I never really intended to freelance.
When I quit my job in early 2017, I just knew I wanted to be my own boss. I hated the feeling of being required to be at a certain place at a certain time to do work that I was assigned.
One afternoon it became clear that the time had come: it was time for me to quit that job (my real pros and cons list shown here).
My life to that point had been all about building software products. I helped build and sell a digital ticket marketplace in 2015, and the role I left was a product management role.
So how was I going to make money?
I started talking to people. I wrote a blog post about quitting my job. I had some ideas, but they were far from fleshed out.
In the process, some of my friends started asking if I could help them with their own projects. I helped to launch a podcast, I came up with some names for a friend’s company, I built a couple of WordPress sites, and I built email sequences.
I was making money! It was my introduction to freelancing.
It’s an amazing feeling to have people paying you real money for your skills.
Being paid to write? Amazing.
Work from anywhere? Don’t mind if I do!
But I learned quickly that this wasn’t as easy as I thought it was.
There are a lot of questions that come up quickly when you’re freelancing.
- How much should I charge?
- How much do I need to earn to actually pay the bills?
- How much do I pay in taxes?
- What about health insurance?
Soon, the clients who were basically coming to ME for help seemed to evaporate. I ran out of warm leads and was left wondering, “OK so how do I actually FIND clients?”
It got harder before it got easier
I learned very quickly that it wasn’t hard to make money freelancing, but to make a living freelancing was a totally different story.
But it looks so easy right?
Just put up a website and work from anywhere on your laptop! Paradise, here I come.
Well, most of those digital nomads aren’t showing you the real struggles of being a freelancer — let alone a location independent freelancer.
There are three key challenges that you will come up against. I experienced them myself, and I hear them from other freelancers constantly.
1. Finding new clients
In the beginning, you may have a few clients come directly to you. Friends, family, and family friends often become your first clients.
This is low-hanging fruit, and it quickly dries up. You need a strategy for sustainably finding new clients to keep the lights on.
2. Managing your time
Not only do you need to constantly be creating new clients for yourself, but you need to communicate with existing clients while also doing great work for them.
Not to mention handling your budget, cash flow, accounting, savings, and more. You’ll want to find time to eat and sleep too.
3. Staying on top of the boring business stuff
Speaking of budget, cash flow, accounting, and so on, you’ll need to be on top of all the administrative and operational parts of your business to make sure you stay in business.
This is often a totally new skill to artists of creatives, and isn’t difficult to learn — you just have to be willing to put the work in.
The turning point
At the end of the day, I built a lucrative freelance business working with over 100 clients by mastering three core skills:
- Marketing myself
- Selling my work
- Running a business
Let’s talk about each of these…
1. Marketing yourself
If you are unable (or unwilling) to talk about yourself and the work that you do, you’ve already lost. And unfortunately, a lot of freelancers (or would-be freelancers) are afraid of talking about what they do.
It takes confidence. You may need to build up that confidence in order to market yourself, and that’s OK.
You’ll also need to really understand who you want to work with and what type of service(s) you want to provide. Being able to succinctly talk about yourself and your work in terms that resonate with your target clients takes a lot of thought and discovery.
At the end of the day, you need to position yourself as the best choice for the potential client.
2. Selling your work
Marketing yourself is the first step. But once you’ve gotten yourself in front of a potential client, you need to consistently be able to close the sale.
I get it, and I’ve been there. It’s scary to put yourself out there and ask someone to choose you. By giving them the ability to say “yes” you also give them the ability to say ”no.”
Rejection sucks, and no one enjoys it.
But rejection is a natural part of being a freelancer, and it gets much easier to deal with. At this point, it barely even fazes me.
If you’re not being rejected, you aren’t being proactive enough in selling your services. You need a system and a process for generating new clients so you can control your own destiny.
3. Running a business
At the end of the day, freelancers are business owners. You need to run your freelance business like a business. That means creating a budget, being on top of your cash flow, managing your time, and communicating with your clients.
It sounds scary and intimidating, but it’s not impossible. You just need to set up systems up front that work for you. If you do it right, most of these systems require little attention once they’re set up, and allow you to focus on doing the work.
If these sound like skills you need help learning, I can help.
Making a living freelancing
At the end of September 2017, I wrapped up my first cohort of Unreal. And I realized I made two major mistakes:
- There was not enough time to run another accelerator before the holidays
- I had no other client projects in my pipeline
To make matters worse, I was also already out of cash from the accelerator I had just finished.
I was broke.
I went into crisis management mode, and luckily found a marketing client who put me on retainer. It gave me stability for the next four months until my next accelerator.
I made under $30k my first year freelancing, and if it wasn’t for that client, it would’ve been less than $24k.
No matter what salary you leave to start freelancing, $24k isn’t a number you take pride in!
That crisis taught me a lot.
It taught me that I needed to learn quickly how to manage my finances.
It taught me that finding new clients never stops and that I better get good at lining up new clients.
It taught me that I need to understand where I’m spending my time, not just my money.
And it taught me how to sell myself.
I more than doubled my income in 2018, and this year I’m looking at tripling my 2017 income (and surpassing my former salary)!
I’ve taken everything I’ve seen work and poured it into these three courses:
- Selling for Freelancers – Proven tactics for selling more work
- Marketing for Freelancers – Strategies to create client demand for you
- Business for Freelancers – Systems and processes to protect your time and effectively manage your money
Every lesson includes:
- A video lesson
- Specific action items
- Other resources or templates
…which are all yours forever.
If you’re serious about freelancing, these courses will help you build a better business.
If you put the time in, these courses will pay for themselves. They’re based on the same strategies that I’ve seen work for my clients in Unreal Collective.
My advice? Take the leap, believe in yourself, and invest in full access to all three courses.
Check them all out at freelancing.school.
Have you considered freelancing full or part time? What’s holding you back?