Today marks my 3rd anniversary of freelancing. So to keep myself on my toes and to not to put a good milestone to waste, here are my key lessons learned from freelancing in the past year.
Note, I’ve tried to avoid some of the more usual points which come up often such as networking and continually marketing. Don’t forget these if you are new to freelancing, though.
(Almost) everything is an opportunity to improve your craft
As a marketing contractor, I’ve had to work on a huge range of tasks across all major channels and business types. Honestly, not all of these have been my cup of tea, and it has always been tempting to give the channels and businesses you don’t prefer your second-best.
But this is a mistake to be avoided. As marketers, we shouldn’t forget that every job is an opportunity to improve our craft. Whether that’s learning more about how an industry works, perfecting our techniques, or even our client management.
For example, social has never been a favourite channel of mine. But as I delve more into it recently in order to ‘really make it work’, naturally I’m getting better results for my clients and changing it from a chore into something more invigorating.
Another example not to miss. It is always worth building a document to support the particular marketing activity you’re doing for the present and the future. How many times have you re-invented the wheel by developing a template for your content calendar or similar activity from scratch?
Sometimes I regret following this lesson more deeply earlier on in my journey, as I’ve come back to different channels (with a renewed project or interest) and wished I had experimented and developed my techniques more deeply before.
Taking notes has so many benefits.
- It is central to learning things. Imagine you are taking notes for any topic you formally study, surely this is going to help.
- It helps you organise and develop your techniques and knowledge as a marketer. Do you really know the answer to a particular aspect of that channel or technique? Do you have statistics or commentary to back up your approach?
- It’s a great resource to show your knowledge in particular areas of marketing and can also help clients. I’ve found it useful to share notes I’ve written about particular topics such as SEO or LinkedIn with clients to give them a quick rundown of a topic and how I approach it.
Build marketing assets
One of the first tips I got from my freelance mentor was to make a personal site. Yet honestly, it took me too long to take it seriously. Personally, these assets are starting to pay off well now so developing these more seriously from the beginning would have been obviously better.
Why aren’t more of us doing it? Part of the reason for me was feeling too self conscious about what I’m writing. I didn’t want to get into putting myself out as a ‘wannabe thoughtfluencer’.
It doesn’t have to be like this. I could have started with just sharing notes like my FAQ articles which collate resources on particular topics. Or even posting short updates (like these). Over time, these posts build up into a real marketing asset, giving you content to share with clients and a presence in Google.
I still haven’t needed to get into thoughtfluencing yet, either. 😉
Don’t stop building the portfolio
Over time, it has become more apparent how important the portfolio really is – even for marketers who don’t traditionally have them.
On the hiring end, it’s happened too often that applying sub-contractors or freelancers don’t have much to demonstrate their expertise other than a line in their resumes. Likewise, on my side I’ve often found myself explaining my experience via screenshares which really should have been prepared ahead of time.
Feeling your way around is normal (and worth it)
It seems plenty of freelance advice videos talk about the need to specialise and niche as soon as possible. But I think: take your time to try.
With my new found freedom, I worked on several ‘niches’ of specialisation and I often felt rushed to provide my network and clientele with an area of specialised expertise. The problem with this is that I didn’t really know what I enjoyed and excelled at when providing it as a freelance service – and changing your positioning or offering is confusing for clients.
Freelancing (in marketing at least) is such a broad category with so many elements that you risk missing an area where you really excel. For example, perhaps you really do prefer B2C vs B2B. Or a mix of both, or copywriting vs graphic design, etc etc. How are you suppose to know all of these things with a big enough dataset to make a sustainable decision within 1 year?
If I had my time again, I would have rather put myself forward as a generalist, taken work in a range of disciplines and sought more work of the kind where I excelled and enjoyed it over time. Staying open to change until it became more and more obvious which particular area was the right fit.
If you’re starting out in freelancing, I hope these lessons might give you some ideas for reflection on your path ahead.
And for those of you further down the track, what are you key lessons? Feel free to share yours in the comments below with a link to your posts on the same.