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25 Things I Learnt From Freelancing In A Year

25 Things I Learnt From Freelancing In A Year
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Freelance writer
14 min read
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It was in August last year. I had just finished my final exams in the university, and awaiting graduation. It dawned on me that the unemployment statistics in my country is still overwhelming. I had two options: to begin submitting my Curriculum Vitae to would-be employers, which seems easier, but unguaranteed, or to start a business of my own, which is a tall order. 

Armed with a degree in mathematics, an experience as a campus journalist, a dream to live a life that gives me total control of how, when, and where I work, and a passion to make a difference, I began my journey of self-discovery.

While studying at university, I had a failed attempt at blogging, so it wasn’t a path I wanted to start with (at least for the time being), then I looked further. Again, I had a short stint with writing for clients by doing outsource jobs. That experience was instrumental in shaping my choice for the future. Looking back at the last year, I’ve had some modest achievements. Starting from scratch, I've built a business that I’m now proud of, my articles have been read by thousands in top publications around the world, I’ve been opportune to work with top players in the industry, and I've also established authority by publishing my first ever book on freelance writing.

Albeit to say, the journey wasn’t rosy. I felt challenged in a lot of ways, was ignored many times, snubbed by prospective clients, got rejected by other high-profile publications in the world, felt like giving up many times, and the list is endless. Despite all these, I’ve learnt a lot and the experience so far is worth sharing with you.

1. Taking action matters
Forget whatever you’ve read or heard about freelancing. If you cannot take actions, you’re doomed for failure. What has kept me going in the past one year have been the actions I took and still do. I got one of my best paying clients late at night when I was already in bed. To seal the deal, I started working on the pitch immediately. And the rest is history. As a freelancer, you must be ready to take actions even when you feel like not doing it. If you can, you’ll always get great results.

2. Learning takes precedence
Life itself is an evolving and learning process. The same is applicable to freelancing. Of course, it’s good to take actions, but you need to have knowledge of the industry to get started. If you miss this step, you’ll see yourself starting all over again in no distant time. One thing I’ve come to appreciate is the fact that I had learnt a lot about freelancing much before I started. If I hadn’t, you probably wouldn't be reading my article today.

3. Practise your craft daily
Clients expect a lot from you. This is because they spend a lot of money, and are in dire need of ROI. To be a sought-after freelancer and get referrals, you must practise your craft every day. Of course, “Practice brings about perfection.” I learnt this early enough, and I write daily no matter what. I’ve improved my writing skills drastically, and command better offers from clients.

4. Your educational background is no biggie
In freelancing your educational background doesn’t matter. You might be a college drop-out who has never seen the four walls of a higher institution, or a self-taught programmer, web designer and so on, yet achieve tremendous results. If educational background is what matters, freelance writing, for example, would have been the exclusive preserve of language and linguistics graduates. But today, we have engineering or science graduates doing well in that area. Personally, I have a degree in mathematics, yet I write for a living.

5. Be enthusiastic about what you do
If you’ve ever thought that solo freelancing is a bed of roses, then you’re absolutely wrong. As a solo freelancer, you’re the CEO, marketer, yet do most or all the tasks yourself. At times, you get tired and almost giving up. It happened to me too. There were times I blamed myself for starting at all, but the enthusiasm still keeps me going. As a principle, I kept on doing it even though I might not achieve the desired result.

6. Solo freelancing is boring
In most cases, you need to work with your electronic gadgets. Staring at your PC at times is boring, but you have to do it to achieve success. As a solo freelancer, you work alone either at home or in a co-working space. No matter where you choose to work, the fact is that you’re doing it all alone which makes it boring. I’ve had instances where I had to stay up at night pitching clients, writing articles, and scaling up my business. 

7. Your niche is your reach
You need to define your niche right from the onset. A niche can simply be defined as your area of specialization. This is important because since you’re doing it all alone, you must be specific and good at what you do. Take for instance, a graphic designer who must define what he or she does from beginning. You can’t expect to be doing graphic design and writing at the same time. When you’re specific, you’ll scale up your craft, wow your clients, and command a better pay.

8. Passion is a driving force
In everything you do, if you take out passion, you will see it crash immediately. When you’re passionate about what you do, you see yourself doing it even when every other person thinks otherwise. So far, my passion has been pushing me ahead of my peers. If I weren’t passionate, my freelancing journey would have been over by now. Even when I wasn’t getting clients, I was still persistent.

9. Have a goal in mind
Without a goal, you’re setting yourself up for failure. When I started, my immediate goal wasn’t to make money, but to build a brand and pivot as time goes on. This was instrumental as I didn’t bother much about getting clients for a few months. Nevertheless, I was still satisfied with the progress I made. It would have been a different ball game, if I was concerned about making, say USD$1,000 in the first few months. To achieve success, you must understand your situation, and have short, medium and long term goals. 

10. If you can’t read avidly, then forget it
Freelancing is evolving. Your clients are getting wiser, the market is becoming bigger, and the competition is stiffer too. Doing it all alone, you need to have an in-depth knowledge. That’s why it’s necessary that you take out time to read, even beyond your niche. I say this, a freelancer must know something about everything. When you do, you’re aware of best practices in business, management, personal development and so on.

11. Getting your first client is difficult
Before I started, I thought that it’s all about setting up my website, establishing social proof, and boom- I’ll have clients begging me to work for them. Now I realised that, the most difficult aspect of freelancing is to get your first client. The first client gives your prowess a validation and an assurance that you’re getting there. But it’s so difficult to get one. Clients are sceptical about working with you, especially if you don’t have an experience, neither social proof nor sample to show for it.

