5 Hard Truths You Need to Accept to Be a Successful Freelancer
#2- Success is Never Guaranteed
I started freelancing nearly full-time roughly a year ago. I say “nearly” because I do still hold a full-time job, technically. That being said, I devote so many long, hard hours to freelancing projects that I practically have two full-time jobs. Those long, hard hours have resulted in a lot of stress, many instances of self-doubt, and some significant freelancing burnout.
So why do I keep going in spite of all of that?
Put simply, I want to be a successful freelancer. In many ways, I already am.
Take a moment to browse through the Freelancing tag on Medium and you’re sure to find story after story dedicated to making it as a full-time freelancer. When I first started my own freelancing journey, these types of stories acted as my motivating factor and informed nearly all of my decisions as I worked to build my freelancing business. When I found myself wondering if I’d made the wrong decision, that I couldn’t make it as a freelancer, these stories kept me going.
While there is an endless amount of useful freelancing stories to be found on this platform, filled with nuggets of wisdom that can aid you on your own freelancing journey, one thing I believe we don’t talk about enough is those hard truths surrounding life as a freelancer. While many stories surrounding freelancing focus on the benefits and those tried-and-true steps that you can take to figuratively climb the mountain to success, I think there are a few things aspiring freelancers need to know before they ever set out on their journey.
Sure, one of the best ways to start your freelancing career is to dive in head-first. After all, devoting yourself to working hard is often aided by the pressure to pay the bills and support your family. With that kind of pressure continuously breathing down your neck, it’s hard to lose motivation.
That being said, true success is often achieved when you are smart about the strategies that you utilize. In order to really see the success that you want so badly out of a full-time freelancing career, there are some hard truths you have to accept first. Here are the hard truths I have accepted in my time freelancing full-time.
#1- The Dream Isn’t Always What It Seems
In the early days of having left full-time employment, striking out on your own full of hope, it’s easy for your head to be full of dreams. And why not? You have a whole new career ahead of you. It’s exciting stuff! Now you can finally do things your way! You’re your own boss! Nobody can tell you what to do or how to do it!
Unfortunately, the problem is, the person that now has to do that is you. When you realize this, you’re likely to find yourself falling back down to Earth with a crash. Building a new freelancing business can be hard and it is work characterized by long, irregular hours. There’s also the constant struggle of earning and keeping clients. Finally, there are the near-constant money issues you’re going to run into.
Put simply, the dream isn’t always what it seems.
That being said, it’s important to remember that you’re in this for a reason. Yes, you are working hard, clients aren’t always easy to come by, and they need to be treated well- but what you have is a vision of where you want to be and (hopefully) the commitment to make it happen. What’s important here is adjusting your dream to accommodate the reality of the situation. If you can do that, you’ll have a much better chance of success as a full-time freelancer.
#2- Success is Never Guaranteed
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that all you have to do to become a successful freelancer full-time is put in the hard work required, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s something you need to accept here and now: success is never guaranteed. In fact, sometimes all of the drive and passion in the world won’t be enough to keep the bills paid. While that’s not to say that it definitely helps, there is more behind a successful career in freelancing than hard work alone.
Let’s talk about some of the things that are as crucial on your path to success as a freelancer as a strong work ethic. For one, you and you alone will be responsible for holding yourself accountable. Freelancing full-time means that you are responsible for yourself and your work more than ever before. There’s nobody around to monitor how much work you’re getting done or whether you’re meeting your targets. In order to be successful, you have to be accountable for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll find that you’ve spent half of your workday scrolling through Twitter getting nothing accomplished (as I have on days where I lacked the energy to get my work done).
While it’s important to allow yourself mental health days as a freelancer, you can’t fall into a pattern where these days happen more often than not. That won’t lead you to success. In fact, becoming comfortable with getting nothing done is one of the quickest paths to failure as a freelancer.
