Just over 6 months ago, I quit my full time job and dived straight into the world of freelancing in order to make a living. Sounds great, right? Well, I won’t lie, it is great, however I’ve learned a lot of new things during these past 6 months and I’m sharing my own tips for new freelancers in this blog post.
If you’ve started freelancing recently and you’ve come from a background of regular employment, you’ll know that your daily routine changes overnight.
You’re suddenly solely responsible for all the elements of your income as a sole trader. You’re no longer behind the walls of a company who takes care of administration, bookkeeping and sick pay.
This article contains the various lessons I’ve learned during my first six months of freelancing, as well as useful advice and tips for other freelancers who are at the start of their journey.
Multiple income streams help. A lot.
If you’re used to having a regular salary every month, the prospect of no longer having that certainty is frightening. We live in a wonderful world where opportunities exist to make a living from something you care about. The only caveat is that you have to be absolutely committed.
Before I started freelancing full-time, 3 years before in fact, I started developing long-term passive income streams. I didn’t have money to invest, but I did have time I was willing (and able) to sacrifice.
Back in 2016, I refocused my existing SEO knowledge with the view of actually earning money from it. Over a period of 3 years I built 7 blogs, written by me but using aliases and personas. All of those blogs earn money through affiliate links, ads, sponsored content and digital products.
Once those income streams were established, consistent and could continue without too much input from me, I felt lot more confident and stable to quit my job and become self-employed.
Without that income, I’d definitely have struggled to pay for my mortgage, food and bills.
I know that on one hand, I’m incredibly lucky, but on the other hand, I worked extremely hard, outsourced nothing and sacrificed a lot of time to publish content that was capable of earning passive income. Also, remember this took me 3 whole years, alongside a full-time job, before I was in a position to quit full-time employment.
Idea for extra income streams
I know that it’s not possible for everyone to do the same as what I did, I’ve been playing with search engines and tinkering with websites since 1998 (I was 10), but I still had to learn a lot about sales and marketing to get here.
Have a think about your own skills and where there could be opportunities to use them to earn additional income. Whether it’s selling stock photos, writing, coaching, advising, creating content or something more practical and hands-on.
Here are some popular and legitimate ways to earn income online:
- Affiliate marketing
- Displaying adverts on your website or blog
- Publishing sponsored content on your website or blog
- Drop shopping from AliExpress (using Oberlo for Shopify or AliDropship for WooCommerce)
- FBA (fulfilled by Amazon)
- Print on demand
- Selling digital products
- Writing reviews
- Selling your skills on a website like Fiverr
- Online coaching, learning or training
So, have a think about ways to develop your skills and hobbies into a side business, with or without the internet.
Document all your processes
You’ll likely be repeating tasks and processes, but you’re probably storing them inside your head. Don’t do this. As your business grows, you’ll likely hire someone to help you with certain elements of running your business. Wouldn’t it be much easier if everything was documented and kept up-to-date for this reason?
Your processes are no use to anyone else if they’re in your head.
Examples of repeatable processes include:
- Logging receipts
- Paying invoices
- Sending contracts and invoices
- Adding new clients to your CRM or database
- Updating your weekly social media schedule
- Updating your website content
- Replying to customer reviews
Then, you’ve got your own processes around your actual workflow too.
Having all your steps written down and documented will save you a lot of time. Your future self with thank you.
Bad clients exist and they’re hard work
Red flags are so glaringly obvious to me now, many months after becoming a freelancer. In fact, I’ve had to edit and adapt my terms and conditions for new clients as a result of the red flags I
From now on, if I feel that a project isn’t the right fit for me, I won’t accept it.
Saying Yes to Everything is a mistake
This is such an easy trap to fall into if you’re new to freelancing. Sometimes, a client or colleague may ask you to do a task that you simply don’t want to do. Perhaps it doesn’t align with your values or goals, or you just don’t want to undertake the work.
Despite this, I’ve said ‘yes’ to client requests on a few occasions and lived to regret it. Usually, I’ve agreed to things during a time when my workload is already quite high. I’ve started politely telling clients who spring unplanned, ad-hoc or completely out of scope requests that there may either be a delay, or an extra fee.
It’s OK to say no sometimes, if your workload is too high or you get a bad feeling about a project then you have nothing to feel guilty about.
Don’t neglect opportunities to grow your business
In complete contrast to saying “no” to things, it’s also important not to get so engrossed in your workload that you miss opportunities that could boost your business.
You should make it part of your daily routine to stay up-to-date with current events, news and trends in your industry.
It’s a good idea to follow to industry leading accounts on social media or subscribe to relevant and informative email newsletters. But here’s the important part – actually read and engage with them.
Set aside at least 30 minutes every day that’s dedicated to looking for opportunities and local events that could help grow your business in the future.
I get some of the most valuable business information via social media and email newsletters. If you find it overwhelming, here are some tips to help you stay organised and on top of things:
How to make sure you don’t miss things
1. Keep your newsletter subscriptions separate from your primary emails. Set a filter in your email inbox to send all your industry newsletters into one folder that you can check once or twice a day.
