Five life lessons I learned as a freelancer 

At a recent talk on entrepreneurship, someone punched me with a tough question: what did I do between starting a personal blog 12 years ago when I was 17 and running my own company today?

Of course I knew what I was doing - freelance writing and then freelance consulting for different brands - but how did that work contribute to what I have now? Freelancing is the foundation of all I’ve achieved and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had along the way. I learned so much as a freelancer! I thought I’d share five lessons that I apply to my daily life in the hopes that this will make you think about how you work.

Time literally costs money. Manage it well. When freelancing, one is trading a specific amount of time for a specific amount of money. It’s not a full time job where there’s a fair amount of security and stability; it’s not like there’s a salary every 15th and 30th of the month. If the freelance work doesn’t get done on schedule then there’s no payment or worse, no project! It’s a pretty harsh world put in those terms, but I learned early on how valuable my and others’ time really is. 

Time management is an important life skill that not a lot of people have naturally. No, you’re not good at managing your time if you’re always terribly busy; in fact you probably manage it poorly if you are rushing from one thing to another, with no time to rest! Good time management for me means balancing all my priorities in a healthy way. I don’t try to do everything all at once because I’ve learned that it’s better to do the task right in one go rather than do it in sub-standard increments. Remember: quality over quantity.

Negotiate for what you’re worth, but know when to take a strategic pay cut. Pricing your services as a freelancer is the easy part. The challenge is convincing clients that you’re worth investing on! Always have a great resume and portfolio ready so they understand the kind of quality they’re paying for.

But it doesn’t end there. I’ve learned that with some clients, it’s not just about the money that I can get out of the arrangement. Here’s an example: I once worked with a client who paid me half the rate that others pay for the same amount of work. I know - it sounds silly of me! But I had no doubt that this client (who was then starting out) would dominate the industry I’m part of. So I worked with them for almost two years and learned as much as I can from the founders. They never came close to paying me my real rate, even after two years, but I had the ring-side seat to their success. I apply their insights to my own work. I don’t regret that pay cut.

Stay a step or two ahead of the competition by being informed of trends and movements within your industry. Predicting the future is not impossible if you can synthesize the news you read and information you hear into actionable insights. Reading relevant magazines, websites, and blogs, following the right people in your industry, and regularly interacting with its community is key to making smarter moves. 

Know how to market yourself by creating a personal brand and regularly publishing content around your work. Self-promotion may sound gauche and you may think you’re too good for it, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to getting hired. Remember that you’re competing with so many freelancers everyday - how do you differentiate yourself? What is it that only you can do? Communicate that clearly and it can make potential clients decide in your favor. Here’s an article I wrote on how to have a great personal brand.

Network as if your life depends on it (because it does). The best opportunities can’t be found in job pages; it’s through referrals within your network. Join a community and be active there; attend events whenever possible. Look for the key opinion leaders in your industry and try to interact with them whenever you can. Develop a mentor relationship with your betters, so you can get great advice on the right steps to take in your freelance career and even refer you to others you can work with.

Immerse yourself in your industry and you’ll notice that you will be hired more often!

Some of my life lessons may seem common, but I promise you that the sooner you learn these five things, the sooner your freelance career will take off. Many people think that success comes from a big break so they end up just waiting for it. But really, success is all about doing what you need to do every single day without excuses. It’s not romantic, my friend, but it is the truth. Good luck in your freelance journey!

———

Writing these amazing stories for PayPal as one of their influencers made me dig deep into my own past as a freelancer. I don’t think about it much anymore, but it has been such a challenging yet rewarding journey. Every step makes me realize that I still have a long way to go! I’m happy that I have PayPal with me throughout my time as a freelancer, and it’s still something I use as an entrepreneur.

You can use PayPal to receive payments safely and conveniently from your overseas clients, send them an invoice, and even create a personalized link to get instantly paid. All these services are created to help your freelance career by removing friction and hassle in the payment process.

I invite you to read the rest of the articles in this series, and hopefully my stories will inspire you to have a fulfilling freelance career. Let me know what you think, as always!

How I started out and turned my passion into a profitable business

This is how to find your mentor

Personal branding for freelancers: How to set yourself apart and get more clients

This story is brought to you by PayPal.