Another thing you have to keep in mind in order to be a successful freelancer is that self-discipline is one of the most important qualities to have. It’s tempting, especially at the beginning of your career as a full-time freelancer, to give it your all and work late into the night. I’ve been guilty of doing this many times, especially when recovering from a period when I didn’t get much done on a daily basis.
No matter how much you work to push yourself harder and harder, however, success isn’t guaranteed. In fact, this type of behavior will do little more than make you so tired that you have a hard time getting up the next morning and putting in the work required. This may lead you to say, “Well, I set my own hours. I can afford to sleep in”. Unfortunately, you’re wrong.
If you sleep and wake up late, your entire day gets realigned. Instead of working the next morning, you end up working late into the night. Not only is this incredibly unhealthy, but it also turns all of your waking hours into working ones. In order to achieve success as a full-time freelancer, you have to have enough self-discipline to stick to your office-going work hours. If you can do that, your freelancing business has a pretty good chance of making it. After all, your clients aren’t staying up late into the night- they keep to regular office hours and this means this is also when they are the most likely to contact you with the latest updates. Make sure you’re available to them!
Long story short, there’s a lot more behind success as a freelancer than just hard work and a passion to succeed. Again, success is never guaranteed. You have to dedicate yourself to holding yourself accountable while also practicing self-discipline. The path to success is riddled with obstacles and without the right mindset, combined with plenty of hard work, you’ll never achieve the level of success that you’re after. Accept this fact on day one and you’ll be much more likely to be successful.
#3- You Can’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket
There’s a reason that 65 percent of self-made millionaires have three streams of income. As a freelancer, it can be easy to put all of your eggs in one basket and depend on one stream of income to get the bills paid. After all, if you find that something works, why not dedicate all of your time to it? This is something I’m guilty of doing in my early days of freelancing.
I started out on the popular freelancing platform Fiverr and, when I realized I could earn clients and make a good monthly income on the website, I put all of my time into the platform. But that came with its fair share of problems. I quickly realized that depending on Fiverr as my number one source of income was a bad idea.
For one, Fiverr takes a full 20 percent of your earnings. This meant that in my struggle to find that sweet spot when setting my rates, I also had to contend with the fact that Fiverr would be taking a sizable portion of my earnings for themselves. Every penny I was forced to give over to the freelancing platform was one less penny that I had to pay my bills.
Secondly, as I realized when COVID-19 hit, a steady stream of income on the platform is never assured. See, most of the buyers on Fiverr are business owners looking to receive freelancing services for a fraction of the price that a marketing agency would charge. They want quality services for less. While I did my part to deliver on this promise, many of my consistent customers hit hard times in the wake of COVID-19 (they were small business owners after all) and I started receiving fewer and fewer orders. My monthly income dropped exponentially and I had no other means of making money. I was completely at the mercy of the platform.
These facts provide all of the evidence that you need as to why depending on one source of income as a freelancer is never a good idea. Not only does having multiple sources of income stabilize your business and life, but it also helps you to avoid income droughts and keeps you from going into each month wondering if you’ll make enough to support yourself. It does more than that though!
For one, having multiple streams of income prepares you for disruption. Markets change really fast. Many business models that worked a few years ago are now completely obsolete. For this reason, you never want to rely on one market to support you and your family entirely. After all, you never know when a new approach to a problem or the introduction of new technology can disrupt your business. When you have multiple streams of income, you always have something to fall back on if your industry suddenly becomes disrupted.
Secondly, multiple streams of income open the doors for new opportunities. When you take the time to explore other options of making money, you may very well be pleasantly surprised at what you find. For one, you may make introductions with new clients and job prospects. You might also expand your knowledge and learn a new skill that can help to further support your freelancing business. Further, you might even find that your side revenue streams are more lucrative and successful than your primary source of income. This could even lead to you changing your business model or future plans for the better.
When I realized I needed to diversify my income, I immediately set out to find new ways of making money online. One of the best ways to make money online that I have found works with my current schedule (and is even something I enjoy) is writing on Medium. While I don’t always have the time I’d like to write stories on this platform, I’ve found that when I put in the work, I can earn a sizable amount on the platform.
