From location independent digital nomads to stay-at-home parents and experienced professionals ready to find freedom as consultants, the desire to rid ourselves of the corporate rat race is a common theme.
Indeed, although a quest for happiness and a release from the 9 to 5 to gain more control over our private lives is a crucial motivator to turn “freelance” stress is also the main reason new freelancers give-up. Fear, anxiety, and an inability to find adequate clients or sufficient secure income is a critical reason that new freelancers return to an office job.
So how do you avoid stress as a freelancer and find success? Due to the wide variety of freelance and consultant positions and diverse individuals who fill these roles, there is not one magic answer. That said all freelancers and consultants can benefit from mastering and paying attention to the following nine subject areas.
8) Accepting Failure
As an experienced and successful Freelancer who works with a diverse clientele, in this article, I share with you not only why these nine subjects yield actionable tips for success, I also share some of my favorite groups, classes, and resources, to help you, whatever your niche, on your path to freedom.
If you take a quick survey of “successful” versus “failed” freelancers and consultants, one of the first things you will notice is that the successful freelancers precisely focus their offerings and target a specific audience.
Many failed freelancers try to offer 50 different services in a desperate attempt to snag a client. Don’t be that freelancer. If you try to be everybody to everyone you will crash and burn.
If you are working in the USA, as of 2016, according to this Forbes article, there were an estimated 55 million freelancers. As a freelancer your competition is fierce — I say this not to scare you away — but to drive home the point that to achieve the success you need and desire, you need to focus and define your offer.
People hire relationships; people hire for specific needs. They need to know the moment they come across your LinkedIn profile, your Website or your Upwork page that your skills match their needs.
If I search “web designer” under people on LinkedIn, I pull up over 465,000 profiles. This doesn’t mean you cannot be successful as a web designer, but it does mean you need to find your market and excel at meeting the demands of YOUR market. If I want a Divi website, don’t sell me custom-coded. If I wish to have a site built on WordPress, don’t sell me Squarespace. If you want happy and repeat customers, you must accurately represent your skills and your offers. And then find reliable referral partners to send potential clients whose problems do not align with your solutions.
If I search LinkedIn for “translator,” I also get over 460,000 profiles. If I need a biology textbook translated English into Arabic or knitting patterns translated English into Norwegian, I’ll stop first on the profiles that indicate they will meet my needs. If you do Academic translations or Scientific translations, I’ll interview you for my biology textbook. But if I can’t identify your skill set, specialties or background, I’ll keep moving until I find a profile that does match my needs. Conversely, if you claim to be able to translate anything and everything, I will doubt your claim.
The best way to build repeat clients and your own word-of-mouth income stream is by knocking-the-socks off of your clients and you can only do this if you define and focus, set your sights on becoming an expert.
Success Lesson 1: Define your offer and your specialty. Focusing your business goals on a particular audience will make it easier for you to find success and to earn repeat clients, as well as, word of mouth referrals. Set goals in line with your experience level and appropriate to your skills set, income goals and resources.
2) Design your processes:
You’ve got experience, you’ve settled on your offer, built a website and written up a LinkedIn profile. Now what? How are you going to get a client and what will you do once you HAVE a client?
A key reason for freelance failure is a lack of processes and organization during the client onboarding process that results in stress, confused expectations and even failed projects. Before following the procedures outlined in “Stress Less & Impress,” within the Freelance to Freedom School, I experienced scheduling stress because I couldn’t seem to control when my clients replied and returned materials.
Finally, after refusing (and losing) a client, because he disappeared off the planet for over a week and then expected a rush job finished over Christmas, I sat myself down and followed the Freelance to Freedom Program’s “Stressless and Impress” Course. I followed the simple instructions for setting up an onboarding process and most importantly created a “How I work” document that I share with all new clients in a “Welcome Package.” Now, instead of clients being frustrated, and me stressing out from unexpected deadlines, my clients instead report back that they are thrilled with my responsiveness and turnaround time.
The other expectation management tool I now use as a result of my membership in the Freelance to Freedom School is a course titled “Consult Call Success.” I’ve found that starting all my client work with a short 15 to 20-minute call closes my sales and means that my clients and I start off our relationship with a clear understanding of expectations, again reducing stress and setting us up for success!
Success Lesson 2: Processes, processes, processes: follow a plan and manage expectations through well-designed processes. If you define and focus your offer, it is almost natural to then set-up the associated processes. This planning assures your success not only because it improves your client relationships, but also because it means that you save time and reduce your anxiety, by establishing easy to follow and consistent procedures. As Leah says: “Stress less and Impress!”
3) Find an Online Community:
In our quest for freedom, many freelancers often find themselves surprised to discover that they hate being alone or that they suddenly feel cut off from society. Working from home means no more “water cooler chat,” and no more “popping over” to a coworker’s cubicle to get their feedback or toss around ideas.
