I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately on the last year of my life and let me tell you, so many things have changed. I’ve always found it interesting to look back and realize how different life can be with the difference of just 365 days and this past year is certainly a shining example of that.
It’s been a whole year since I took my freelancing career full-time, and I still find it surreal to think how something that began as a way of making ends meet while travelling has become a full-on career and lifestyle that I love.
Now, that’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges, because there definitely have been. I’d be lying if I said that there haven’t been moments where I’ve questioned everything I’m doing (hello, imposter syndrome) and heavily debated running back to the 9-5 lifestyle. But through those challenges there have been some many things to celebrate and opportunities more rewarding than I honestly could have imagined a year ago from today.
This last year has taught me a lot, about my business, the world of freelancing and most importantly, myself and I thought it might be cathartic (and maybe useful to someone else who finds themselves venturing into a similar world of contract work) to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I can only imagine how my perspective is going to continue changing, but I honestly can’t wait to see where the next year takes me and this little business of mine.
1. Your time is worth the investment.
It can be so easy as a new freelancer to shortchange your worth. While you can’t necessarily start out charging top dollar without the experience to back it up, its also important to continuously reevaluate your own expertise and growth and make sure your time is being compensated fairly for the work you’re being asked to do.
It took me a while (and a lot of research into how to properly price my services) to realize I was significantly undervaluing my time and the quality of work I was able to provide my clients. As a freelancer, your time is worth a premium. You don’t have an employer to pay your benefits and you don’t get paid vacation or a pension plan to help with your retirement.
It can take a while to build the confidence to advocate for yourself and the fact that you and your services are a worthy investment, but the game truly changes when you do. Never underestimate what you bring to the table and the value that it can provide your clients. Your time is worth the investment.
2. Boundaries are essential.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. An aspect of freelancing life that I had never even considered when I first began my journey into the wonderful world of contract work. I’m my own boss, why would I need to set boundaries? Let me tell you, you absolutely do.
When you’re running your own business its so easy to get swept up and carried away into a life of working and being “on” all the time. Setting your own hours and schedule might be one of the most rewarding aspects of a freelancing career but its also quite often a double-edged sword.
About six months ago I realized that I wasn’t actually scheduling real downtime for myself. Sure I wasn’t technically working Saturday, but I just had to answer a few emails and schedule a few social posts for my clients while I had my morning coffee.
While I thought I was being efficient, what I actually ended up doing was burning myself out. That’s when I decided to implement a strict no weekend policy. No client work, no Cold Tea Social work, my weekends are for me, because that’s what I need to maintain my own mental health and wellness.
That’s what works for me, and it may not work for everyone, but to anyone entering or thinking of starting a freelancing career, I urge you to consider what boundaries might look like to you and set them before you reach the point of burnout. Saying no, when asked to work weekends (and you will be asked) can be scary, but your wellness comes first and boundaries are essential to being the best you you can be.
3. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
A high work ethic is vital to being successful as a freelancer. With no set working hours to abide by, no supervisor to report into, and only the deadlines set between you and your clients to hold you accountable, being self-motivating takes on a whole new level of importance in a freelancing career.
While this high work drive is important, it can also make it very challenging to say no to new opportunities. I am definitely guilty of overextending my bandwidth in the past. New opportunities excite me and I love to take on a new challenge and work with new clients. The opportunity to build your network and work with brands that your passionate about can be incredibly hard to walk away from but overtime I’ve learned that saying no is often exactly what you need to open the door for the things that will serve you most.
Nowadays, I’m a lot more selective about the brands and businesses that I work with. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the stability to be choosy in a way that I realize not many freelancers (especially those starting out, hello, I’ve been there) can be, but one door closed truly is another opened.
It sounds cliché to say that the key to your success and happiness as a freelancer lies in following your heart but cheesiness aside there really is truth to the idea that walking away from something that’s not right for you can make way for an opportunity that is. Just because you can do something, doesn’t alway mean you should.
4. Keep track of your financials.
Okay, so I might have learned this one the hard way in my first year of business, but keeping proper track of your finances and expenses will help you endlessly come tax season and it was definitely something I didn’t focus on nearly enough when I first started out.
While I was always good at keeping track of receipts and setting aside a certain percentage of earnings for taxes, I really didn’t do much to make sure things were organized beyond that. Cue me spending an entire weekend last December sorting through mountains of receipts and attempting to make sense of things in a spreadsheet.
I’ve learned since then, and monthly tracking has done wonders for me in keeping a better handle on where I’m at and predicting where things are going to go in the months to come. Keeping track of your financials may not seem like a top priority, especially when its just you in your business, but trust me, it’ll save you some major headaches down the road by not leaving everything to the last minute.
5. You’re your own boss.
Now I know this one is obvious, I mean, being your own boss is one of the biggest rewards of a freelancing career and certainly won’t come as a surprise to anyone looking to follow this path, but hear me out.
Being your own boss means having to manage yourself and your time, and while that brings the obvious responsibility of setting a schedule for yourself and making sure you meet deadlines for your clients, what I think is often overlooked when entering a freelance career is the importance of looking out for yourself in the same way that a supervisor might manage and monitor an employee. Look internally to recognize when you need more support, and when your bandwidth has reached its limit.
Each of your clients sees only a small part of the much bigger picture that is your business, and because of that, the only person who has any real understanding of your current workload and bandwidth is you. It can sometimes feel wrong to turn down work but it’s important to recognize when you have reached your limit. Everyone can always work harder, hustle more and put more hours in but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy and the hustle mentality that is so often glamourized in the gig economy is also the thing that leads so many freelancers straight down the path to burn out.
Your client doesn’t hold the responsibility of realizing when you’re at your max, you do. You’re your own boss.