When I first decided to build a business, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Sure, I knew it would be hard work and I’d be working all hours under the sun to get things up and running.
However, I had no idea there would be times where I’d be sobbing to my Mum because my main client made me redundant. Or times where I’d almost throw my laptop out my window because I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to add an opt-in form to my website’s homepage.
Sigh. The struggle has been real.
But do you know what? I wouldn’t change the experience for the world.
From making mistakes, I’ve learned a lot.
Want more details? Read on for the 24 freelance lessons I’ve learned in 24 months of running my biz.
1. Freelance Lessons 101: Don’t Sacrifice Your Mental Health For the Sake of Your Business
Naturally, mental health had to be the first thing I write about in this post.
After all, there have been countless times in the last two years where I felt like I had to go that extra mile for a client without getting paid for it or push that little bit harder to meet a very tight deadline.
To be honest, I wish someone had told me that I was going to burn out in the beginning. I would have tried to prevent it from happening by listening to my body and my mind when it told me I needed to rest.
Instead, I kept pushing myself when I was struggling – and it only took me longer to recover.
2. When It Comes to Clients, Choose Quality Over Quantity
I originally thought that the more clients I had, the more money I’d be making and the more successful my business would be.
It doesn’t matter how many clients you have if they’re all paying you £10 per project and you have to run yourself into the ground trying to make enough money to pay your monthly bills.
The trick is to find higher-paying clients that will offer you £100+ for a project and build a client base that’s worthy of your quality of work.
Say it with me: “less is more” and “quality trumps quantity.”
3. Always Follow Up
How frustrating is it when you spend hours crafting the perfect pitch and then there’s nothing but the sound of crickets?
However, I’ve discovered the secret of successful freelancing – and it’s all about following up.
Obviously, you don’t want to bombard the poor company, but if you give them a nudge a few days later or a second nudge a few days after that, I’ve found that this strategy works a treat in on-boarding new clients.
4. Sometimes You Have to Fight For Work
I wish someone had told me before I started freelancing that the work won’t just fall into my lap.
(Can you imagine? *Daydreams*)
Newsflash: you have to go out there and get it. And do you know what? It’s hard work sometimes. There’s a lot of competition.
However, in my experience, persistence is the key to success.
5. Building Relationships Pays Off
One of the top freelance lessons I’ve learned that often gets overlooked is the importance of developing personal relationships.
Always remember that your client is not just your client, a bank or a way to make money. Your client is a human being first and foremost.
Being friendly and taking the time to get to your collaborators as a small business owner is imperative. I mean, you never know where your relationship might lead.
(You could end up being best buds, or you could end up running a digital marketing agency with them one day. Who can say?)
6. Don’t Assume New Clients Will Behave As Badly As Old Clients Have
When you’ve been burned several times by past clients, it’s difficult not to build up a bit of a wall between yourself and new clients. It’s like being burned by an ex, you’re not going to open yourself up emotionally to a new partner right away – are you? Let’s be honest.
I’ve been defensive with clients previously who I thought were trying to take advantage of me, just because I’ve been taken advantage of many times before – and it’s cost me the job. Oops.
Now I start everybody off on a clean slate and only seem to attract positive outcomes as a result.
7. It’s True What They Say About Having a Niche (Kind Of)
Okay, the niche thing.
Yes, it helps to have a niche to position yourself as an expert in your field. The riches are in the niches. However, you don’t necessarily need just one.
For example, I have three (perhaps even four) and it never harmed my chances of securing well-paid freelance writing jobs.
Just make sure each niche you have is profitable and you’re golden.
8. You’re Always Worth More Than You Think You Are
I’m terrible when it comes to undercharging. I did it loads in the beginning and I still do it now.
Having said that, I think I’m getting better.
It can be difficult to haggle for more money when you’ve got bills to pay, but it’s worth it in the end.
At the end of the day, you’re offering immense value and expertise to your client and saving them time and money, so you deserve to be paid accordingly.
9. A Healthy Work-Life Balance Is So Important
In the beginning stages of freelance writing, I worked all hours. All day, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, bank holidays, Christmas – you name it. I did it.
And guess what? I burned out. I burned out badly. And it wasn’t fun.
Nowadays, I make sure I play hard just as much as I work hard – and it does wonders for both my personal and professional life.
10. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Speaking of working hard, I originally thought that hustling all hours would make my business successful. But this didn’t turn out to be the case.
I was filling my schedule with low-paying gigs when I should have been using the extra time I had to apply for higher-paying gigs. I fell into a trap of overworking to make (what I considered) a decent monthly income when I should have been cold pitching so I could have less clients but of a higher quality.
The lesson here? Work smarter, not harder.
11. Outsource Tasks When You Can
In the beginning, I thought I had to do everything myself. I took the phrase “one-woman show” literally.
I did all my marketing, promotion, writing, proofreading, editing – and it was exhausting. There weren’t enough hours in the day.
Therefore, when I could afford it, I made the conscious decision to outsource certain tasks – and I’ll tell you what, it made my life a heck of a lot easier.
And it freed up time for me to do what I do best — write.
12. Success Is Whatever You Make It
I originally thought that success meant working as hard as possible to make as much money as possible.