The solution? Find a group or several of likeminded Freelancers. My saving grace has been the support and friendship that I’ve found with the Digital Nomad Girls (and now the Inner Circle) and the Freelance to Freedom Project (and the school).
Facebook groups are a dime a dozen, and I’ve joined my fair share of duds, but the groups where I’ve found value are real keepers. Not only do I find them a lifesaver when it comes to practical business advice, but I’ve made both colleagues and friends, and I’ve found clients.
Success Lesson 3: Find a Community. Depending on your demographic and industry, I’d search Facebook groups and Google to identify that right community for you. You might need to start out by joining five groups or even ten.
Jump in and introduce yourself and then interact with a few posts, you’ll be able to tell reasonably swiftly if you’ve found a group of that will support you. If the group is a dud, drop it and find another. And, if you can’t find a community you like, build your own. Leah’s got a class for that too: Create Your Own FB Group!
As I mentioned in #2, to avoid stress and find the success you seek, setting up processes and managing expectations is crucial. From the beginning I cannot overemphasize the value of investing a little time and if necessary money into applications, memberships, and resources that allow you to automate, scale and manage your business like a pro.
Some of my favorite applications work fine using the free versions, such as Trello for goals, editorial calendar, project management, and tasks or AND CO for client management including proposals, contracts, billing, and expenses. Whereas others I’ve found work best if I invest in the paid versions, like Zapier, G Suite, LinkedIn, and Grammarly. (G Suite is INDISPENSABLE. Get yourself a business email, nothing shouts amateur like a personal email, especial Hotmail, Comcast or even AOL.)
Similarly, I’ve found that investing in lifetime memberships or continual access to certain groups or platforms more than pays for itself and in fact contributes to my longterm financial success and growth. My total expenses on a monthly basis for memberships and business applications is around $200. This used to freak me out, but now I realize that if I am paying for something, it is because I’ve received a service I value and that I’ve invested in myself and my business.
There is no such thing as a free ride. Invest to earn. Not in a pyramid scheme or without planning, but smart investing. The moment I changed my mindset and started valuing the act of investing in my business through paid memberships and applications that support my processes, I’ve more than tripled my income and increased my personal “minimum wage” from $25/hour to $60/hour. I am more organized, less stressed and continually growing my confidence and experience.
Success Lesson 4: Find the applications, groups or resources that will support your success and invest in them. If you want your clients to value your work, then you need to appreciate yourself. Your happiness and success are worth the investment in the tools and the communities that will support you on your journey.
One of the most common questions I see in Freelancer groups is “how do I stay on task?” The first step towards staying on task takes us back to lesson one: plan and focus, but even then, it’s easy to get side-tracked, procrastinate, over or under-whelm yourself on your way to success.
For me, I’ve found three golden tickets to accountability success. The first is long-term planning — assessing where I’ve been and where I am going — I need to have a plan if I am going to have a schedule. I need to have measurable goals if I am going to make progress.
After my planning, I’ve found that the best way to stay on track is through working with a voluntary accountability partner. Janice, The Career Introvert, and I met through the DNG group last November, we had overlapping interests and wanted to uplevel our game in 2018. We do daily check-ins and monthly goals setting. It’s been amazing to see the positive influence on my business! Accountability for the win!
The third aspect of accountability is very self-centered, but as many successful freelancers will tell you, working from home (or remotely) often depends on an established morning routine. It doesn’t need to be complex, but if the foundational motivator for freelancing is happiness, then you need to start off your day right. For me, that means getting up at a set-time, doing a little yoga, herding my kids out the door and enjoying a cup of coffee to start my workday.
Success Lesson 5: Be Accountable, you don’t have a boss to follow-up with you or co-workers to keep you on track, so figure out ahead of time how you will manage yourself. The days I miss my morning routine sometimes end-up near to total losses. For me and for you, real freedom ironically comes with an accountability plan!
This one is boring, but whether you abhor or adore spreadsheets if you don’t make a budget, you won’t have income goals or know your real expenses. And if you don’t have income goals or know your expenses, how will you know if you are a success or not?
Money in must be greater than money out…
Regardless of your geographic location or your status as a nomad or a local freelancer, you’ve got expenses, and you’ve got to pay yourself. You don’t need to spend hours on this, but you do need to at least sketch out a simple budget and set-up a way to track your expenses and your income.
The good news is that there are dozens of finance and CRM apps. Hop into your favorite community group and ask what your peers love (or hate) to find something that works for you.
Success Lesson 6: Set-up your financial success with a budget and income goals. Do this from day one, and it will become a habit. Do this from day one, and you won’t get any nasty surprises, from the tax guy to your banker. Do this from day one, and you will be better positioned to charge what you are worth, and you will know better than to take work that won’t keep your lights on.
