I’ll never forget the day I was let go. I was working in social media at a small marketing agency here in Nashville when the CEO called me into his office one day to tell me he was eliminating my position because of staff cuts.
To be honest, I was blindsided. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. Fortunately, I had been doing some freelance writing on the side that could help hold me over until I found my next gig. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
Deciding to Go Freelance
It wasn’t until a mentor of mine encouraged me to consider putting together a portfolio of different part-time opportunities that I even thought about going freelance full-time. This was back in 2012, before Uber and the idea of the freelance economy really took off.
I didn’t like the idea of not having a steady source of income. I wasn’t sure what to do about health insurance. I was nervous about working remotely and not having a team environment.
He challenged me to give it three months. If it didn’t work out, I could look for a full-time job. That three-month trial run turned into a four-year career as a full-time freelancer.
3 Lessons I Learned While Becoming a Full-time Freelancer
I learned a lot during those four years as a full-time freelancer, from both successes and mistakes. Of course, there are the obvious lessons like using a contract, setting aside a portion of your income for taxes, etc. But here are a few additional lessons I would share if you’re considering freelancing full-time:
Say “Yes” to Different Opportunities
Rather than only focusing on content marketing and social media work, I used the freedom I had to try as many different roles and types of work as possible. I tried to say “yes” to every writing opportunity that came my way. This gave me a chance to expand my experience and portfolio of work.
I also spent a couple of years selling sponsorship packages for a creative conference in Chicago. This helped me learn how to interact with people in a type of “sales” role and provided supplemental income for the writing I was doing.
One of the temptations of freelancing is to focus on becoming “the best” at your craft. But that’s really hard. Testing different “roles” allowed me to expand my skill set in ways a traditional job wouldn’t. It also helped me figure out what I liked doing & didn’t like doing.
Help Others Build Dreams While You’re Finding Yours
Many freelancers feel the pressure to start their own business or become a solopreneur. But that puts all the pressure of business development on your shoulders. Rather than positioning myself as a “social media consultant” who worked independently with businesses, I looked for other entrepreneurs who were building something and found ways to support their efforts.
I had the opportunity to work with two different startups during my freelance career. At the time, both entrepreneurs were taking on more work than they could manage alone and needed someone to help carry the load. By becoming an extension of their “team” I was able to piecemeal a consistent stream of projects and monthly income. I also learned a lot more by working for them than I ever would have as an independent freelancer.
If you’re not sure if you want to be a solopreneur or how long you want to be a freelancer, find others who have a dream of building a business in your industry and find ways to support their efforts.
Know Your Worth
At the beginning of my freelance career, I was really bad at figuring out how much to charge for certain projects, especially when a potential client asked for my rate on the spot. What if I’m charging too much? Will they turn down my proposal? What if they don’t think I’m delivering enough value for what they’re paying me?
I was always nervous about putting my fees in a proposal, but it got better over time. I was able to define how much I would charge for certain projects — both hourly rates and flat fees. I learned to charge more for one-time projects that wouldn’t turn into retainer projects and monthly recurring revenue. I learned how to calculate taxes and business expenses into my rate in order to cover costs.
While you may never feel totally comfortable with sharing your rates or asking for a pay increase, recognize that it’s one of those things that comes with the job.
What New Direction are You Heading?
Whether you’re thinking about becoming a full-time freelancer or hoping to find a few projects until you land at your next full-time gig, I hope these lessons are helpful for you.
If you have a specific question or want to chat about the idea of going freelance full-time, I’d love to connect. Shoot me a tweet @jeremy_chandler. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking & help any way I possibly can.