Six Months a Freelancer: Here’s What I’ve Learned

Think you want to start freelancing online? This post might just be what you need.

I must sound like a broken record by now but: I’ve been officially freelancing for the last six months. Things have snowballed for me in many good ways since I began, and I thought it would be nice to talk about my experience with the gig lifestyle so far. It makes sense to provide some background to how I started freelancing online.

Getting Started Freelancing Online

After finishing medical school, I decided to follow a different path instead. Besides photography, my other skill was writing. I’d written pretty consistently for the last four years, keeping up with a blog, writing fiction, contributing to other websites, and more. I’d also tried my hand at editing, but honestly didn’t care too much for it at the time.

Once I made up my mind to give freelancing a shot, I revived my Upwork account and started bidding on jobs right away. I also signed up to Freelancer around the same time. Then, I revamped this website and set up a hiring page. Starting out on freelancing websites deserves its own post altogether and I’ll work on that! But it IS possible to succeed when you start out that way.

The main challenge with getting started is booking your first one or two jobs. Once that happens and you get favorable reviews, things really do take off from there.

how-to-start-freelancing-online

Finding a Freelancing Rhythm and Clients

Because I started on Upwork, I had to find and pitch myself to potential clients. At first, I got small jobs. I worked as a WordPress virtual assistant for two weeks. Then I transcribed audio for a couple of weeks. I also did one-off content writing in the health, business, legal, and lifestyle niches. One of my least favorite jobs was working with a pharmaceutical journal.

When I started, I thought I’d really only write for the health scene since my background is in medicine, but I realized I hated academic writing. So I bounced around trying different things from ghostwriting non-fiction to editing fiction and non-fiction. Thankfully, I began to find clients I enjoyed working with, one of whom I still work with after seven months!

By the end of my first month on Upwork, I had earned more than I’d ever earned in a month in my entire life. You can also find work opportunities on Facebook groups like Freelancing Females which I really like.

Freelancing Challenges

My biggest challenge in the beginning was impostor syndrome and terrible anxiety. I was always afraid that I would wake up and be fired by an employer. Earning income was exhilarating, but it was also frightening that one person not needing you anymore could mean a massive income cut. I’m still nervous about finances, but after working with close to 50 different clients, I know there will always be work. Getting fired by one boss just means you need to go find another gig (it sucks, but it’s not hopeless).

Something else I struggled with was work-life balance. Working for yourself from home often means you’re always working. Especially if you love your work and have always have work waiting on you (the freelancer dream), you’ll always be thinking of work.

I work part-time–four days out of seven–but freelancing is my only source of income. So, I’ve had clients/projects where I had to stay up late, work 10-12 hour days, skip lunch, and other bad-for-you things. In the first month, I was always applying to jobs, so I was constantly overworked.

Now, I’m so much better at caring for myself. I have a schedule I like and can afford to take on only work that excites me. It also helps that I only have about three or four excellent clients who respect and trust me to get work done.

Working for yourself from home often means you're always working. Here are ten tips for being a better freelancer. Click To Tweet

In Slower Work Seasons…

I sleep, read, pray that more work comes soon, spend time with friends, enjoy my volunteer work, and repeat. In the beginning of my freelancing career, when I had one free day, I’d spend it panicking about having no work and then the next day three clients would sign up. I’d end up tired, with a lot of work, and wishing I had just enjoyed my time off. So now, that’s what I do.

If I’m really desperate for work, I can always bid on interesting projects and use the time to find more clients through my blog and other connects–marketing!

How to Price Freelancing Services

I’m terrible at this, but I’ve learned this:

Do the research: Things are different depending on where you live and the kind of work you do, but knowing what other freelancers charge for their services helps a LOT. For me, I snooped on other people’s Upwork profiles and read a gazillion articles about what to charge for writing articles. When I started editing, I found the EFA rates Mollie suggested to be very helpful. You then just have to decide whether to charge per word or hour–the greatest dilemma of all. You may also find the Freelancing Females Rate Sheet helpful to see what others around the world earn.

