Freelancers Tell Us The 1 Thing They Wish They’d Known When Starting Out

Danielle Willatt
By        January 25, 2021   Evolve    Advertising Disclosure

 

If you could zip back in time, what would you tell yourself to prepare for 2020? Could 1 piece of advice change everything? Probably.

 

Freelancing can be a steep and solitary learning curve. There are times it feels like stumbling around in the dark – especially if you’re just starting out.

 

Good news is, there’s a wide and wise freelance community out there to learn from!

 

And so, we reached out to freelancers in every field to ask: “What’s the 1 piece of advice you wish you could tell your past self when you started freelancing?”

 

And what did we get? A ton of useful, wholesome advice – that’s what. Today, we’ve compiled our favourite insights to help anyone else on the freelancing journey.

 

1. Don’t be frightened to talk money

 

nicholas prangnellOne piece of advice I’d give is to trust yourself more, and not feel the need to undercharge just for case studies. Work will come, but you need to set out your value, not undermine it.”
 

– Nicholas Prangnell, freelancer at The Good Bamboo

 

One of the eternal grapples of the new freelancer is knowing how much to price work.

 

It can feel like a Catch-22 situation. You don’t have many clients and so you feel you can’t make big demands. BUT, you need to earn enough if you want to sustain your freelance career.

 

Still, several freelancers told us that they would warn new freelancers against undercharging. Many said that it was an issue of being brave enough to ask for what they deserved.

 

beth mccallumDon’t be scared to price yourself for what you’re worth. My first freelance writing jobs, around 2014, were so terribly underpaid. It took me over five years to find the courage to price myself for what I think I’m worth… Conversations around money are awkward, but if someone is adamant about underpaying you for your time and talent, then they won’t be pleasant to work for long term.”
 

– Beth McCallum, freelance writer for Oh So Spotless

 

Most newbie freelancers want their first client job so badly that they’re willing to be paid peanuts.

 

But wait – what if I’m trying to build my portfolio?

 

Sure, there are times you may accept a lower-paid job. But, this should be the exception – not the rule. In fact, underpricing your freelance work is one of the most damaging things you can do for yourself!

 

A low price directly tells clients that your work is low quality. You’ll probably end up feeling frustrated, and you’ll have less money to invest back into your freelancing.

 

Worst of all – you won’t attract high-value clients. These are the shiny unicorn clients that expect quality and are willing to pay for it.

 

Look for clients who aren’t afraid to pay for quality work. They’re out there.

 

Think of your price as your bullshit filter to weed out the clients who will not value your time in the same way that you do.

 

Don’t, I repeat, don’t compete on cheapness. There are freelance marketplaces where a client can get tasks done under $10, but these aren’t the clients you want!

 

As a freelancer, your time is your money – don’t undervalue either.

 

2. Be your own biggest advocate – no one else will

 

In one poll by the Leapers community of freelancers and the self-employed, a whopping 76% said they were affected by Impostor Syndrome.

 

You know – that nasty, niggly feeling that tells you that everyone’s soon going to find out you have no idea what you’re doing?

 

Define: Impostor Syndrome

“The feeling that you’re going to be exposed as a fraud, that you’ve gotten a job based upon perception of your skills being stronger than they are, or your successes are down to luck and you don’t warrant the praise, despite evidence to prove otherwise” – Leapers.co.

 

Left unchecked, it can lead to freelancers turning down clients, not applying for roles, and underselling themselves.

 

However, as a freelancer, it’s up to us to be our own cheerleader. No-one is going to do it for us.

 

diane davidsonIgnore all the negative opinions and believe in yourself, Be your own biggest advocate and tell people/companies how great your work is. I make sure to highlight the amazing companies I have worked with and the value that I brought to that client… I make sure to speak up whether asking a question or providing comments and introduce myself to as many people as possible.”
 

