Freelancing is a great way to make money, work independently, and control your day-to-day life. Once you’ve established yourself and built relationships, it gets easier to keep the work coming consistently, so you can stress less and enjoy more. But you may find yourself in a rut, taking low-paying work and not adding anything impressive to your portfolio.
As a freelancer, you’re also a small business owner, and organizations that don’t grow and evolve eventually fade away.
If growth isn’t happening for you, you may be holding yourself back.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned in my freelancing career that can help you take your work to the next level — so you can make more money and build more valuable relationships.
1. You’re afraid — and you don’t know it
We’re all afraid. The survey Fighting Fear: The 7 Billion Dollar Price Tag reported that 31% of respondents’ biggest fear is that of personal failure. Of those people, 13.4% reported losing a job as a result of that fear, while 6.1% gave up a promotion.
This fear of failure can affect your decision-making, and hence, your freelancing career. When a big opportunity comes your way, this fear may cause you to turn a big opportunity down.
Sure, you probably have plenty of other excuses for not taking the job, but the reality is that you’re scared you won’t do well.
This is the number-one obstacle to growing as a freelancer, because taking more challenging and higher-paying jobs is critical to moving forward in this career.
So how do you fight that fear? Be honest with yourself.
When a big gig comes through, write down the pros and cons before you say no. Maybe even run it by a good friend or your significant other. This may help you see the real reasons you immediately want to say no.
You might even want to remind yourself that you already took a huge, scary leap in going freelance in the first place — and look at how well that’s working out!
Once you take the job, and do it well, you’ll be more likely to take the next big one.
2. You’re not “bragging enough”
If you want to grow as a freelancer, you have to brag, but not necessarily in the traditional way.
As you complete projects for well-known brands, start adding them to your LinkedIn profile, as well as your portfolio.
And don’t forget to share on social media, too — you never know who might see that tweet and ask for your expertise. I’ve had quite a few people reach out to me because they saw my work being shared.
And be sure to point people to these specific projects to win a potential job as well. When I share links to specific articles I’ve written for high-profile publications, instead of just sharing a link to my portfolio, my success rate shoots way up.
(It’s true. She did that when she pitched me, and it totally worked. Ed.)
This not only allows you to show your most relevant work, but also to prove your worth as a freelancer right away. “Bragging” allows you to make more money and attract more opportunities — making it easier for you to grow as a freelancer.
3. You’re too focused on more, more, more
More clients doesn’t necessarily mean more money — unless they’re all paying you at your top rate, which is unlikely. But it’s hard to turn down paying work, even if pays less than you’d like.
Money is money, right?
Not necessarily. If you’re just starting out, then yes, taking whatever opportunities come your way is important. That’s how you start building relationships and your portfolio. But as an experienced freelancer, you have to start getting picky as a matter of respect to yourself, your knowledge and your time.
Plus, taking on lower-paying jobs can keep you from reaching out for higher-paying jobs — or worse, doing well on a project that has the potential to pay a lot.
Ultimately, taking this lower-tier work can end up having a snowball effect: If your work isn’t quite as good because you don’t have as much time or energy to put into it, you don’t show a potentially high-paying and consistent client your best work, and risk missing out on another job.
If an opportunity like this comes your way, and you’re still interested in it, the first step is to simply ask for more money. This is a lesson I’ve learned from my husband, and time and time again, I get a higher payment just by asking for it.
You don’t have to be rude, just honest. For example:
“Thanks for sending these details over. The project sounds great, but my fee is usually a bit higher. Is $XXX within your budget?”
The worst they’ll say is no. In which case, you can say:
“Thanks for letting me know. This sounds like an exciting project, but as of right now, I won’t be able to take it on. I will definitely be in touch in the future to see if there’s another way we can work together. Thanks again.”
While it’s hard to turn down work, you’ll be glad when a better opportunity hits your inbox in the next few days. I know what you’re thinking, “But what if I don’t get any other high-paying work? At least I have these lower paying ones to make up for it.” While that’s true, you don’t always have to take these opportunities to have them as a backup.
Freelancing is all about relationship building, so you need to make a good impression. Being honest and appreciative is the best way to do that without taking on work that’s not beneficial to you.
Using the tips above will help you do exactly that. If you’re running low on work, you can always go back, pitch another idea, or see if they need more work, and fill in the gaps then. They’ll remember you were polite and may be willing to work with you.
It's time for a change
Freelancing is a great way to build a career — you work by your own rules, often make more than an hourly or even salary wage, and still enjoy life. But it can get really stressful when you stop growing.
So if you’re in a rut, change it. As a freelancer, you have the power to do that, which is more than a lot of people can say.