Related:  Mollie Reads on Freelance Editing

Count your costs: Now that you have an idea of the ballpark figure, it’s time to count costs. This is tricky in the beginning because freelancing isn’t paying your bills yet. So I estimated how much time it took to research and write an article or edit one. Then, I’d calculate how much work I’d have to do to earn reasonable pay from the job every month. It’s a lot of calculating (which is dreadful if you hate math like I do).

Evaluate the value you’re bringing: This also includes considering your client’s budget and how much you want the gig. I love that Upwork gives you a “rate tip” based on what your potential client has paid other freelancers in the past. Also, if you’re ghostwriting content, you should charge a befitting fee. If your client is going to keep benefiting from the traffic your work is bringing for years to come, you should also take that into account.

Be sure you’re okay with it: At the end of the day, you know what you need/want. Some freelancers (like my friend, Kay) don’t even bargain with clients–they just take what they’re given. If you feel well-compensated by your employer, you may want to accept their rate, even though it doesn’t meet “standard” expectations. Many standards are set because of the higher cost of living in other lands, so it really is variable and pay is personal to an extent.

Lay the groundwork for a possible raise: It goes a long way to prepare your employer. Let them know when they hire you that you’re accepting a certain fee because you expect to revisit the salary in X amount of time. That way, everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises when you ask for a raise.

Why I Love Freelancing

I really cherish the flexibility of freelancing. In many ways, it is the perfect job for me. I decide my hours, my clients, the work I do–it’s on me. It’s also pretty rad that I can support myself by working with words, developing content, writing newsletters, and researching weird, but intriguing topics.

Morning Ritual

I’m such a morning person! I’ve experimented with several work day routines but this one has stuck:

  • Wake up at 5:30/6am
  • Do my Bible reading, meditate, pray
  • Work out (at least twice a week)
  • Check social media messages
  • Make breakfast and shower/shower and make breakfast
  • Get to my desk, reply emails, and get to work

I currently create and manage content for multiple websites, one of which is KacheeTee. My job description ranges from planning content outlines, SEO, writing content, editing content, and conducting interviews. I get bored easily, so you will catch me switching from client to client throughout the day.

It’s really a lot of fun. I typically work 9-7, but if I spend too much time doing blog work or other non-billable stuff during the day, I’ll need to work even later.

Want to start freelancing? Here's how I got started, how I find clients, what I've learned, and my top freelancing tips and resources. Click To Tweet

Top Freelancing Tips and Resources

These are the tips that have helped me find my footing as a freelancer. Many of these tips I wish I knew when I started, but it’s okay–I know now.

  •  Invest in Your Craft

When I started freelancing, I was pretty broke. But I found many great books on Scribd about writing and editing (linked 20 of them in this post) and just inhaled many of them. They helped A TON. I felt more confident in my work, stopped making embarrassing mistakes, and just enjoyed my work more. Of course, you can’t learn everything, so be open to learning as you go. 80 percent of my knowledge of websites honestly came from one of my first clients, so there.

  • Get a Portfolio

This is crucial for new freelancers. Have links to your published work online. If you have no published work, create a blog and start writing. If you’re an illustrator, website designer, or artist, create a portfolio! It shows employers that you’re serious and have your life together, even when you don’t. As an editor, I offer sample edits to help writers see whether or not we’d be a good fit. I think that’s the best idea for editors.

  • It Won’t Always Be Fun

There will bad months, bad clients, bad jobs–terrible jobs–but you’ll live. Just try to always do your best work for each client. And run like crazy in the opposite direction when you see the signs of a bad client or when your gut tells you a job is bad for you. Freelancing is WORK. As fun as it is, people depend on you, you have deadlines, and sometimes the work is hard. There have been times when an article was due the next day and I couldn’t write anything until 9pm the night before. It’s frightening, especially when you’re naturally eager to please or prone to anxiety. So, bring your grit.

  • Prepare to Receive Funds

A frequent question I get is “how do you get paid?!” I live in the Caribbean, but as close as we are to the States, it’s still a third-world country and Paypal does not let us accept payments yet. So I get paid by wire transfer. When I used Freelancer, I got paid via another payment system called Skrill (it works in Nigeria too!). For wire transfers, it will cost an additional 30 US per withdrawal, but I just add that to my costs and withdraw only once a month. Skrill costs a bit less, but they’re pretty much the same to me. Plus, I can track my wire through Upwork–which I had to do one month when my funds didn’t arrive.

