3 Years of Freelancing Full-Time: What Have Been The Biggest Surprises?

My friend Melanie asked me at happy hour tonight what I thought the biggest surprises of freelancing were for me. It’s an interesting question to think about. And to be honest, it’s a little hard to remember back to when I wasn’t freelancing.

But I know I’ve had a few good ideas all along. So if you’re thinking about freelancing full-time, here are some things I learned that may help you.

It takes a while to get started

I planned about 8 months ahead of time to quit my job and go freelance full-time. And yet I thought once I started, I’d be booked solid in no time. But that wasn’t the case.

I quickly realized one key thing: I had no idea how to get clients. Sure, I had found some clients that came my way organically. But that was through networking and other long-term means. Finding clients when I needed them wasn’t something I had done before, and it took months to get a system going.

Thank goodness for my $8,000 quit my job fund.

Marketing yourself is a long-term strategy

Going along with the point above, I realized after a while that I could get clients without even trying. And they’d come from the strangest places!

One found and hired me because I had worked for a competitor of theirs in the past, and they noticed this on LinkedIn.

The weirdest referral: a client found me in a testimonial I had left on a site completely unrelated to personal finance. And the kicker: I didn’t even mention I was a freelance writer in the testimonial!

This was an important lesson. Being everywhere does count. You just might not see the results right away.

I hate working at home in my pajamas

This one has turned out to be the biggest myth for me. When I quit my job, I was like “Great! No more commuting in to an office! I’m just going to stay at home and work in my pajamas!” Damn did that get old fast!

Instead, I found myself getting really bored and lonely. I also wasn’t very productive since working out of my apartment (that I shared with roommates) didn’t leave me much space for a dedicated workspace.

About 6 months in I joined a coworking space, and I’ve been commuting to an office for my freelance work ever since.

Working on a schedule (like 9-5) actually makes the most sense

Another thing I thought I would love before I quit my job: flexible scheduling. I would just work when I felt like it. Nights, weekends, whenever. I wasn’t doing the 9-5 thing anymore, that was for sure!

But again, this just wasn’t great for productivity. Instead, I’d get more stressed, especially without clear boundaries between work and free time. I soon found that having some sort of work time scheduled was best. And what’s worked best has resembled a 9-5, M-F schedule or something similar.

However, I do take time off when I need it and wouldn’t be able to do at a normal full-time job. I’ll roll into my office at 9:30 am if my workout runs late. And unless I have something super urgent to do, I’ll take Friday afternoons off. Don’t get me wrong, I love this part of freelancing. But I do need some structure to work within.

Do you freelance? What’s been most surprising for you?

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