Almost five years ago, I started working full-time as a freelance writer. Joining the community of freelancers was completely unintentional, but a necessity.
I was a co-founder of a startup that went belly-up. And I experienced something that every entrepreneur has to learn to stomach and recover from: the dark, miserable low of failure.
Opportunity Literally Calls
As I watched my company piffle out, I began looking for ways to pay the rent. Then my phone rang. It was a partner at one of the VC funds that had initially helped back our startup.
He and I regularly corresponded via email. He knew that I was the point person on the team whenever we needed to issue a press release or communicate with shareholders.
His schedule was beyond full, and my schedule was unexpectedly wide open. So I took on a project for him. It was at that moment that I started to bounce back from failure and chase a newly discovered opportunity.
It was a random event, but incredibly impactful. From that moment on I would pay my bills by putting the visions of others into words.
Sidenote: Going from broke to being a freelancer is not ideal. If you’re considering becoming a freelancer, I highly recommend Dana Davis’s advice on transitioning safely from corporate drone to freelancer extraordinaire.
Here’s What I’ve Learned About Freelancers Since Then
So here I am nearly half a decade later. And there are so, so many things I would tell my earlier self if only I could step into a time machine.
1. Stop Asking for Permission
One thing that held me back more than anything else was the false belief that I needed someone else’s permission to become an expert, learn something new, or accept payment for completing a task.
At the risk of spouting off a platitude or two, I’ll point out that the only person holding you back is the person looking back at you in the mirror.
The “gig economy” is full of people looking for ways to earn money by helping others. Turning a skill or passion into extra cash is exciting. But if you can step beyond the gig and become an expert, you can financially change your life.
You don’t need someone else’s permission to become an expert.
Experts are the hardworking people who have done something enough times to be able to confidently accept even the most complex assignments in their chosen fields.
There’s no fixed definition of what an expert is. The number of hours, months or years you spend in a field doesn’t matter. What really counts are the results that you can deliver to your clients.
The only opinions you should care about are those of your clients—the people who pay you to complete work on their behalf. Everyone else on the sidelines will have a lot to say, but you have to tune them out.
[clickToTweet tweet=”There is no authority who gets to decide whether or not you can try something new.” quote=”There is no authority who gets to decide whether or not you can try something new.”] Successful entrepreneurs and freelancers are willing to take a risk, try something new, and earn the respect of clients who are willing to pay them for their services.
2. Don’t Accept Other People’s Formulas for Success
Oh, and those people on the sidelines of life—they all have their own definitions of success. Those definitions will always be just a little bit out of reach, or they’ll distract you from the opportunities that can really drive your career forward.
If you run around chasing everyone else’s approval or definitions of success, you’ll find that you work twice as hard and barely make real progress on what really matters:
- Building meaningful relationships
- Taking exceptional care of clients
- Earning a reputation that allows you to gain additional clients without having to ask or aggressively advertise
- Finding time for the people in your life who build you up and inspire you to keep going
If you’re too busy paying for things you can’t afford to impress people who don’t deserve your attention, you’re going to burn out.
Instead, fight to deliver more value than your customers expect. This is called “over-delivering,” and it will set you up to raise your rates on a regular basis.
Over-delivering will allow you to focus your efforts on clients who really value the exceptional service you provide.
3. Embrace New Challenges
As I started to make a name for myself in a few circles, people started offering me opportunities to try my hand at different aspects of online marketing. Early on, I made the mistake of shying away from these opportunities. HUGE MISTAKE!
I eventually learned to say “yes” under the following conditions:
- I knew that I could probably figure out how to do it.
- The budget for the project was reasonable and wouldn’t require me to dramatically sacrifice my income in order to try something new.
- The client was willing to give me enough time to figure out the project and deliver something that met my standards.
By accepting new and unique assignments, I learned fresh ways to convert my craft into dollars. And I better understood how all of the assignments I had taken on in the past helped to impact the broader goals of the client.
As a freelance writer, I enjoyed a front row seat to how the best SEO gurus in the industry used content marketing to help their clients catapult their sites onto the first page of Google.
I realized how my writing was being used and why it mattered to the long-term success of the brand. Once this happened, I was able to confidently increase my rates and focus my talents on the tasks that produced results.
Define Your Own Success and Chase It Relentlessly
Today, I enjoy financial stability and professional success in a variety of fields. That would not be possible if I hadn’t learned (entirely too slowly) to:
- Stop asking for permission.
- Ignore the people on the sidelines.
- Accept new challenges with a sense of curiosity and determination.
I’m sure that, if you’re reading GrowMap, you’re a fellow hustler looking for ways to grow personally and professionally. You’ve experienced success and failure. I hope you’ll have the courage to share some of your experiences in the comments section below.
I look forward to hearing from you!
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