Don’t glamorize the future.
I started full time freelancing in July 2019. Here’s a breakdown of my yearly earnings since then.
- 2019: $8,314 (five months)
- 2020: $35,479
- 2021: $31,464
- 2022: $90,565
Adjusting for holidays and vacations, a typical month of work brought in about $9,000 last year. Let me just honk my own horn for a second. I’m pretty proud of that.
By the most coveted metric (revenue), “I made it.” Or, I am financially stable at least. With that being said, if I could condense everything I’ve learned into one simplified lesson, it would be this: don’t glamorize the future.
Here are some potentially hard-to-swallow lessons I’ve learned from building an (almost) six-figure writing business.
Number one problem when I started my freelancing career: making money.
Translation: find clients willing to pay me for a service in which I had relatively little experience. After three and a half years and hundreds of orders, I no longer have that problem. But a stable income does not mean that you can turn on the cruise control and just vibrate.
Other problems have arisen as I have evolved my business.
For example, it’s great to have a longer client list, but I don’t have the same cushion for procrastination that I once had without realizing it, which means I need to trade urgently and avoid distractions. It’s a different kind of stress.
Raising rates is another example. Money is an uncomfortable subject as it is. Ask customers for more money for the same services? It almost feels wrong.
With many “awkward” conversations under my belt, I feel confident and justified in charging higher fees, but even so, negotiating is a tricky challenge that has gone wrong for me in the past.
Maybe this is just my opinion, but compared to building a six-figure freelance business, I think it’s a much more daunting task to build an audience and then develop and sell compelling products. I’ve seen others succeed in the creative field, but the dedication it takes to eviscerate months of paltry sales and excruciating profits? Sheeshthat’s hard.
I would love for my personal projects to support me financially, but I barely make enough from Medium and book sales each month to cover my internet bill. (My other creative endeavors don’t even generate income.)
Am I happier than when I was on the bench? Yes.
Am I happier than when I started self-employment and lived bill to bill? Slightly.
While I am much closer to being satisfied and satisfied with my work, it may very well be a never-ending search. I have learned that it is more valuable to enjoy the process.
When I first transitioned to full-time freelance work, I reduced my monthly budget by 32%. I had to: I didn’t make enough money to continue my old lifestyle.
And I attribute my current success to that frugal decision because otherwise who knows if I would have lasted long enough to experience that hockey stick revenue surge.
Plus, it helped instill good habits. Three and a half years later, I’m still pretty close to meeting my self-imposed spending limit; With the exception of higher rent (something out of my control), my expenses haven’t really changed.
Your rates are his fees, but someone has to be willing to pay them. Every time you increase your price, you drain some water from the pool of potential customers. In my opinion, it’s much easier to increase profits by outsourcing and focusing on implicit hourly rates. Your time is your most valuable currency.
Of course, finding reliable freelancers is easier said than done. But that’s all the more reason to network with other freelancers. You never know, you might find a go-to person whose rates fit a client’s budget and still allow you to generate some semi-passive income.
I like the ass-on-fire approach. After all, that is working as a freelance: we are directly and exclusively responsible for supporting ourselves financially. If we don’t work, we don’t earn.
That said, it’s just as easy for me to procrastinate today as it was three years ago. The difference is that I know my triggers: my phone (which needs to be on do not disturb or out of reach), heavy meals, and noise.
Being self-employed is such a volatile line of work that it is difficult to feel as if we were progressing.
In the fall of 2020, I landed a couple of high-paying copywriting jobs, which helped me beat my monthly bank income when I was a corporate drone. I remember thinking, “I did, finally turned the corner.”
And then they tricked me.
A company changed and fired my main points of contact (I only found out after sending them a message on LinkedIn two months later). The other cut ties with his freelancers and hired an in-house team (same as before, only found out about this by proactively asking on LinkedIn).
At that time, I was crushed. My profits plummeted and I went back to living bill to bill.
But looking back, it was still progress: I had new pieces to my portfolio that I would eventually leverage to land even better clients.
Metaphorically speaking, you need to ride an elevator up into the clouds, look at your business from a 30,000-foot perspective, and ask one simple but compelling question: Am I closer to my goals than when I started?
It may not seem like it, but progress is happening.