2. Create lists on Twitter. Add all the relevant and useful accounts in your industry to a list and look as it regularly throughout the day. Twitter is a wonderful place, but it’s very noisy so easy to miss things. Having list is a great way to organise the people and accounts you’re following. Make sure they’re set to ‘private’ so no one else can see or use this list, as it’s just for you to read.
3. Create a bookmarks folder. This may be on your desktop, web browser or phone with all the relevant websites and news publishers that post useful news or content.
4. Be old school. Use an RSS Feed Reader (they still exist!) to view a feed of the business and industry content you’ve subscribed to.
Networking and community is so so so important
You need to be part of some sort of community if you’re freelancing. I know, I know, part of the appeal of this lifestyle is not having to deal with people. But, if you’re depriving yourself of community support, you are genuinely missing out.
There are welcoming, non-judgmental physical and virtual communities ready and waiting with open arms. It doesn’t matter how far along your freelance journey you are, you’ll find support in a Facebook group for freelancers or a local co-working space.
I was lucky enough to discover the 5-9 Club just as I handed my notice in to my former job. I also joined Welsh ICE as part of the ICE50 programme, which is an excellent place for business networking in South Wales. Also, every few weeks I check Eventbrite for local networking events (if they’re free, even better!) and commit to actually going to them.
Every network event I’ve been to has been useful in some way, whether I’ve made a useful contact, got a new client, or learned something helpful.
Procrastination is risky
As a freelancer, you don’t have a boss peering over your shoulder but you still have to report to your clients, the people who pay you.
It’s extremely easy to procrastinate both at home or from a professional co-working space. There are a multitude of distractions in both of these places there to throw you off course.
You have to focus. There are countless productivity and self-mutilation techniques out there. I find the Pomodoro Technique works well for me if I find it difficult to get started on something.
Once I’ve started on a task, I’m focused and productive. It’s the getting started bit that I struggle with.
The Pomodoro Technique involves working solidly on a task for 25 minutes, the stopping for a 5 minute break. You repeat this 4-5 times, then have a break for 30 minutes and start again.
25 minutes is not a long time and it goes by extremely quickly. When distractions present themselves to you, you can think to yourself “I’ll look at you in 14 minutes” or whatever.
I spend my 5 minute breaks scrolling through Twitter, Instagram or playing with my cats. It really does make a huge difference to your productivity. But, you should find a technique that works for you.
Here are some other useful productivity techniques to try if you struggle with procrastination:
Invest time in self-development and professional learning
Any time you spend learning business skills, marketing, sales or how to use a new digital tool is not time spent wasted. In fact, when you plan your time, you should factor in plenty of time for learning and skill development.
When you’re new to business, you have to hit the ground running and it’s easy to put training to the bottom of your list but you need to grab every opportunity for learning and developing your own skills.
Investing time in your own skills is investing time in improving your business.
Don’t forget about self-care
Look after yourself, OK? Without fixed hours or a steady monthly income, not only do you have the extra pressure of earning enough to pay your bills, you no longer have designated days off.
Having days off is one thing, but you should dedicate time every single day to looking after yourself.
There have been so many occasions over the last few months where I opted for a take away instead of cooking a proper meal, or having a quick shower instead of a long bath.
As a freelancer, it’s common to feel guilty about doing things for yourself if you have unfinished tasks. But you have to think of it this way: how are you supposed to complete work to a high standard if you’re not healthy, well-rested, nourished and able to enjoy your work?
Basic self-care is the foundation to having a successful freelance career.
Remember why you started freelancing
You chose self-employment for a reason, remember that reason. Whatever it means to you, whether it’s family, travel, independence, financial or otherwise, remember your motivations.
If it helps, set your phone or desktop wallpaper to something that reminds you of your motivation. Or, put photos in your home office or around your usual workspace.
Some days I think that it would be so much easier if I just got a regular job, but then I remember why I’m doing this, so I can focus on the projects or areas of work that interest me, instead of having my workload delegated or dictated to me.
Finally, it’s OK to ask for help
If you’re freelancing or running your own business, you’re a manager, a founder, a bookkeeper, a marketer, a salesperson, a social media manager and an administrator. Plus, you have to do the actual work that you get paid for.
You have lot to manage, so it’s OK to ask someone for help in automating or improving your processes. It’s also OK to totally outsource elements of running your business, so you can focus on the quality of your work.
If your bookkeeping takes too long, or your website maintenance is becoming a time-drag, it’s absolutely fine to hire someone to take care of it for you.
Paying a fellow freelancer, such as a bookkeeper, virtual assistant or someone to update your website will cost you money but save you time. It’s even easier to budget for this type of assistance if you genuinely dislike the tasks you’re outsourcing!
If you are outsourcing, make sure you have recommendations, testimonials or reviews from their previous clients, or use someone who you already know and trust. It’s important to communicate well with any of your suppliers who support your freelance business.
So, those are the main lessons that I’ve learned during my first six months freelancing. I hope you’ve been able to relate to this blog post.