Don’t become a freelancer until you’ve learned these seven things

Thinking about ditching your secure job and going freelance? Here are seven things you need to learn first!

Studies show that 36% of workers in the US are freelancers. And almost 70% of freelancers say they are happier now than when they had a day job.

But the transition from an office job can be hard – you might even feel like giving up at first. In this post, I’ll guide you through some of the trickiest parts of being a freelancer, based on my own experience. 

1) Prepare to start low

The first year is always the hardest. You’re entering a space where hundreds of others have been for years. You’ll have to compete with people who have already established a reputation for themselves.  They have their clients, websites, reviews – and you don’t.

So what do you do?

Unfortunately, for many of us it means setting your initial fees low. Many freelance platforms don’t allow you to do real dumping – that is, to quote prices that are below the amount offered.

But you won’t be able to charge as much as others do, either. You might even have to set prices that are 40% or 50% lower than what you feel you deserve. It’s all for a good goal, though. You need your first clients, you need their positive feedback. Your pride will have to take a second place – at least for a few  months.

Once you’ve completed several dozens of orders, you can start raising your fees gradually.

2) Don’t quit your job just yet

Your first months as a freelancer might bring you very little income. So either you need to accumulate enough savings to last you through that trying time – or try freelance part-time at first.

Keep in mind that combining a 9-to-5 job with freelancing on the side is extremely hard, though. You might burn out before you even start in earnest!

A wise strategy is to prepare everything you can while you are still working in your old job:

  • Research and purchase reliable web hosting for your freelance website.
  • Design your site – in WordPress, for example.
  • Register on relevant freelance platforms.
  • Write engaging copy – both for your site, profiles on freelance sites, and for responses to potential clients.
  • Learn to use tools for managing your tasks (like Trello and Asana), invoicing, financial planning, etc.
  • Find out how to pay taxes on your freelance earnings.
  • Research low-budget marketing tools for freelancers.
  • Create a good Linkedin profiles (if you don’t have one already) and maybe even start a blog.

3) Minimize unpaid working time

When you have an office job, you’re paid for all the time you spend there – including chats with colleagues and trips to the water cooler. But once you start to freelance, you’ll be shocked by how much of your working time you spend on things other than working on your orders:

  • Looking for new projects on freelance platforms.
  • Replying to projects.
  • Talking to clients in messengers or on the phone.
  • Making corrections to finished projects when required by the client.
  • Invoicing, adding tasks to planners like Trello, etc.

A single phone call from a client can cost you an hour of your time. So don’t let this hour go unpaid.  Add at least 20% to your rate to account for non-productive time. If you find that a certain client really likes to talk and make edits, you can add as much as 40%.

4) Prepare for unpleasantness

You have people at work you don’t like, right? Or perhaps your boss annoys you? Well, prepare to face unpleasant people in your freelancer life, too.

Clients can be every bit as rude, indecisive, demanding, and clueless as your colleagues. And you’ll have to swallow most of it, because you’ll need every client. 

There will be days when you feel sick and tired of everything. There will be hard or boring tasks that it will take all your self-discipline to complete. There will be phone calls from clients on Saturday nights. Be ready for all that. For more on dealing with difficult client, check out this advice.

5) Watch what you eat

The fridge is every freelancer’s enemy. When you are tired or bored, it’s natural to turn to food as a distraction. And when you’re alone at home, working on a complex task for hours, you’ll feel bored and tired a lot.

You’ll be constantly tempted to get something from the fridge or pantry – a slice of cheese, a piece of chocolate, a potato crisp… If you don’t watch how much you snack, you’ll quickly gain weight. 

There are two good tricks to avoid overeating while freelancing:

  • Drink liquids instead of snacking. Water, tea, coffee without sugar, juice – they will all have a similar effect. The point is not to fill your belly – because you’re not hungry. It’s your mind that needs distracting. Hot drinks usually work better.
  • Prepare healthy snacks. Pumpkin, apples, and sliced bell peppers are great because they are crunchy and contain few calories.

6) Manage loneliness and silence

When freelancing, you’ll find yourself spending long hours alone at home. It can get very lonely, even depressing and claustrophobic. Some freelancers even prefer to work out of a coffee shop or a co-working space. But if you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want to save your money. 

Keeping the TV on isn’t a solution: it’s too distracting. Instead, look for good background music on YouTube. Tibetan gong, Indian flute, yoga and chakra music all work well. Many of such music videos go on for hours.

They won’t distract you from your task, because there’s no strong beat or lyrics. On the contrary, they will even help you focus. A good long meditative tune, a cup of hot tea and nice yellow light will create a thoroughly pleasant environment – try it for yourself!

7) Find your work-life balance

At first you’ll be happy about each new order and every new client. However, if you are successful, soon you’ll see your tasks piling up. Existing clients will refer you to others, and after a while you’ll be buried under a pile of work – more than you’ve ever been when you worked at an office.

This is the ultimate trap of freelancing. People think that it brings freedom – but unless you manage your load properly, you’ll find yourself exhausted pretty quickly.

The trick is to decide how many hours you want to work every day – and spread your tasks accordingly. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t tell a client you can do something “tomorrow” if your schedule for the next day already full. – Select one day during the week when you won’t do any work at all.
  • Don’t work after 6 pm – leave the evening for your family, friends, and hobbies.
  • Make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep every day.

There are many apps out there that can help you with your work-life balance – learn about them in this guide.

Freelancing makes you happier – but it’s not easy!

Here’s the most important thing: being a freelancer does make you happier, but it’s not easier.  If your idea of freelancing is watching the sea and palm trees in Thailand somewhere with a fruit shake in one hand and a laptop in the other – ditch that. 

Freelancing requires lots of discipline, and you’ll need to learn a completely new set of skills. You’ll have good days and bad days – sometimes even bad months. You’ll panic when you don’t get enough work. But through it all, persist.

Remember – thousands of others have been there and succeeded – and so can you.

Natalya Dyatko is a freelance writer and content marketing/SEO specialist. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter for more SEO tips, tutorials, and analysis.  

Photo by Anton Malanin