Lessons from my first full-time freelance year
A year ago, I was wrapping up a contract writing gig I obtained through an employment agency. I took the job to save money before launching into full-time freelancing and have some stability after being laid off from my part-time job.
In truth, I could’ve extended my contract, but I decided to pursue my freelancing full-time. My life would never be as primed for such a lifestyle pivot, I reasoned. I have no children and no mortgage. I had health insurance and a little money saved. So, I, a person who doesn’t like a lot risk, took a bet on myself.
The first Monday after I left, I took along the lakefront of Lake Michigan, watching the water ebb and flow against the Oak Street beach sand and stretch of concrete. The freedom was exciting. The uncertainty was terrifying. I remember walking along the lakefront trail, eventually stopping to take in the sunrise and a piece of the Chicago skyline.
A year later, I’m proud to say that I lived to tell about it. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Consistency is key.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: anchor clients are the way to stay sane. Having consistent clients is the way to stabilize your freelance business. You’ll get a sense of your workload, income and schedule when you have regular clientele. When I started freelancing full-time, I focused on finding and pitching stories, only to quickly learn that pitching takes up a lot of work. When I got steady clients, the pressure eased a bit.
Know your numbers.
Figure out how much money you want to earn, and how much money you need to earn in order to sustain yourself. The money you need will cover your salary, business expenses and living expenses, but have a goal income that’s reachable and will allow you to live comfortably.
Offer different services.
When I started freelancing, I wanted to move away from content marketing and focus more on journalism. To a certain extent, I have. But a considerable portion of my business continues to come from content marketing, a shift I’ve made my peace with because it allows me to focus on journalism passion projects. Journalism remains my bread and butter, but I now offer content marketing and consulting services as a way to diversify my business. Other freelancers offer services like photography, audio editing and producing or videography.
Every time you get published, share it. Keep your portfolio up-to-date. Reach out to old bosses, old clients, and other contacts within your network. If you feel like work is drying up, reach out to contacts to see if they know of client leads. Pitch original story ideas to editors you don’t know. Go to events with business cards in hand and put yourself out there. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Be kind to yourself.
When working alone, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing well enough. Edits, though well-meaning, can feel like criticism. Drafts and assignments pile up. With a staff job, writers have a lot going on, but that plus the added accounting, marketing, and management duties freelancers perform can be a lot to handle. Take breaks. Celebrate wins. Don’t give in too much to failures.
I’m happy that I made it a year! It’s been a wild ride, but I’ve learned so much. And, if I’m not poached by a newsroom, I look forward to another year.
What did you learn in your first year of freelancing? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org