You probably dreamed about becoming a freelancer after taking your first sip of office coffee on a Monday morning or after staying late working on a project that wasn’t supposed to be your responsibility on a Friday. Freelancing seemed like the perfect escape.
Many freelancers start their freelancing journey with starry-eyed dreams of having a flexible work schedule, working from exotic locations, and building a satisfying career.
And, while all of that is possible, what they don’t count on is that the life of a freelancer is both easier and harder than the life of a salaried programmer.
It is both simpler and more complicated.
It is both more rewarding and more frustrating.
It is both more freeing and more constraining.
Eventually, you’re due for a wake-up call.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love freelancing, as do many people.
In fact, in the United States, freelancers now make up nearly 35% of the workforce.
But, here’s the thing, freelancing isn’t like a traditional salaried career. You don’t put in the work for an annual raise, slowly climbing the corporate ladder.
Freelancing is a journey, and at least in the beginning, you only have a foggy idea of where or what the destination is.
Often, the short term objectives are clear and involve finishing projects, getting new clients, or meeting some goals you’ve set for yourself. But, the longer term questions of where you want to be in five years, what you want to be doing, and where you ultimately want your career to lead are covered by thickly obscuring fog.
Today, I want to talk about embracing the journey as a freelancer because this is the number one rule that you must learn. You MUST embrace this long, sometimes confusing, and somewhat opaque journey that you signed up for when you became a freelancer.
But, what exactly does “embracing the journey” mean? It’s a nice cliche, but how exactly are you supposed to do that?
Let me explain.
This could mean making long term plans. But, conversely, it could mean making a short term sacrifice for a long term gain, like refunding a client to maintain a relationship that will be profitable in the long term.
Generally though, taking the long view means keeping a clear eye on the urgent and the important.
In the day-to-day, it is easy to get these two confused, but they are not the same.
If you are like many freelancers, you will get many different types of clients. Some are central pillars of your business; others exist on the periphery.
Because you only have so many hours in the day, there is only so much you can do. And, while the peripheral client might be demanding early delivery of a project (the urgent), you know you have to take care of the client you’ve been working with for years (the important) first.
Taking the long view also involves maintaining a clear sense of where you are going. You don’t need to know your exact destination. But, if you know that you want to be working with a certain type of client three years from now, you need to do certain things to set yourself up today.
Sometimes, taking the long view means saying no to a client because you don’t think it is in your best interest for one reason or another. Maybe they’ll take too much time, robbing you of time with your family. Or, they could be asking for something that you are not proficient in and therefore, can’t guarantee results.
Either way, if you are clear about your long-term goals and the difference between urgent and important, you’ll consistently put yourself into situations where you can succeed.
Embracing the journey of freelancing also means recognizing that there will be ups and downs. Tweet this
In the daily grind, it is hard to keep perspective as a freelancer.
You feel invincible. The clients keep coming, your business keeps growing, and you are tempted to say yes to everything (and count the money as it rolls in.)
But, what happens when you get to the top of the mountain?
You have to head back down.
Good times will inevitably give way to bad ones.
Your success as a freelancer depends more on how you handle the bad times than how you handle the good ones.
This is radically different from a traditional company.
As a software engineer for a traditional company, the general success or health of the company isn’t really your daily concern and only becomes your concern if the company starts talking about restructuring, layoffs, or other ways to shed unwanted salary.
As a freelancer, though, the success of your career is always your concern, which makes everything so much more personal.
When a client doesn’t like your work, they don’t like YOUR WORK. That hurts.
When a client decides to leave you, they are leaving YOU. That hurts.
There are times when you feel invincible. Then, there are times when you feel worthless, asking yourself why anyone would be stupid enough to pay you for anything.
Which leads me to my next point.
If you look around, you’ll always find someone better than you at what you do.
They’ll be smarter, faster, more efficient, more well-spoken, or more attractive (which has nothing to do with programming, but we notice it anyway).
When you are pitching your services to a client, inside you’ll feel like a fool.
Over time, this feeling diminishes as you get more and more success beneath your belt.
But, it never really goes away.
Imposter syndrome is a constant companion, like a chronic disease you have to learn to live with.
You can’t let it paralyze you, because it will if you let it.
Relentless, constant, regular action.
If you are moving, working, meeting with clients, growing, and getting better, imposter syndrome doesn’t have the oxygen it needs to thrive.
The life of a freelancer is a life of action. You are getting stuff done for clients, for yourself, for your family. You are building habits that will help you be successful as a freelancer.
Every successful freelancer is an action-oriented person. And, every action-oriented person is capable of being a successful freelancer.
This can be an exceptional thing because if you are looking for a career that actually grows based on what you put into it, freelancing is for you.
Lastly, realize that there is only one constant in freelancing. Change.
Everything is always changing.
From the programs you use, to the technology you are developing, to the things your clients demand from you.
It is always changing.
While there are many tools that help you manage your business, ultimately your business is you.
This means that you need to read, study, and learn. If you don’t, you’ll soon fall behind the curve, and clients will look for someone else who can deliver what they want.
It also means you must be ready to adapt, change, and grow throughout your career. To do so, you can take advantage of industry conferences, local business organizations, and networking with other freelancers and online groups.
The more you put yourself out there and invest in your personal and professional growth, the better your business will become. You’ll be able to offer more to your clients, and your business will grow and become all you’ve dreamed it could be.
Each freelancer’s journey is unique, but there are some common denominators that all freelancers must embrace, sooner or later.
In order to realize your dreams, you’ll need to take the long view of things and determine what is important so as not to succumb to the urgent.
You’ll need to recognize that there will be ups and downs, and that how you handle the bad times will really determine your success as a freelancer.
You’ll need to face imposter syndrome and not let it paralyze you, but instead, be determined to take action.
Lastly, you’ll need to embrace and prepare for change - both in yourself and in your business.
If you’re able to do these things, your journey as a freelancer will become the flexible, rewarding, satisfying career that you’ve always wanted.
Thanks for reading!