Freelancing and fearless self-discovery

I’ve been operating my own freelance business for a little over a year. People ask me questions about it such as, “How did you start?” and “What is freelancing like?” Here some thoughts about freelancing and what that journey’s been like since I started.

What is freelancing like?  

Honestly, freelancing feels uncertain, scary and exciting at the same time. It’s not what most people think. When I tell people that I freelance write and design websites they say something like, “Oh, that must be nice!”

But, not so fast.

Just because no one can tell me how to write an article or how to design a website, it doesn’t mean I’ve succeeded. I’m responsible for finding work and selling my services. Freelancing teaches me to be creative and resourceful. Freelancing means it’s totally up to me if I get work or not. It keeps me on my toes. Even if it isn’t as comfortable as most people assume, I enjoy the challenge. I like getting up in the morning knowing it won’t be the same. I like meeting new people and collaborating on different projects. I like to learn incessantly to stay ahead. I like the rush. I really do.

It’s true that no one can decide where I work. I can work at home, at Starbucks or wherever I feel like. But, I still have to work. And even though I set my prices, it takes time and experience to get to a point where I get paid what I want. Just like anything.

What steps did you take to become a freelancer?

I have a background in writing. I majored in English with a concentration in tech writing. I did PR and communications work for a nonprofit when I had my daughter and I decided to stop and rethink my life. I wanted to take care of her at home but work somehow.

Because of the decisions I made, I couldn’t pursue a job outside my home as a writer or journalist which is what I had planned. But, it didn’t stop me. So I decided to freelance. Here’s what I did:

  • Website. I created a simple website where I described my expertise and listed my services.
  • Network. I signed up with a few talent agencies in Chicago so I’d get freelance opportunities sent to my inbox almost daily. I joined my local chamber of commerce to meet businesses and I attended some of their events when I could. That’s how I got my first gigs.
  • Make time. I started freelancing because I wanted to keep working without having to leave my daughter at daycare. I started with only a few hours a week (about 5) and over a year, it has grown to about 20.
  • Don’t over plan. I had been flirting with the idea of freelancing for months before I started but I wasn’t sure where to even start. Instead of writing a complicated plan and buying expensive things. I started asking people if they needed my services. Once they said, “yes,” the planning began.

What’s your biggest advice?

Obviously, if you want to be a freelancer in any field you should have some of the experience working in that field, or it might be harder (though not impossible). If you’re thinking about jumping in without any experience, volunteer your work and build your portfolio.

The most important thing I learned is that it’s totally okay not to have everything figured out or be a master writer or designer before starting. This applies to almost anything you can think of. You don’t have to be Jimi Hendrix to play guitar in front a crowd, you don’t have to have mastered Mandarin to visit China. Not that you should dive in without a clue. But, just having enough knowledge to carry out a project will suffice. You can learn the rest as you go.

Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.”
Start where you stand,
and work with whatever tools you may have at your command,
and better tools will be found as you go along.

– George Herbert

What do you enjoy the most about freelancing?

Freelancers are trailblazers. Even if it’s scary to walk an unknown path, it’s also an adventure. But, it also doesn’t mean it’s an easy path. Discipline has never been my best friend and having a plan or roadmap in place has saved me.

To wrap up, I am still learning to be a freelancer. I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I don’t let uncertainty stop me. And it shouldn’t stop you.

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