– Diane Davidson, owner of Clever Fox Advisory

 

In short, don’t be shy in sharing how great you and your work is:

 

  • Put yourself out there! Attend formal and informal networking opportunities.
  • Set up an online portfolio website you’re proud of.
  • Set up a business social media account for your freelancing and get it out there.
  • Reach out to your immediate network for potential leads or testimonials.
  • Ask for feedback from successful projects to show off on your portfolio (here’s how to ask for great client testimonials).
  • Don’t be afraid to cold pitch to clients that you’d love to work with. If there’s no response, don’t get discouraged! Keep pitching.

 

Freelancing takes guts. But if you know your worth and can communicate it with confidence – you’ll go far.

 

3. Don’t just learn, implement what you learn

 

Freelancing is competitive. You’ll need to keep upskilling yourself if you want to stay at the top of your game.

 

Here are just some of the common skills freelancers need to pick up / renew:

 

  • Website building and e-commerce
  • Business development
  • Writing copy / content
  • Digital marketing, SEO, email marketing
  • Trade skills (e.g.: photography, graphic design)
  • News and updates in chosen field

 

Learning efficiently is important. But also, learning is just the first step.

 

heather ritchieMy best piece of advice would be that education is excellent, but implementing what you learned is key. That’s how you get things done.”
 

– Heather Ritchie, founder of Writers Life For You

 

It’s easy to complete a 10-hour course, feel satisfied and… proceed to forget 90% of it.

 

The fact is, most forms of education aren’t going to magically infuse your freelance work without further steps. So, act whilst the knowledge is still fresh in your head.

 

Some tips from us:

 

  • Optimise your notes so you can revisit them again in future
    When you’re learning, take notes that you’ll actually enjoy reading in the future. Whether it’s through mind-mapping, colours, or keeping them well-organised. Then, make a habit of revisiting your notes regularly.
  • Use it to broaden your network
    Once you’ve learned something, teach it to others! It’s a great way to connect and you’ll retain the information better. If you’ve finished a workshop, connect with the mentor and request materials. Get your peers’ contacts so you can form a community to swap ideas or questions.
  • Show off your credentials
    If your course was certified, add the credential to your portfolio. Show it off!
  • Make it a stepping stone to the next level
    Look for the next step to deepen your knowledge in the field. Mastered intermediate SEO? Great! Time to go expert.
  • Make an action plan
    Whilst you’re still inspired, sit down and think about how you’re going to implement the knowledge to take your business to the next level. If you’ve learnt a new technique – look through your existing portfolio/clients to see where you can apply it. Then, ask yourself what doors it may open for you.

 

4. Don’t be dazzled by the wrong things

 

Another great piece of advice – don’t lose track of your priorities as a freelancer.

 

paige arnof-fennI recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL and a website up and running is key.”
 

– Paige Arnof-Fenn, marketing and digital branding expert

 

It’s easy to get swept up in the ‘exciting’ parts of starting your own brand and end up spending too much time and money in tiny details.

 

HOWEVER, you’re likely working with limited resources. You need to make sure you’re channelling most of it into the actions that will most directly help your business grow and earn.

 

That means getting your website set up, getting your name out there, and building great relationships with your clients.

 

“Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a website to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle… Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!”

 

5. Lastly – take the leap!

 

ingrid mchenryIf I could go back 12 years when I started doing this work as a volunteer, I’d tell myself to buck up and take a risk. I was always scared of not having a regular paycheck and losing that security, so I wimped out every time I considered going out on my own.”
 

– Ingrid McHenry, founder of Churches Forward

 

We noticed that a lot of freelancers’ big piece of advice was just wishing they could tell themselves to squash their doubts and make the leap to freelance SOONER.

 

If you’re still on the fence about becoming a freelancer – check out our article here about the 6 questions you should ask yourself before taking the leap.

 

brett downesThe best advice? Do it earlier. I was good enough to do the work myself and cut out the middle man about 2 years before I took the plunge. Knowing what I know now, I could have been 2 more years into my business.”
 

– Brett Downes, founder of Haro Helpers

 

What’s that saying again? The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now.

 

The sooner you dedicate your efforts into your freelance career, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy its many rewards!

 

 

Danielle Willatt

About The Author

Dani is an editor and writer based between KL and Mexico City. Sprung from the advertising and travel industries, she’s also spent the last 10+ years freelancing for a slew of creative online businesses around the world. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

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