After two years of learning freelance lessons, I have a different view on this.
I now think having a profitable business with a healthy work-life balance and being mentally well is successful. In this sense, I’m more successful than ever.
13. You Have to Learn to Be a Content Chameleon
Sure, having a specific niche or niches is important, but there might be times where one of your regular clients wants you to do them a favour and write about pregnancy mattresses instead of the latest fashion trends.
One of the top freelance lessons I’ve learned that it helps to be versatile, especially during slow spells where you might have to apply for jobs that are a little out of your comfort zone.
In fact, I’ve grown to love these odd jobs in different niches as it keeps my working day super varied and interesting. Win-win.
14. You Have to Learn to Roll With the Times
The amount of times I’ve panicked that my weekly workload has slowed up and I won’t be able to pay my bills at the end of the month is unbelievable.
(Why does nobody talk about this side of the industry?)
Personally, I’ve had to learn to have a fair bit of savings behind me for the quiet spells. It’s all about being sensible while trying not to let your anxiety take over.
(I’m still working on this one, to be honest. It’s all a work in progress!)
15. Try Something Different (You Might Like It)
When I first started freelance writing, I limited myself to blog or magazine content as I felt comfortable and had the most experience with these writing styles.
Then as my business grew and clients learned of my marketing background, I got more requests for copywriting jobs.
It took a long time but I finally opened myself up to another side of freelance writing, and now I really enjoy wearing different hats.
One of the major freelance lessons here? Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, people.
16. There’s Room For Everyone in This Industry
When I first started my business, I constantly worried that no one would want to work with me because there was already a sea of freelance writers on the scene and OMG what if I wasn’t as good as the competition?
However, I quickly realised that there’s plenty of work to go around in this industry.
I mean, as the online world grows, so does the demand for content to fill it with. Panic over.
17. Strangers Won’t Have a Clue What You Do For a Living
I’ve avoided being asked what I do for a living many times. Why? Well, because nobody seems to get it (apart from fellow freelancers).
I know freelance writing is still considered a relatively “new” job, but I’ve learned to keep it short and simple when people ask me about it.
Otherwise, I’m just met with blank stares and “oh, right” before the conversation is swiftly moved on. (You learn not to take this personally…)
18. You’ll Never Know Where You Are With Money
Due to the fact that I’ve had an array of clients with different payment schedules, I’ve had to accept that I’ll never know where I am with money as a freelance writer.
I live paycheque to paycheque, which was difficult to adjust to initially after coming from a 9-5 corporate environment – but you know what? It’s not the worst thing.
I’m just happy to be able to make a full-time income doing something I love.
19. It’s Impossible to Switch Off
Even now, two years later, I find it super hard to switch off from my business.
My boyfriend is constantly telling me off for answering emails at 10pm or popping on my laptop to do a bit of editing on a Sunday afternoon.
It might occupy my thoughts always, but that’s because I’m passionate about what I do. To me, it’s the best job in the world. And I wouldn’t work when I’m supposed to be having time off if I didn’t want to.
20. Your Business Is the Baby You Never Had
Another reason why I can never switch off from my business is that it’s essentially my baby. I grew it myself and look after it. I nurture it – and no one else. Hence, I’m incredibly protective of it.
Sure, constructive criticism is always welcome, but any kind of trolling will be met with the wrath of a woman scorned.
21. There’ll Always Be Something You’re Unhappy With
Like a human baby, my business is never going to be perfect. I get that now.
There’ll always be an aspect that needs improvement, but as long as 90% of it is going swimmingly, I can accept the 10% that’s not.
(And work hard to make it better!)
22. Cold Pitching Is Always Going to Terrify You (a Little Bit)
I haven’t met any other freelance writer in my career so far who isn’t the slightest bit terrified of cold pitching.
Why? Well, it’s the fear of the unknown and being rejected by strangers. I completely get it.
That said, you learn to take rejection with a pinch of salt as time goes on. Business is business, at the end of the day. It’s not personal.
23. Staying True to Yourself Is Instrumental
There have been so many times in the past couple of years where I’ve thought I should be writing a blog post on a certain subject because someone else has done it, or I should be working on the same social media technique as one of my freelancing heroes.
Having said that, I’ve recently learned what works for one freelance business might not work for another.
It’s important to stay authentic and just do what works for you and your biz. Don’t feel pressured to act a certain way and embrace individuality, because that’s your superpower.
24. The Possibilities Are Endless
The wonderful thing about freelancing writing is that there are so many different avenues you can go down.
In addition to a range of niches, there are a variety of content types you can produce and numerous publications that you can collaborate with.
It’s the same story with other freelancing industries. And that’s what makes being a solopreneur really exciting – right?
The Bottom Line: We’re All Still Learning Freelance Lessons
There are lots of freelance lessons I’ve learned in the past couple of years and I’m sure that there are lots more to come.
I mean, we’re all still evolving when it comes to freelancing. It’s considered a new movement in the online world and the gig economy only continues to grow.
Regardless, I’m extremely happy with where I am right now, even though I still have big dreams to achieve. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop.
Here’s to many more years as a freelancer!
What are the freelance lessons you’ve learned since running your biz? Let me know in the comments below!