Career Woman

5 strategies to survive the first year of freelancing

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Ever since I have quit my 9-to-5 job I have always wondered how it would be like if I stayed where I was. Quitting my job in order to become a freelance writer was one of the smartest decisions of my life.

While I do wish that I knew about some of the obstacles and pitfalls that were coming my way, it was still a worthwhile experience getting to grips with freelancing. So what are some of the key things that everyone should do if they want to survive their first freelance year and make it a permanent career choice?

1. Deciding on what’s best

There are always signs pointing towards you quitting your job. Your income might be too low or your executives might be too unbearable. These factors don’t only affect your productivity and personal development but also ripple through your family life and emotional stability.

I struggled with my anxiety and family’s perception of what I am doing with my life for quite a while before starting a freelancing career. Only you can decide for yourself whether or not you have had enough of being bossed around for minimal payment without any hopes of advancement or getting a raise. Once you decide on what’s best for you and your family, you will be fully ready to embrace a new way of working and making ends meet.

2. Settling into a niche

Freelance writing has become one of my favorite pastimes even though it’s still technically what I do for a living. But how did I come to this conclusion and actually start enjoying what I do? Settling into a specific freelancing niche is something that takes time, trial and repetition.

Most people fall into categories like graphic design, copywriting and data analytics. These niches are full of specializations that offer a plethora of options for would-be freelancers. Settling into one specific category will take some time and for me, it was article writing and blogging for different clients as a ghost writer.

Making money while expressing yourself creatively is one of the best things that can happen to you, and for me it was a relatively painless process. I work with long-term clients and keep my options open with platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer. Potential clients will flock towards you as soon as you start getting your first successful contracts, and by that time, you will already have a clearer understanding of why freelancing is better than working full time.

3. Struggling with basics

Some of the worst obstacles and mistakes I faced came in the first months of freelancing. While I do wish that someone was there to back me up, I tend to think they helped me become who I am today. Some of these mistakes are easily avoidable if you just think clearly before making rushed decisions, but I guess they weren’t clear enough for me back then:

  • Setting up a proper profile page with an accompanying portfolio is essential to initial success. No one will hire you based on a nice profile picture with zero information about who you are and what you do. Take time to set up your profile no matter what platform you choose to work from and make sure it presents you in the best light.
  • Develop a communicative voice and skillset before applying for more serious jobs. Clients will happily chat with you about the project and expectations if your English vocabulary and writing skills are up to their expectations. This is especially true for freelance writing, so check out some of the best college writing websites to see what is expected of freelance writers. Talk casually but be polite and professional at the same time. Your clients are people just like yourself, so don’t treat them like robots or piggybanks waiting to be opened.
  • Don’t commit to projects you can’t complete. I had the unfortunate coincidence of applying and getting three separate projects on the same day. This turned out to be a slight mistake on my part since two of the clients were happy with our work while the third one abandoned the project due to my lack of focus. Only apply for jobs you think you can handle and don’t multitask – at least at first.
  • Just because you are freelancing, don’t mistake this for part-time work or casual killing of time. Freelancing will eat up as much time as you give it, so you need to schedule your work according to your real-world obligations. I once spent over 10 hours writing articles without taking a break longer than two minutes which made my back hurt and my vision went blurry. While I did make more money that I thought possible, I still felt sick and dizzy when it was over.

4. Managing freelance income

One of the unforeseen consequences of freelance work has to do with relying on inconsistent income for your living costs. Freelance income comes after a project has been submitted and approved by the client, which can sometimes take a couple of days to over a few weeks. This is why a rainy days stash is important in the first months of freelancing while you still don’t have a stable income.

Even a “stable” freelancing income can still fall flat of what you made previously, at least in your first year. Make sure that you budget your spending according to the estimate money you are about to have at the end of each week. You won’t be able to splurge and buy a whole line of clothes with your first freelance paycheck but you will still be able to treat your family and self to something nice as a reward.

5. Real-life VS theory

Some people have a very misunderstood image of freelancing in their minds. People sometimes think that freelancing is all about sitting in front of the computer while money keeps coming out of it – literally. Freelancing is much harder than most people tend to believe, and I had to face these facts head on when I started working.

  • Freelancers can’t take time off if they are sick or want to go on a vacation. If you do that in the middle of a project, your client might let you go and leave a poor review on your public profile which won’t go away easily. Your life revolves around the needs of your client, so be prepared for that before committing to freelancing.
  • Freelancers don’t have social security, medical insurance or pension funds. This is why most people see freelancing as a part-time deal while searching for something stable to work with. While you can make your own deposits into pension and insurance, this is often more costly than it would be if you just worked a full-time job.
  • There will be times when you make twice as much one month only to make a fraction to nothing the next one. This is why managing income as a freelancer and relying too much on inconsistent work can be difficult. It can be even more stressful if you are an anxious person who is unsure of their abilities to make things work this way.
  • One of the benefits that initially attracted me to freelancing is the fact that you can work anywhere and anytime. While this is true to some extent, you will still need a constant place of work that you can rely on no matter the time of day. Fixing up a dedicated working office at home and having peace and quiet to work there can often be difficult if you live with someone else.

These facts are not here to scare you – they are here so that you can see what it means to really work as a full-time freelancer. Yes, you will work much more flexibly but you will also have flexible income that most people can’t cope with. That is why freelancing has mostly remained a part-time job or a secondary income source for many who are too afraid to commit to it completely – and that’s okay!

Final thoughts, First steps

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is very difficult, especially at a younger age. I have always imagined myself as a part of a multinational corporate team that solves world issues and gets recognition for it. This is a nice dream to think about, but getting there takes a couple of lifetimes of work and effort. Even then, no one can say for sure that you will achieve your dream in full.

Freelancing offers as much options as you allow it to. You can make freelance work your top priority and become writing or design expert over the course of several years. Keep in mind that these several years will indeed be filled with struggle and downsizing of your expenses.

Making it through the first year of freelancing will inform you on whether or not you want to keep doing what you have started doing or if you want to go back to something more stable. Whatever you decide should make you happy first and foremost, because money will never be able to buy happiness, no matter what they say.

About Luisa Brenton

Luisa Brenton is a brand developer in the past. Mom, educational blogger in the present. Freelance writer by trade. Hiking fan by choice. Desperate inspiration seeker all the time. You can find out more on Facebook.

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