4 Hard Truths Every Aspiring Freelancer Needs to Hear

Working From Home

Most freelancers fail. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.

For a freelancer, time is money, so let me be frank: Freelancing is tough.

It’s tough from a financial perspective: You’re always hustling, and you eat only what you kill.

It’s tough from a psychological perspective: You don’t get a paycheck every two weeks, nor do you get to socialize with colleagues in an office.

And it’s tough from a productivity perspective: You have to be maximally disciplined and organized without a boss holding you accountable.

Don’t get me wrong — working for yourself can be deeply fulfilling. But before you try to realize your long-deferred dream, ask yourself if any of these constraints is a deal-breaker?

Specifically, consider the following truths that freelancers wish we knew before we started freelancing:

1. Diversify Your Income

Freelancing is like investing: Only a fool puts all his talents in a single basket. So, I write and edit; I do digital marketing; and I deliver workshops. Those are all separate streams of revenue. Many freelancers have a similar structure — with the rationale that if one practice is slow, another is busy.

2. Land an Anchor

Almost all my colleagues have what’s called an “anchor” client, which is a client that makes up a sizable percentage of your income. Better yet, some have several anchors. So make it a priority to find a company or even individual with whom you can establish a long-term, retainer-based relationship. Not only will you gain cash flow; you’ll also gain confidence to decline low-paying opportunities you might otherwise chase.

Note: An anchor client is not a cash cow. It won’t make you rich. And in return for an ongoing paycheck, you usually need to discount your fee.

3. Take Time Off

As a freelancer, you’re pretty much always on the clock. That’s unhealthy and can beget burnout (which the WHO just recognized as a legitimate medical diagnosis). So make it a point, every once in a while, to take a full day or two away from your phone, your computer, even from conversations about work. Treat the weekend as time off.

I know, I know — easier said than done. But here’s the upside: You’ll return recharged, refocused, and thus more productive.

4. Always Be Networking

Finally, think about all the people you’ve come into contact with over the years: Roommates, teammates, childhood friends, college friends, work friends, friends of friends, industry friends, colleagues, bosses, interns, subordinates, significant others, relatives, neighbors, doctors, your favorite bartender.

You never know where a lead can come from, and so never be afraid to make folks aware, gently, of how you can help them. Like it or not, sales is now a big part of your job. Rejection is inevitable, but if you’re in this business for the long haul, you need to take the long view.

A version of the above article appeared on the blog of the Freelancers Union on June 7, 2019.

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