this, make sure you take up opportunities to co-work with friends and family. Even working from a coffee shop can scratch that itch. Regular video calls and chats with other freelancers and your team, if you’re lucky enough to have built one, will also help.
If you’re a fellow freelancer, it would be great to chat. How have you found work? Do you have any tips that I can use going forward? Connect with me on LinkedIn or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.