This month my freelancing business turns TWO years old! And what a big two years it’s been – with huge highs, lows and everything in between. I am so proud of how far my little business has come and so grateful for the flexible lifestyle and freedom it has given me. The last two years have made me more certain than ever that freelancing or running your own business is a truly amazing way to make a living. You are your own boss, you can work whenever you like, from wherever you like and on whatever you like. I couldn’t recommend it more, which is why I try to encourage nearly everybody I meet to start a business venture of their own!
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though… starting your own business takes a huge amount of hard work, passion and perseverance. Navigating life as a freelancer and small business owner over the last two years has taught me some powerful lessons that I wish somebody had told me before I started… which is exactly why I am sharing them with you today!
If you are at the beginning of your freelancing or small business owner journey, or perhaps you’ve already got things started but you’re still looking for some guidance, then this post is for you. Keep on reading to discover the 10 biggest lessons I learned in my first 2 years of freelancing, so you can learn from my mistakes and make the next two years of your life a whole lot easier!
Number 1: Refine your services and make sure that you love them
When you first start out, it’s easy to fall into a trap of offering a huge variety of services to a massive target market because you fret about not getting enough work on board, so you try to offer as much as you can possibly think of. But doing this makes it hard to find your niche or area of expertise and you end up a jack of all and master of none. It also increases the chances of you ending up working on services that you don’t actually enjoy doing, and what’s the point in freelancing if you’re not doing something you’re passionate about?
Number 2: Price your services correctly
How to price yourself as a freelancer is one of the hardest things to decipher when you first start out, no matter what the industry – and it will continue to be a challenge as the years go on! There is no exact science to this but it is one of the most important things to work out, because fundamentally we all work to get paid. It is such an important topic that I have written a whole juicy blog post on it called “How To Price Yourself as a Freelancer”.
Number 3: Don’t wait for the work to come to you
So you’ve set your website up, you have a swish logo and your socials are looking hot to trot. Time to sit back and wait for the enquiries to roll in? Absolutely not! If you want to have full books week on week, you’ve got to be proactive not reactive when it comes to finding new work. The best thing I ever did for my freelancing business was spend the first few weeks discovering brands online that aligned with my interests and expertise, making a note of their email addresses and then pitching, pitching, pitching! Within month 3 of freelancing I was already at capacity and since then have got most of my new business through word of mouth and referrals.
Putting yourself out there is so important in the early stages and there are so many ways you can do this – email or social media pitches, networking at events (download the Meet Up app it’s epic), advertising, promoting yourself in online forums, the list goes on… Set yourself a target each week for how many businesses you want to contact and keep at it until you are at max capacity.
Number 4: Working on your business is just as important as working for your business
Someone once told me that you should take at least 1 day each week to work on your business, not just for your business. Working on your business might look like – updating your website, planning your social media content, writing new blog posts, sending out emails to your mailing list, refining your services or pricing, evaluating and updating your systems, setting up automations, gathering client testimonials, sending and tracking your invoices and accounts, organising your calendar, networking at events, pitching new clients, discovering new brands, sharing your work to your portfolio, meeting with your mentor and setting up marketing strategies.
Keeping on top of all of these things ensures that your business stays fresh, your admin stays organised, enquiries keep rolling in and you stay on track with your goals. I recommend blocking time out in your calendar or diary to do all of these things, otherwise it’s easy to forget or push it aside. Personally I like to do this every Wednesday as it breaks up my week of client work.
Number 5: Invest in yourself
You’ve got to spend money to make money! Obviously when you start freelancing you don’t want to be spending thousands of dollars on your business before it’s made you anything, but it’s still really important to invest in yourself and your business to make sure it looks professional and credible. Things to prioritise: your website, your branding, your domain name, your equipment (e.g. if you’re a photographer, you’re gonna need a camera!), professional photography and education to help up-skill you such as online courses or personal development.
As time goes on you’ll also find that spending money can actually save you money – for example I pay for subscriptions to software that makes my life so much easier, saves me time and therefore frees up my hours so I can spend more time focusing on income generating activity. A couple of my favourites: Planoly – social media scheduling app, Lightroom – photo editing app, Xero – accounting software, G Suite – organises my whole entire life. If you want more info on this topic, I’ve written a blog post on “The Top 5 Areas of Your Business To Invest In” – which you can read here.
