What is it like to be a freelancer? From my experience, highs and lows. Highs and lows.
Photo by Vlada Karpovich/Pexels
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” Colin Powell
It’s one of those crazy weeks — magazines are due, interviews are scheduled, blog post deadlines linger…
You know, business as usual.
I was just truckin’ along with my steady clients, and then one of my favorite, unpredictable clients emailed with a sweet project offer I didn’t want to refuse.
So, what did I do?
I read the project specs, goggled at the high offer, then ignored it.
Instead of responding right away, I shut down the computer and walked away.
I needed time to process, weigh the pros and cons, and evaluate availability.
After pondering for a few hours, I concluded this project was too good to pass up . . IF I could have a week — no less.
So, that’s what I told her.
Well, sort of.
Dear so and so, I’d love to take on this project, but I am a bit swamped right now with deadlines. Could you give me a week? Let me know if this works, thanks!
I was prepared to say no if she needed it sooner. I could be strong, who cares if it was a fortune 500 company, right? (I hope you sense the sarcasm and uncertainty in this statement.)
“Sure,” she responded.
This story illustrates how far I’ve grown as a freelancer. But first, a little background.
When I started freelance writing three years ago, I wrote for peanuts.
I frequently stayed up into the wee hours of the night writing everything from baby clothing descriptions to period panty About Us pages (keeping it real).
Although I had published a few books of poetry in the past, I had no portfolio filled with interviews or blog posts.
So, I chose to work for peanuts to gain experience, network, and earn clips.
My luck to write for a modest living didn’t occur overnight.
It took grueling hours researching topics I hated, cruddy clients, and loads of mistakes.
It took bloodshot eyes and wanting to tear my hair out on more than one occasion. It took endless rounds of edits, confused relatives, and LED-induced migraines.
Despite what some may think, my path to becoming a freelance writer wasn’t glamorous.
It took grit.
“Talent alone gets you nowhere. You really have to have the grit, and you gotta have a love for people.” — Zac Brown
When I first started my freelancing lifestyle, I clawed for clients and took on almost any project — hence the period panty gig.
These days, I pinch myself when companies I see on commercial breaks ask me to write a post.
That’s crazy to me. And I frequently second guess myself because although I am so proud of how far I’ve come, I still (and always will) have a lot to learn.
Plus, even though I write for some major corporations, it’s not like I’m swimming in gold. On the contrary, but I’m more than happy to be making a modest living off of what I love.
And I’m well aware not everyone has the option to do so. But I do believe with enough heart, grit, and practice, anyone can become a successful freelancer.
Here are some strategies I use to climb the freelancing ladder.
Upwork: Love it or hate it. This site worked for me. Sure, I started writing for low rates, but as I gained more experience and built a portfolio, my rates grew.
Now I work primarily off the site, but I still receive invites for some high-paying clients and major corporations that I never would have known about otherwise.
Although this isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, it’s a good starting point for beginners.
Social Media: I’m not shy about putting my articles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Mix It. It takes like five minutes to hit them all.
A few viral posts were purely out of luck because someone shared it on Twitter.
I’ll take it!
Word of Mouth: When people ask what I do, I tell them. Friends, family, the new neighbor, you name it.
Many leads have come from friends who randomly see a job post and send it to me. (A recent client was even a high school boyfriend who started his own company.)
Be proud to tell others you write. They may be more interested than you’d think.
Freelancing Tools: When I first started freelancing, I missed a lot of typos and structural errors — even though I had been an English teacher for 12 years. I quickly found that grading papers and writing articles on a deadline are two very different things.
When I started using freelancing technology tools like Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid, Natural Reader, Otter, and more, my writing improved — and so did the money.
These days I’m blessed to say that I have more clients than I can handle. Because family comes first, I’m only one person, and my hours are limited.
After all, I began writing to spend more time with my kids. And although that’s DEFINITELY happened . . . (tripled to be exact), I now face a different struggle — an overabundance of clients and opportunities. But not enough time.
It’s a constant struggle of wanting to grow a business but knowing right now, with two young children, there’s only so much feasible growth.
So I’m now pickier with clients because I want to preserve my family time, and luckily, I can.
But this still comes at a cost.
I’m a woman who is choosing to halt her career. Or as Pew Research states, a woman “experiencing significant career interruptions.” Although I would change the word “interruptions”, as I don’t define my family to be one.
However, as a freelancing mother, I say no to many opportunities. Because there’s only one of me to write, but more importantly, there’s only one of me to mother.
I’ll admit, I’m currently wading in a limbo of sorts.
And I need to hit the pause button. Oddly, I wish to shun any other opportunities because contemplating which one to pick stresses me out.
And I know this is a “good” predicament, but decisions require energy, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m making the right ones or missing out.
It’s challenging, and I’m still — and always will be — learning.
At the same time, I’m a different entrepreneur than I was three years ago. And, due to various factors, I’m also a different woman.
For starters, I’ve more than accepted I can’t do it all, and I’ve discovered the power of saying no. If a client refuses to me pay me decently, I walk away.
I’ve also learned to embrace my own drum — however quirky this bongo may be, ha!
Some editors love this. Some editors don’t. I just embrace my own writing path, keep learning, and moving forward.
As a freelancer, you learn from your rejections and triumphs.
I’ve also discovered the power in risks. My articles never would have been published in larger publications, if I never tried.
If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. — Jim Rohn
What is it Like to Be a Freelancer?
My freelancer lifestyle is full of ups and downs. It’s full of weighing pros and cons, going with your gut, working your tail off, succeeding, and failing — all wrapped into one.
It’s full of countless decisions and the challenges and triumphs that come along with being your own boss.
I’m proud to say I refused two clients last week, but this week, in addition to my steady workflow, I said yes to an irresistible one.
According to my calculations, the pros outweigh the cons.
“But this is it,” I tell myself, “No more.”
“I need to stay true to my word,”
And you know what? This time I believe it.
Freelancer burnout is very real. After all, one freelancing mama only has so much bandwidth to give.
After freelancing for three years, I’ve learned how to steady the weights so there are more ups than downs. I’ve learned when to say no so I don’t tip the scale.
When it comes to my freelancer lifestyle, I’ve come a long way. But part of being a successful freelancer is always accepting that you still have a ways to go.
To recap, here are the top freelancing lessons I’ve learned
- Don’t take on every client.
- When it comes to potential projects, ask yourself if you have enough time, if the pay is appropriate, and if the values/goals of the project align with yours.
- Maintain your grit.
- Use freelancing platforms, social media, word of mouth, and freelancing tools to your advantage.
- Know your bandwidth.
- Take risks.
- Be you.
- Never stop learning and growing.
Chin up tiger, you (and I) have work to do.