How to Freelance:
These 5 Misconceptions Are Holding You Back as a Freelancer
Freelancing has been around for decades but only in recent years and through the vast possibilities of new technology has it become a synonym for people working all over the world by using only a computer and Wi-Fi.
Freelancers are often the link between customers and business owners. They provide services of all kinds and in exchange they get to live quite an autonomous life, including the freedom to work from wherever they want to, whenever they want — at least that’s the theory.
The presumption that you can be your own boss and work whenever and wherever you want tempts many to believe that freelancing is an easy ride.
The presumption that you can be your own boss and work whenever and wherever you want tempts many to believe that freelancing is an easy ride. But after many years of being a freelancer myself and observing people from all kinds of industries, I have to admit that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Freelancing can be a rocky road and for many the dream ends before it can actually begin. But why is it that so many freelancers go broke? Who is to blame? In this article I would like to map out 5 common misconceptions on Freelancing and how to do it right.
Before we get started, I’d like to go back a few steps and define freelancing as a unique form of employment. As freelancers we are not employed with a company but we work for ourselves. We are our own human resource and BTW the only one we can rely on. We provide services to businesses and in exchange we get to be ‘independent’. So far, so good. Since we often work alone and sometimes for one single company only, it sometimes feels like we are still employed. We have deadlines to meet, angry people disagreeing with our ideas, endless hours on the computer, countless coffee breaks and episodes of mindless scrolling through Instagram. Yep, that’s one side of it. The other side is way more serious. It’s that part in which you are an entrepreneur, self-employed, responsible for finding new customers, always busy working and meeting your clients’ needs, figuring out good marketing strategies…The list goes on and on. As I already said, it’s a rocky road sometimes.
As an employee you will get paid, however good or bad you choose to perform.
Even though we sometimes feel like employees, we are not. As an employee you will get paid, however good or bad you choose to perform. Most employees don’t have to search for new clients or customers, they usually enjoy a convenient 9 to 5 wheel that they can rely on. (It’s super easy to schedule a night out with your friends when you know that your office day ends at 5 pm.)
As a freelancer you are your own boss, which is cool, but you’re also the one kicking your butt when work needs to be done. And here lies the problem. Many newbies assume that it is all about working whenever and wherever you want. In reality it’s the other way around, you are working wherever you are and whenever you are — meaning, always!
I have been a part-time freelancer since 2013 and full-time since 2017.
I’ve worked as a language trainer for English and German for six years and in no other industry have I seen as many broke professionals as in this one. So, how come so many freelancers go broke, particularly freelancing teachers and coaches? Who’s to blame? The system? Society? Or should we maybe blame ourselves?
Here are some statements/assumptions that I’ve heard from freelancers a million times and while my experience is mostly based on freelancing teachers and language trainers, it definitely applies to freelancers in general.
- ‘I want to work whenever I want and from wherever I want’ — I should start counting the times I’ve heard this one! Do not get into freelancing if all you want is to work whenever you want and from wherever you want. It will inevitably set you up for failure because you focus on your spare time instead of productivity. While I understand that independence is important and many freelancers enjoy the freedom of working from an exotic island, I think one should first and foremost concentrate on building a customer base. Just focusing on beautiful islands and loads of spare time is not only naive and irresponsible but can also lead to financial ruin. And PS: Get off of Instagram! It’s misleading!
- ‘There’s no money in freelancing’ — There seems to be an inherent belief that freelancers are paid poorly and that there is no sense in fighting this irrevocable truth. What I observe is that not only teachers but also many freelancers in the creative field succumb to this false assumption. This leads to people giving up on their dreams before even getting started and makes newbies settle for less than they’re worth. Sometimes people will go so far as to try and convince me that there is ‘really no way you can make money in freelancing’ — I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about it?? They see my success, they see how many clients I pull in, they see how busy I am and still they will not believe in success. That’s how deep and damaging this limiting mindset goes — such a pity!
Who said there is no money in being a freelancing teacher/creative? Where does this belief even come from? Please people, wake up, it’s the 21st century! There are literally hundreds of thousands of possibilities to make money with your skill. Educate yourself through literature, courses, the Internet or even school and university. Learn as much as possible about how you can make money and how you can market yourself. Make sure that your pricing is adequate. Be resourceful in every possible way!
- ‘I’ll learn along the way’ — A promise that I have heard way too many times. And I have to admit openly, some people really suck at their jobs. My advice: Know your skill, master your skill! While you can and probably should start out with basic or little knowledge and slowly build it up, you should definitely know your target group on each level. You can’t sell your basic knowledge to high-end companies because the probability of doing a bad job and leaving a bad impression is real! So why risk your reputation? Instead, build your knowledge, invest in your education, grab every possibility you have to learn more and refine your skill. The better you become, the higher the chances of attracting high-profile clients and making more money. Unfortunately, I see many freelancers go broke by taking it too easy with their professional proficiency and by providing low quality work.
- ‘I’ll do everything myself’ — Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome that you want to be in control of every business step you take, but you definitely don’t have to make every step on your own! Knowing yourself can be a major game changer when talking business. I see many freelancers who don’t know their strengths at all and take their weaknesses lightly. Both can be immensely damaging to your business. Why so, you might ask? Well, knowing for example that you are a well-organized person will help you to meet deadlines but also keep your paperwork in order. Also, knowing that you for instance are really bad with numbers will make you want to consider hiring someone to look after your books and taxes. If you are unaware of your qualities as a person, it might result in bad business for you. I urge you to sit down and figure out what you’re good at and what you really suck at. Being aware of our strengths and weaknesses is crucial if you want to become a sustainable freelancer.
- ‘I have this one great job that is making me enough money’ — Warren Buffet already said it: Don’t rely on one income, have multiple income streams. Yes, it’s not easy to achieve but in freelancing an absolute must. I talk to many freelancers and the one thing they totally tune out is having multiple income streams. Like big businesses, we as freelancers need to diversify our income as best as possible. Thus, we can make sure that if one client drops our services or withdraws their assignments, we are still able to support ourselves financially. Way too many times I’ve seen people go back to their old jobs just because they weren’t able to overcome short-term loss of earnings. So my advice is to constantly look for possibilities to diversify your income. And, you guessed right, I too have multiple income streams.
I too have multiple income streams: I teach English and German at a language school, I proofread academic theses, I tutor students and offer language courses to big companies. In addition, I love photography and I do shootings every now and then.
All in all, I believe that life as a freelancer can be satisfying and sustainable if done correctly. In my case it has worked out successfully because I sat down and I did my homework. I knew what I wanted and I was ready to go all in — knowing my strengths and weaknesses. Today I am a highly paid language trainer for English and German and I work with high-profile clients from all over the world. I too have multiple income streams: I teach English and German at a language school, I proofread academic theses, I tutor students and offer language courses to big companies. In addition, I love photography and I do shootings every now and then.
And here’s one last bit of advice for my newbies out there: Don’t ever get discouraged by other people’s success. Educate yourself, learn as much as you can and master your skill. Quality work always pays off! I made a ton of mistakes when I first started and remained a part-time freelancer for almost 4 years before taking a leap of faith. You too can become a successful freelancer if you’re willing to work a lot — wherever you are and whenever you are ;-)