5 Things I have Learned in 6 Months of Freelancing
Leaving my corporate job and deciding to go full-time with my freelance graphic design business was one of the scariest and best moves I've ever made. It completely transformed my daily attitude, mindset, and outlook on my future. I was finally able to spend time with my family, I no longer had to commute a total of 2 hours to and from work every day, and I wasn't constantly crabby anymore because I finally enjoyed my daily life again. With that being said, it has also been an extremely challenging transition with a lot of lessons along the way. Here are the top five major lessons I have learned since becoming an entrepreneur.
Freelancing Tip #1 | Finding Clients is a Lot of Work
Before I made the leap from corporate-world to freelancing, the process of getting your own clients didn’t seem nearly as daunting. Every company needed my services to some capacity, I charge less than an average design agency would and I already had a few consistent clients lined up. It should be a breeze to score a few more, right?
It's not a breeze. It actually is really freaking hard. Not because they don’t want or need your services, but because they don’t know you exist - especially in the beginning. I have slowly continued to find new clients each month, usually through referrals or word of mouth, but it hasn’t been easy. If you work hard enough at it long enough, you will get to where you want to be. Until then, here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Use your existing relationships. The majority of my clients have come from friends, family and past co-workers or employers. They are such a great support system so don’t be afraid ask them for help! I promise they will pull through.
- Ask your current clients for referrals. Maybe even offer a discount on their next service if they are able to refer you to a new client. When your current clients are happy and satisfied with your work, they feel confident in referring you to their business connections and are usually happy to do it!
- Don’t feel like you need to stay local. At least 30% of my clients come from out of state. This has helped me extend my reach by broadening the possibility of referrals across new communities. Not to mention that branching out to larger cities than your own also gives you an opportunity to find clients who may be willing to pay more for your services because of how you compare to other freelancers in their area. My clients in LA and NYC love my rates because of how they compare to their local graphic designers'. The cost of living in Arkansas is a heck of a lot cheaper than in big cities, so I am able to charge less than their local competition, while giving me opportunities to start making a little more!
As hard as it is to find clients, it's also one of the most rewarding parts of freelancing. You know you won that client completely on your own, with just you and your work to show for it. Signing on a new client gives you a crazy boost of confidence and gets you ready to go find the next!
Freelancing Tip #2 | Build Relationships with Other Freelancers and Entrepreneurs
Networking groups have really helped me in this area. By going to networking meetings and having one-on-ones with people I've met in these groups, I have been able to build a small circle of other local freelancers and entrepreneurs to connect with. These are the people that have built me up when I am feeling lost in my business. They understand what its like to be an entrepreneur, they offer advice, give feedback, or just listen as you vent for the week and vice versa. These are the people I feel confident referring clients to as well as promoting personally. Having business besties has had such a great impact on me throughout this process and I totally recommend you find one (or a few!), too. Want to meet one of mine? Head over to showmetheyummy.com and say hi to Jennifer!
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Freelancing Tip #3 | The Feast or Famine is REAL
This sort of goes back to point number 1 about finding enough clients. But even if you have all the clients in the world, they have to consistently have jobs that you can bill them for every month. I remember sitting in my cubicle dreaming up how many billable hours I needed to work in order to make the same amount of money that I was currently earning. The answer was only like 40 hours a month. I thought PSH! How easy will that be?! I found this answer out pretty quickly.
Here is a case study of the life of Mariah to prove my point: November comes along, which was month 2 or 3 into my business, and I was crazy busy. I had easily doubled, if not tripled what I made monthly in the corporate world. I was over-the-freaking-moon! I thought it was nothing but up from there! Mom, Dad, I HAVE MADE IT! And then that internal party ended about as quickly as it started once December happened. I think I made all of $200 in that entire month. HELLO Christmastime! Luckily, this worked out fine because I was rollin’ in it from the month before, but DANG! Someone warn a girl!
So here I am, warning you. You will have amazing months and you will have horrible, about to live in a tent in your parents yard, months. But it really does all even out. All you need to do is be prepared for it and know that just because you scored big this month doesn’t mean you can blow it all on that girls trip to Cabo. Save some of it for the bad months because they will happen. But - If there is anything I have learned from this rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, it's that the money always comes from somewhere. Just when you think it's time to throw in the towel and start applying for jobs, you land a new client. This is the case with so many entrepreneurs I have met and talked to, so don’t give up! It always works out in the end.
Freelancing Tip #4 | Self Discipline is Key
The best and worst part about being your own boss is you get to set your own hours. This often works out great because you actually ENJOY the work you do and no longer dread Monday mornings. Wanting to work everyday isn’t usually a problem anymore. However, even us freelancers have off days. Some mornings its hard to get the motivation to start working on that one, never-ending project. Sometimes you see the pile of laundry building up and decide that doing laundry sounds better than doing actual work. (You know you have hit a real low when doing laundry sounds fun).
The last six months have taught me to accept these days, but also to balance them. There will be days where your brain turns to mush and you’re crazy unproductive. When that happens, it's time to listen to your body and take a break! But along those same lines, it's easy to get sucked into that unproductive mindset for days on end, so you have to be careful and really manage the right balance. I go through a lot of phases of working hard or hardly working, and being able to better manage both is important and something I continually work on. As long as you keep yourself on the right track, giving yourself personal days when you need them is such a blessing.
Freelancing Tip #5 | Working for Yourself is the BEST
With as many challenges and road blocks that freelancing throws at you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. In fact several times people have sent me job listings I qualify for and I have absolutely no desire to apply for any of them. I love working for myself and I know that I can be as successful as I want to be, as long as I put in the time and effort to get there. Freelancing has made me more motivated and driven than I have been in years.
On top of all that, the lifestyle of freelancing has made me such a happier person. I am able to wake up at 7:30 every morning, have breakfast, workout with my boyfriend and take the dog for a walk all before I start working. I can wear whatever I want (hello yoga pants and leggings!), I can take as long of a lunch break as I choose, and I can keep up with housework throughout the day instead of cramming it all in on Sundays, when all I want to do is watch Netflix.
Are you thinking about taking the leap into freelancing? Have you recently gone off on your own? Let me know in the comments so I can hear your stories!