Number 6: Set goals
You can’t get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you’re going. It’s important to set some time aside on a regular basis to work on your business goals. At the beginning of each year I write down goals for my business, then at the beginning of each month I write down mini goals as actionable steps that are going to help me get closer to achieving the big goals. For example if you are a photographer and you want to make $100k this year, how many photo shoots each month will that take? What do you have to do each month to ensure you are getting those shoots locked in? Some of your monthly goals might therefore look like – send out 100 email pitches, update portfolio once each week, create 2 Facebook ads, book in 6 clients for next month, etc. etc.
While you are setting your goals, make sure you jot down a reward that you’re going to give yourself for every goal that you achieve, it acts as a brilliant motivator. For example if you book in 6 clients for the month, you get to treat yourself to a dinner at your favourite restaurant. If you reach $100k for the year you get to treat yourself to a weekend away. I also like to set personal goals as well as professional goals, to help keep that work life balance in check!
Number 7: Set boundaries
Setting boundaries with your clients and customers is super important. It is so easy to manage peoples expectations by informing them of your working hours (or adding them to your website / email footer) and not making exceptions to those rules, just like how a more established business won’t open up shop or answer calls on a Sunday night – why should you?
Setting boundaries with your partner, family and friends is incredibly important too. As soon as you start working from home, people seem to think that all your time is ‘free time’ and imagine you spending your days watching Jeremy Kyle and doing backward rolls across the carpet. Although no one ever means any harm in asking, consistently taking time out of your working week to do favours for other people can have a negative effect on your productivity and stop you from reaching your full potential.
Most importantly you have to set boundaries with yourself, such as when and where work time stops and personal time starts. When you work for yourself it’s easy to let your professional life blend into your personal life, but I really recommend trying your hardest to keep the two separate to ensure you stay happy and healthy. This might mean turning off email notifications, avoiding social media at the weekends or leaving your phone or laptop in the kitchen at night. Check out my blog post “How To Stay Productive and Happy While Working From Home” for more info on this topic.
Number 8: Prioritise your health
Freelancing and running your own business can be very stressful and isolating which can obviously take a huge toll on your mental health. Make sure you allow lots of down time, self care and socialising to keep on top of this. Your physical health is just as important – so make sure you factor in plenty of time each day for exercise, fresh air, sunshine and FOOD! Nourishing your body with goodness will keep you happy, healthy and sooo much more productive! My favourite ways for keeping sane during the working week are – ocean swims, walking my pooch, yoga, acupuncture, reading, socialising, cooking, creating, gardening and… a little bit of netflix, cos I am only human. I schedule breaks and exercise into my Google Calendar every week to make sure that I find the time for them every day.
Number 9: Believe in yourself
Have confidence in yourself and the skills that you offer! If you ooze confidence, your clients and potential clients will pick up on this and have confidence in you too! Keep the value that you bring to others at the forefront of your mind, try to avoid comparing yourself to other people (especially on social media) and stay focused on your why and your goals.
Number 10: Don’t let the haters bring you down!
Last but not least – this is the most important lesson I have learned over the last two years and something I have to remind myself on a regular basis. Unfortunately when you start your own business or start working for yourself, you are doing something that is against the status quo. This can often challenge other people as it makes them question their own lives or it can threaten their way of thinking. Some people might ask you relentless questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing, they might put doubts in your mind, they might flat out insult you or your choices, they might troll you on the internet or speak badly behind your back, the list goes on!
Personally, I only care about someone else’s opinion if I aspire to be like them and I’d say 100% of the people that I aspire to be like are far too busy accomplishing great things to ever discourage someone else and their dreams. A few things I like to do to protect myself from the haterz are: stay away from people who drain your energy, who gossip or who don’t support you – instead surround yourself with people that are passionate, energising and bring out the best in you. Surprisingly, you may find that some of the doubts come from those closest to you in life, which can be a really tricky pill to swallow. If you feel as though you can’t stay away from them, then either ignore their opinions or just limit the amount of information you share with them so that the conversation doesn’t invite any of their negative criticism in.
There will be haters, there will be doubters, there will be non-believers, and then there will be you, proving them all wrong.
I hope that these lessons help you on whatever stage of your journey you’re currently in. I also hope that if you are reading this, wondering whether or not to make the leap into freelancing, it gives you a little more courage to do so. Starting my freelancing business was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and if I can do it, then you can too!