My second freelance anniversary: lessons learned

The view from Seoul Finance Tower, Justco co-working space.

Hooray! (again).

I just passed my second year of freelancing.

Since writing my last post gave me a good opportunity to mark down some of my key lessons, mainly to myself, I thought I would write another one this year to chronicle my movements.

For those who know me, there is an interesting spin to this year’s post. But I will leave that to the end (perhaps a cheap ploy to get you to read the whole thing).

So for now, onto the high horse and key learnings!

Pigeonholing isn’t always a bad thing

Something I’ve noticed for new freelancers, including myself, was the temptation to offer a broad range of services.

This seems to mainly happen around moving from supplying a range of things to your ex-employer and then offering them to anyone who might be interested to hire you to do the same.

The problem with this is that without focus – admin and professional development can hold you back.

Offering 5 different services, even if profitable, can be very difficult to keep on top of. Developing your skills in these areas is a constant occupation, and it is your job to be an expert in these as much as you physically can.

The other issue is that this does not always lend itself to the ‘structure of work’. For instance, even if you are good at graphic design, WordPress development and market research – the chances that companies will consider you to do all these things for them in combination are slight.

Also, by setting yourself up to provide these disconnected services, you become an awkward hire for those looking for a ‘market research firm or consultant’, or ‘web design shop’, or ‘graphic designer for social media’.

Flying into and building your nest in a nice comfy pigeon-hole isn’t such a bad thing.

Actually, I’ve found that it makes your work easier easier.

You only have to focus on one type of work and you can structure your services to fit with what clients are looking for.

Packages often beat custom

In the beginning, I offered my services based on an time estimate for each job. Each client asked for something a little different, so I considered this to be the best way to do it.

But what I didn’t realise was ‘the power’ of work packages.

Work packaging means deciding what you will provide, for how much, and how long -ahead of time.

Why do this?

It makes life easier for your clients. Let’s face it, often clients don’t even know what they need to buy – that’s why they’re coming to ‘experts’ like you.

Also, having packaged offerings ahead of time helps clients understand exactly the parameters and what’s involved. Little explanation is required.

And for you? There are more benefits.

Offering packages takes the guesswork out of quotes. Having done a task few times, you can add and subtract the details that are important to your clients, outline the process and set reasonable timeframes (for both) with consideration.

The added benefit is that packages can sometimes allow you some time-leverage in that good results delivered faster than anticipated can mean an effectively higher rate per hour for you.

A few good eggs

I’ve had some great clients and some backaches, too.

Regardless, I’ve found one thing to be particularly important in managing clients in the past two years. Manage less of them.

If you’re anything like me, there is a temptation to add on as many clients you can to make a target income.

Unfortunately, this creates some problems because adding more clients makes you less efficient.

Apart from risking the quality of your work by overworking, the mental burden of multiple clients increases almost exponentially.

For example, imagine trying to handle 3 sets of relationships versus 6. Three would be possible, but 6 is more than double the work.

It’s also true that more clients means more admin work; invoicing, chasing invoice payments, creating, organising and directing plans for the month, etc.

For me, I’ve found it better to focus on a few key clients.

Getting stale

It’s a cliche to say you should always keep learning. But I feel this is especially true for freelancing and is worth the double-line underscore to highlight it.

Freelancing is a lonesome sport. You don’t get many colleagues to show you how they do things, to let you pick their brains, or to otherwise learn from. There’s only ‘me’ in team.

On the other hand, clients are correctly less than keen to let you experiment new techniques and ideas with their money. You’re being paid to provide results based on what you’ve done.

The problem with this is that it can lead to getting stagnant. Over time, if you are like me, you might find yourself simply applying the same ideas and techniques over and over – some of which go out of date!

In my case, I spent too much time getting on top of freelancing and learning those skills – so that when I was done, I was over trying to keep pushing to learn new things and forgot about developing my marketing skills in general.

Now I’ve discovered a whole new world of things I can get into, that I enjoy, and that are interesting because I am more focused on learning.

Stay open minded

Have you ever wondered, why do we do this?

And not just at the end of a hard day when you question your often poor life-choices (that’s just me).

But it is a valid question, and probably worth bringing up every now and then.

For me, I found it helpful to consider this question every 6-12 months. Freelancing can be about a personal combination of things: autonomy/freedom, income, skill development, fun, etc

A good friend and mentor of mine often reminds me, your work is supposed to be in return for the life you want. Roughly speaking.

By checking in with myself every now and then, I could keep track of what I was really doing and whether that aligned with my goals. Most of the time, this kept me motivated in work. And other times, it flagged that something needed to be changed.

Do you seek greener pastures?

Having hit the 2 year mark, I feel happy about what I’ve accomplished in my past two years. But also, I feel interested in trying something else.

Working freelance, I miss the opportunity to focus 100% on developing my approaches on a consistent project with the majority of my time. Something easily taken for granted when working at a regular job.

Conclusion

If you are looking at getting into freelancing, I hope these pointers can give you a head start to avoid some of the mistakes I made, and try some alternative approaches.

But most of all, I hope you don’t forget the reason why you freelance and take steps to make sure it is working for you.

Read more: My third year’s lessons

1 thought on “My second freelance anniversary: lessons learned”

  1. > Regardless, I’ve found one thing to be particularly important in managing clients in the past two years. Manage less of them.

    Preach.
    Would love to hear how you manage scope creep with packages.

    Reply

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