  • Be Professional

Especially in the beginning, it’s so important to be professional. Express yourself formally without being too “stiff.” Address clients respectfully, even when you’re upset. Understand all the terms clearly before you accept an offer (no matter how exciting it seems) and always let clients know ahead of time if you’ll be unable to deliver. Take deadlines dead seriously, but take the quality of your work even more seriously.

  • Know Your Limits, But Push Them

I will write an entire post about succeeding on Upwork, but flexibility is a major key. Try many things, even when you feel grossly underqualified. Research any questions or unfamiliar terms and try to work independently. Most clients I’ve had preferred freelancers who could work without too much direction from them. You also gain skills as you try new things. I understand so many platforms and tools now because I was willing to accept jobs run on those platforms, even when I didn’t know how to use them. Eventually, I found a sweet spot and now focus on editing and website/content management, but it took a while and a lot of trial and error.

  • Work Hard and Smart

Every freelancer is different. Maybe your goals involve writing for a magazine or designing websites, but to succeed or simply survive as a freelancer, you’ll need to work hard. It helps to identify your strengths, build new skills, and continue to hone them. Pitch/bid for jobs as aggressively as possible and set financial goals to keep you motivated. You’ll also learn that in freelancing, not just any job will do–you need to choose clients well.

  • Find Long-term Clients

I remember one key point from Adebola Rayo’s interview was finding clients and continuing to prove your usefulness–it’s so true! Long-term/retainer clients are the bedrock of successful freelancing. When you find a client who enjoys working with you and who you enjoy collaborating with, be sure to hold on!

Long-term/retainer clients are the bedrock of successful freelancing. When you find a client who enjoys working with you and who you enjoy collaborating with, be sure to hold on! Click To Tweet
  • Market Yourself

Marketing yourself as a freelancer is another significant way to remain in business, particularly if your field is competitive. Keep reminding your network of what you do–in subtle, and not so subtle ways. That way, you’ll always be at the back of their minds. Reach out to specific people you’d love to work with and ask them how you can collaborate with them. And remember to always leave a good impression–referrals are the best!

  • Prioritize Your Job

I struggled to make time for hobbies–including this blog–when work ramped up, but I’ve learned one thing: the thing that pays the most has to rank the highest. It seems obvious, but sometimes in the past people (*ahem, me) procrastinated work duties to do fun stuff, and it didn’t go well. It helps now to have “for-fun” projects that don’t pay as much, but are always fun to do. In the end, your job is your job.

Keep reminding your network of what you do--in subtle, and not so subtle ways. That way, you'll always be at the back of their minds. Click To Tweet

I hope you found at least one helpful freelancing tip here. If you’d like to start freelancing, I’d say go for it! Just be ready to put in the work. I’m happy to answer any questions you have about freelancing. I’ll be posting next about how to succeed on Upwork, so if you have any specific questions, leave them in the comments.

Are you new to freelancing? Or are you a seasoned freelancer? What are your freelance tips? I’d love to share more freelancer stories, so if you’re open to sharing, shoot me a message.

-Afoma

PS: If this was helpful, please share it with your network! And don’t forget, I’m available for hire 😉

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9 thoughts on “Six Months a Freelancer: Here’s What I’ve Learned

      1. “Try many things, even when you feel grossly underqualified.” — Currently working on this but thanks for the reminder. 🤗

  1. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you Afoma. Your blog and love of books inspired me to start mine, possibly one day I would start freelancing too when I get a grip on my blog. Thank you as always

    1. Hey Agnes! Thanks so much for reading, and leaving such a nice comment. I’m so pleased to be inspiring you to read more. All the best with your blog and future freelancing!

  2. Oh, Afoma, thank you very much for sharing this. I tried responding with a question when you put up a box for suggestions and questions on your Instagram story, but i couldn’t quite articulate what I wanted to know. However, almost everything I wanted to know was, thankfully, covered here. I enjoyed reading this so much.

    1. Aww! I’m happy that most of what you needed to know was answered. Please leave free to leave any more questions—I’ll help if I can 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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