Last month, for example, I saw my biggest earnings ever on the platform and this came from writing nearly every day continuously. While it isn’t as much as I’d like to make, it paid a few of my bills which is better than I could have ever possibly imagined!
#4- Underselling Yourself is a Serious Danger
One of the biggest temptations for a freelancer early in their journey to success is underselling their talents. To this day, this is still something that I struggle with. New freelancers often do this because they’re unsure whether or not they can get what they actually believe they’re worth or, worse, because they have no idea what they’re actually worth at all.
This is an especially hard truth to accept as a new freelancer because it can be a vicious circle. If you don’t believe that you will get paid what you’re worth, your clients will be very happy to take advantage of this time and time again. If you want to be truly successful as a full-time freelancer, you need to come to terms with this common temptation early on and do your best to counter it.
To avoid underselling yourself, it’s a matter of doing some basic calculations. Start by working out what you need to make in order to survive each month (including items such as utility bills, basic necessities, office supplies, child care, ect.), how many hours you are hoping to work, and divide the money by the total hours. This will tell you exactly how much you need to earn per hour in order to get by and anything you can earn on top of that is strictly profit.
It’s also a good idea to research what other professionals in your field are being paid. A good way of doing this is to check out business forums or trade body websites that can provide this sort of data. You can also ask in a relevant forum on a site like LinkedIn. It really does no harm to try!
If you find that other professionals in your field are either making much more or much less than your estimated hourly rate, it is likely that you’ve got your sums wrong. If they’re getting a lot more than you, ask yourself whether or not they have much more experience under their belts. You may have a cost advantage, if you’re sure of your figures, that is. If they’re earning a lot less, on the other hand, you’ll either have to find a way to control your expenses or you’ll need to work a lot more hours to survive.
#5- Burnout Can Wreck Your Chances of Success
Finally, the last hard truth that you need to accept sooner rather than later is that burnout is a very real thing and it can have a serious impact on your success as a full-time freelancer.
If you’re a freelance writer, like me, the day may come where you wake up and realize that you’re fresh out of blog post ideas for your clients. Your mind may feel like a blank slate, your energy may be completely drained, and your current problems may feel completely insurmountable. Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that is caused by stress and you should know that, despite the pros of a freelancing career, freelancing is very stressful.
If you find that you’re in danger of burning out, you need to recognize these danger signs and find ways to manage all of that stress that is at the root of your problems. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself under the control of burnout for much longer and each day that goes by under the grasp of burnout is one less day you can spend working hard and paying your bills. This can wreck your chances of success entirely over time.
In order to recover from burnout, you need to take control back. If you find that you’re working too much, you’ll likely have to carve out some downtime. It can be helpful to learn some relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation or otherwise doing something that you really enjoy. You need to do things that can fully take your mind away from your problems. This is vital to recovering from freelancing burnout. Want more tips for managing freelancing stress and burnout so you can experience success? Check out my story on the subject below!
How to Manage Freelancing Stress and Burnout
Escaping the 9–5 Comes With Extreme Responsibilities
Things Are Always Darkest Before the Dawn
While the hard truths listed above can be grim, you should know that none of them have to be overwhelming. With a little bit of determination, you can make these very real realities work for you rather than against you.
Yes, it’s a fact that you’re going to hit points where you feel like throwing in the towel entirely. All of us freelancers do, myself included. When everything seems to be piling up against you and you can’t see any possible way forward, however, you have to remember that things are always darkest before the dawn.
There are so many benefits to freelancing full-time and these positives can far outweigh the negatives if you keep them in mind. A full-time freelancing career grants you freedom and flexibility with your work- something that so many people don’t have in their own lives. With courage, commitment, hard work, organization, and self-discipline, you can find yourself lucky enough to have the lifestyle, career, and even income that you so badly wanted. Keep these hard truths in mind but never let them rule you. If you can do that, a successful career as a full-time freelancer can be yours.
Trust me, it’s worth it.