What Freelancing Is, and What It Isn’t (& My Story)

Starting a freelancing career can be intimidating, not to mention downright confusing. Today I’m beginning a 4 part series sharing some lessons I’ve learned over the past 3 years, so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and what I’ve picked up along the way!

Recently, someone asked my thoughts on beginning a freelancing career. I was honored, because I by no means consider myself an expert, and I after 3 years I only slightly think I’ve figured it all out. Surprisingly, I didn’t scare them off by the novel I responded with. Heh.

There are many different things that could take priority, but finding what should be a priority depends on a number of factors. It includes where your trajectory is, what your niche is, and if you want to make this a career or keep is as a side gig.

And, because I want to make this as digestible as possible, I’m splitting this into 4 parts.

First topic is…..

What Freelancing Is, & What It Is Not (& My Story)

Freelancing is:

  • a way to share your knowledge

  • a way to help others, whether large companies or small agencies

  • a way to make some extra income

  • a way to create your own schedule


Freelancing is not:

  • a way to make a quick buck

  • a way to entirely work for yourself

  • a way to ignore the human race


Now, there are some exceptions to these, but broadly, this is what I’ve come across, whether it was myself or others.

Freelancing is...

Freelancing is an incredible opportunity to help others around the world who need help in your niche. And, yes, it’s a way to make some extra cash, whether you need to pay off some loans, save for a trip, or as the early steps to creating an entire career around it.

One of my favorite parts about freelancing is the ability to make my own schedule. I work best in the mornings, so I can block out time to get client work done, and save the afternoons for errands, chores, and email/social media work. Oh, and taking conference calls on the beach isn’t so bad either. :)

Freelancing is not...

And, just like there are those many idealist thoughts about your future career (or side gig) as a freelancer, there are also some realities that I hope to make you aware of now, before your first client meeting.

Freelancing is not something you can sign up for one day and get a paycheck the next. (Okay, maybe if you’re willing to work for pennies, but please, there is better work for more pay available!) Finding jobs can often take as much time as it takes to complete them.

Contrary to the self-employed dreams, you still answer to clients, and they can often be demanding. (They are, after all, paying you.) There are definitely lines that if they cross, it becomes necessary to end the business relationship, but you also need to respect their wishes. Your business decisions may solely rest on you, but remember that creative decisions often require collaboration and listening.

As an introvert, I love that I can buckle down and get work done by myself and spending long periods of time without talking to anyone. However, networking and collaboration are relevant and needed. Your business won’t grow very much until you spend at least some time building relationships with clients and colleagues.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned over time.


The Humble, CHeap Beginnings

I began on oDesk, which is now in partnership with Elance with Upwork. Even in the beginning I knew that there were many options that weren’t worth my time, even as a n00b. (Picture being asked to write a five page, research intensive paper and being paid $10.) But, I was fortunate to find a long-term gig almost right away. I wrote articles on a variety of topics for, compared to what skilled writers should be making, pennies.

But it gave me experience.

I then worked with a small production company and had other small jobs for a time, and learned a lot. Then my last two semesters of college happened, I had more commitments at the other two jobs along with more challenging classes, so I dropped it for a while.

Upon graduating and while looking for more work I began applying again on oDesk, and found a great client that I did some blogging work for a few months, but couldn’t find much more work.

Then one day a random guy followed me on Twitter, I followed him back after checking his profile/tweets out, and he DM’d me saying he might have some work for me.

Yes, one of the my best and biggest clients found me on Twitter. Social media can be a powerful tool!

The experience of that client helped me land my next client through an event I was helping plan, and while there have been some other random work here and there, that’s caught us up to now. As you can see, I primarily work with long-term clients, which I tend to prefer. You can build relationships and a solid rapport with a person (or team) and it’s also a bit steadier than piecemeal client work. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Each freelancer has their preferences.)

One of the coolest things for me is seeing how each small step upwards has given me the tools and expertise to land that next job. It’s okay to start small; those jobs give you the foundation for growth.

Freelancing can be an incredible thing, and I still get almost giddy some days realizing that this is a solid part of my time, income, and career. Whatever level you’re freelancing at, or considering doing so, remember your value.

It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding.

Part 2 about creating your ideal portfolio is coming, are you ready?