12. A skill is not enough
Although it’s important to have a niche, possessing just one skill isn’t enough. If you’re a freelance programmer, for example, you should be able to write in different languages, such as Java, Python, and Fortran, and so on. Likewise, if you’re into website design, you should be skilled in different content management systems apart from WordPress. When you’re multi-skilled within your niche, you’ll become relevant in the space faster. 

13. Make value your watchword
Most clients are on the lookout for freelancers not because they can’t execute the task on their own, but they are in need of someone who can offer more value. You must make yourself valuable, and offer the clients your best always. If you’re a mediocre freelancer, your essence will diminish in no distant time. But when you offer valuable service, your clients will keep on coming for more.

14. Always pay attention to details
The importance of clarity cannot be overemphasized. Your clients know what they want, and they simply ask for that. Not paying attention to details is a recipe for failure. Recently, I worked with a client on a project involving many freelancers, where he spelt out what he wanted, and the result he aimed to achieve. I did exactly that, and the feedback was outstanding. Not only was he happy with what I did, he commended me publicly for such, and made my article a reference point for others. The result, he was willing to offer me more projects as soon as I was through with that one.

15. Freelancing is lucrative but…
In the world today, there’s no industry which is more lucrative, promising and expanding than freelancing. According to this report, freelancers now make up 35% of the United States workforce. Likewise, the industry has contributed $1 trillion to the US economy. In Europe, and other parts of the world, the gig economy is taking centre stage, and Millennials are embracing it too. But despite this, freelancers are still looked down upon and are unrecognized in most countries. When I tell some people that I’m a freelancer, they look at me as someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and sadly, that’s the case for many.

16. Professionalism makes you stand out
If you truly want to be exceptional among your peers, then you need to portray yourself as a professional. Many freelancers make the mistake of approaching their craft as a side hustle. Of course, you can be a part time freelancer but you should still be outstanding at that. As a professional, you should have a website to showcase yourself and your business, your social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, must be alive and portray you as such. This has helped me so far, and led to many leads.

17. Be your brand’s ambassador
Branding is not an exclusive right of marketers. A solo freelancer should be actively involved in branding. When you show up as a brand, then you’ll be able to convert prospective clients to become leads, then repeat customers. Let everyone in your circle know what you do, don’t be shy to make the noise about it, and you’ll see the outstanding success you’ll achieve.

18. Success can’t be achieved overnight
The moment I read about different success stories from freelancing, I was fired up to achieve the same. To be factual, most success stories are scripted and edited. There are lots of behind the scene trials, errors, frustrations, and failures which you’ll never hear of. If you think that the moment you start the success will come immediately, you’re in for a big shock. It takes time, targeted efforts, and hard work to get there.

19. Networking is crucial
Even if you work so hard, but can’t network effectively, you might end up frustrated. Your network are the people you know, willing to know, and ready to work with. With the advent of social media, it’s easier to network and connect with more people. As a freelancer don’t stop at that, take it a step further, attend business meet-ups, give out your complementary card, and request for referrals. 

20. A mentor could be a life-changer
It’s essential to have a mentor in this space. When you have one, you look up to him or her, learn and also benefit in the long run. While I was doing research into freelancing, I read about a young man in my country who was making waves internationally by writing. I joined his group on Facebook, subscribed to his email list, and read a lot from his website. Looking back, I’ll say it was the turning point for me. 

21. Establish your authority fast
If there’s anything you must do fast, that should be establishing yourself as an authority. Truth is, if you can’t portray yourself as an authority, nobody will want to invest their money in paying for your services. I learnt this earlier on, and it paid off a great deal. The moment I started, I worked hard to establish social proof on top publications in the world, I started blogging about freelance writing, and later on I published my first book. Any client who wants to work with me now has much more insight about me.

22. Cold pitching is an undermined goldmine
To date, many are still being paid peanuts for their services by clients on marketplaces and content mills. Many are not content with the situation, but don’t know how to go about it. Successful freelancers who command five figures monthly aren’t doing so on these platforms. This was a lesson my mentor taught me when I started. If you want to achieve long-term success, you must start cold pitching. It could be tiring, you might not get results, and you can even fail. But if you’re persistent, consistent and do it right, then you’ll become the next big thing in freelancing

23. Achieving productivity is a nightmare
At times, you’re overwhelmed with clients’ work, you need to pitch to get more paid jobs, you have friends to catch up with on social media, and a family to take care of, yet you have just 24 hours in a day to achieve all these. For me, it becomes a nightmare at times, but now I’ve learnt to become a more productive freelancer. If you can try out different approaches as given by experts, then your productivity will soar higher.

24. It’s never too late to start
Freelancing is an exciting profession. Although Millennials are taking over, it’s an open field for all. If you dream of being in firm control of your future, then it’s never too late to start. All you need to do is to stop wishing, and start acting.

25. Never give up
You have doubts, the odds are high, the results aren’t trickling in, yet a lot is on your plate. You feel as though you aren’t good enough, the system isn’t supportive, and you want to call it quits. I encountered this and doubted my ability. My second business was on the verge of collapse- I sent out a lot of cold pitches, but most bounced back, ignored or rejected. Truth is, the frustration is real, the results haven’t been outstanding, but I’ve not given up. Always remember that many of life’s failures consist of people who gave up on the verge of success.

While solo freelancing is an exciting option for a beginner. The long term goals should be to scale up. For me, the last 365 days have been awesome, the experiences have been tremendous, and the opportunities have been mouth-watering. 

Related: The MENA Startup Ecosystem: Problems And (Potential) Solutions

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