When I decided to start freelancing over two and a half years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew I had to do it. Working for yourself is the most freeing job you can ever have - if you're willing to work the hardest you ever have in your life for it! It's also the one professional move you can make that will teach you more about yourself, about others and about life than anything else. The great thing about freelancing is that it's always there if you decide to do it. While I wrap up my first round of life as a freelancer, here are a few of the best - and hardest - lessons I've learned:
Putting yourself out there is nerve-wracking & necessary.
Working for yourself means you do everything - everything - yourself. At least when you're starting out. Of the many hats you wear, marketing yourself is one hat that's always on your head. I happen to know a bit about marketing myself - building a personal brand as a blogger and social media professional made that a necessary skill, and LinkedIn and the occasional blog/real-life comment tells me I'm pretty good at it. Still, that didn't prepare me for the nerves that come with putting yourself out there as a freelancer.
People are fascinating.
Once I got over those nerves and started telling people what I was up to, a beautiful thing happened. People responded warmly, and many were willing to help! In fact, the lion's share of my freelance work has come from word-of-mouth. People are awesome. Some people really aren't, and you encounter them when you decide to work for yourself too. People who think freelancing means you can't hold a 'real' job down. People who don't pay you for work you've done. People who change what they want out of you after the contract's been signed. People who want to have coffee or co-work with you then can't stop talking to let either of you get any work done. The awesome and the not-so-awesome have taught me to always surround yourself with good, true people. As James Altucher said, "Who you choose is more important than what you do."
You get what you give.
Sometimes we're enamored by the idea of freelancing because of its perceived benefits. You can work on your own schedule, from anywhere you want, at any time of day. You can take a break and go do something else for awhile and not have coworkers breathing down your neck wondering where you are. "Sign me up!", right? What's hard for any freelancer to convey unless you've been there yourself is that you truly work harder than you ever had in a conventional 9 - 5. It's crazy how much your perspective changes when you establish an hourly bill rate and you (or your client) want to squeeze every ounce out of every hour!
Structure is key.
Speaking of time, my perspective on my schedule and what I did with my time completely changed once I started freelancing. "Does it benefit my bottom line?" I'd ask myself when weighing what I'd do with my hours every day. Not everything directly benefits it, of course, but that mindset sure made it a lot easier to say no to things and people that aren't worth the time. I find I'm more productive when I've got some structure to my day and in what I'm doing.
Working for yourself at home is great, until you realize almost all of your interaction with other human beings is through email or social media. Something I missed most when freelancing was collaborating with others on an idea or on tactics, or just brainstorming. Going to coffee shops all the time helped to feel somewhat connected, but on a short-term basis. I didn't want to set too many coffee dates when there's always work to do. So while your coworkers can get on your last nerve sometimes, don't ever take their banter for granted!
You will always know what's best for yourself.
When the balance between blogging, consulting and life became my biggest struggle, that's when I made the choice to turn the long-term contract gig I had into a permanent thing. I freelanced because I wanted to spend more time blogging, and yet I never figured out that happy medium marrying professional blogging with the consulting work I was doing. More often than not, the blogging gigs I took on were too short-term or not lucrative enough, and so my profits would come from strictly consulting. Because I'd be working a lot, I wasn't able to spend nearly as much time on the blogging side of business as I wanted to. On top of that, I discovered I really liked blogging about things that I wouldn't or couldn't necessarily charge for - and that's okay. In fact, I know you beautiful readers would rather read about things I'm passionate about; not products or services that paid to be here.
I'm officially a permanent full-timer at the non-profit gig I started on contract in May, and while I struggled with the culture shock of going back to office life (I gotta put pants on again?), it's the choice I needed to make. Freelancing is amazing and I wouldn't doubt it if it was part of my future sometime down the road. For now, giving back with purpose through work and the connections I'm cultivating with students have already made this an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I am also still able to work on and grow Fresh Jess, so I'm excited to have the mind and creative space to take things even higher from here.