When I decided to become a freelancer, I realized that the reason I never loved the 9 to 5, is because I grew up in a freelancer household. My father is an artist and worked as a successful freelance illustrator for 40+ years.
His ticket to success? A morning routine, accountability, focus, and self-care. Every night before bed he wrote out a to-do list for the following day so that he could sleep peacefully. In the morning, he got up, ate breakfast, took care of his animals, drank a few cups of coffee and then went to work. Every hour or so he would break to refresh his coffee and talk to the cat (or me or my mom).
He listened to talk radio and always stopped a 1 PM for lunch. After lunch he took a walk and then he went back to work. He did on occasion work evenings to finish projects, but he always stopped for dinner and regularly put me to bed. He never worked on holidays and rarely on the weekend.
I’ve found that I too do my best work when I’ve had a break. When I really need to focus, I’ll do a Pomodoro session. Once every two weeks, I meet a group of girlfriends for coffee, and I start my day with yoga. I find some of my best ideas and solutions come when I am running, and so that is also part of my self-care routine.
Success Lesson 7: Self-care is crucial to freelance success. If you work 24/7 without proper breaks for real food, exercise, leisure or socializing the only thing you will accomplish is burnout. Determine what you need to do to take care of yourself and make it part of your calendar and your accountability plan. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will do your work?
All the steps leading up to #7 will make it easier for you to focus on self-care. In fact, planning, investing, budgeting, and accountability are all part of successful freelancing. You need a plan and clear expectations not only for your clients but also for yourself!
Don’t worry, I don’t mean outright failure as a freelancer, but rather the ability to accept that at times on your journey you will likely fail. Sometimes big, sometimes small. And then you will learn, and reassess, and come out stronger and wiser. Failure isn’t a weird thing, it is a perfectly natural thing.
When I first started my Freelance journey in 2013, I’d just left a 60+ hour-per-week job that I loved, with status, so I could move overseas. My superpower is writing, specifically, strategic writing. Throughout my career, I’ve written myself into employment and promotions. I’ve helped friends and peers with their resumes for years. And so, I knew that I could sell my skills as a writer, but I didn’t know where to start.
My first real freelance gig, I’d taken a job writing for someone whose values did not align with my own. After a few months, my work became uncomfortable and stressful. And, although I completed my initial contract, this job ended up a failure. At first, I tried everything to figure out how to make it work, then I tried to forget about it, and then I realized it was, in fact, a learning experience. I recognized that success as a freelancer meant aligning my values with my clients’.
My next freelance contract I still took in desperation (meaning totally underpaid), but I made sure my values aligned. I ended up ghostwriting and proofreading for a government insurance assessor. The work was mentally stimulating and fascinating. And when I asked him to double my rate, he did, because he appreciated the quality my work, my discretion, and my speedy turn-around time.
During this same time, a former associate hired me to write his resume and LinkedIn profile, while also engaging me to do some other strategic business writing. Over time this relationship developed and I realized I’d found a passion, helping professionals express their professional goals, primarily through writing resumes and profiles.
Success Lesson 8: Accepting failure and learning what will work for you may be a multi-step process. Don’t give up when you fail, instead, take the time to reassess and determine what will work best for you. Set goals, but don’t throw in the towel when you find you need to readjust.
It took me several years of freelancing and working on a vast array of projects, before finally joining the Freelance to Freedom Project and realizing that success and fulfillment for me, meant sitting down and focusing purely on strategic writing for people searching for a fulfilling career.
I let go of my desire to just “be a writer” and instead concentrate on what excites me and gives me a feeling of satisfaction. Since that moment, I’ve come to understand that failure is part of the learning experience and that redefining and setting new goals is part of the process.
This might be last on my list, but folks
But, honey, that is not how it works! People buy relationships. You need to get out there and network, engage, market, send cold emails, make cold calls. Your website or LinkedIn profile is your digital calling card and sales page, but you need to get out there and write proposals, talk to people, and apply for jobs. If you don’t interact — how will anyone find you?
“Alison, can I give you a hand with your website design?
“Tom, can I give you a hand with your customer service?
Make sure that your LinkedIn profile, and if you have one, your website tell people what you do and that they have a clear call-to-action. Make sure that you target everything to a precise audience.
If you don’t know how to do this then take my LinkedIn Success Masterclass at the Freelance to Freedom School.
Success Lesson 9: Build real relationships. Network. Market. Market. Market. Differentiate. Show your value. Engage. Provide Value.
Ready to be a Success?
What do you think of these 9 Actionable tips? Do you see how each tip is interconnected? Do you understand that you need more than an idea or an experience to achieve success as a freelancer? You can, and you will find success on your journey to freedom, but first, you must focus, set up your processes, build your community, invest in your business, be accountable, budget, manage your self-care, accept failure and last but not least, build relationships to market your wares!
What is your experience with freelance success? Where do you need help? Share in the comments and share this article to help your fellow freelancers!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.