Surviving The First Year Of Freelance

Going freelance for the first time is nothing short of terrifying. Whether it is something that you have always dreamed of or whether your circumstances change and you have little other choice, it is a big step. But not an impossible step.

Surviving the first year of freelance work is the biggest challenge. It is in this year that all your preconceptions will be shattered, your time management skills will be tested and you will be rewarded with those first hard-earned pay cheques.

Here are a few tips that I can share with you, after surviving my first year of freelance web design and digital marketing. I have come out the other side bruised and battered, but surviving, confident and happy.

Prepare For The Mistakes

If you don’t make any cringe-worthy mistakes in your first year of freelance work then you are either superhuman or are doing something wrong. It doesn’t matter how good you are at designing or developing, freelance work requires a whole host of skills that can’t be learned until you are well and truly in at the deep end.

Whether you waste a large part of your marketing budget on beautiful leaflets that you won’t ever hand out (guilty), or whether you attempt to sell one of your services for approximately 5% of the going rate (guilty), you will make mistakes. No amount of market research will give you the knowledge and skills to tackle the freelance world until you are in it.

The trick is to use each mistake as a lesson and to move on swiftly armed with your new knowledge. And, if you have managed to make a complete ass of yourself in front of potential clients or local businesses, then no one will judge you for doing your best to avoid them, potentially forever.

You’ll still be yourself

For some reason, I imagined that when I went into freelance work I would become a sharp-talking, suit-wearing, smooth-operating image of efficiency. It turns out, that didn’t happen. I tried my best and I wear a suit when I have to, but as a freelancer – especially for website design – you will be working with people who can see through all that.

Developing valuable and meaningful client relationships, that will pay well for years, goes beyond business and touches on the personal. People will work with you if they like you and they will like you if you are being yourself. It turns out that many local business owners who needed a website in my local area also enjoy a good gossip and swear like sailors.

Stay professional, but stay yourself.

Forget everything you previously knew about business.

I come from a business and marketing background, so naturally felt pretty confident in dealing with that side of freelancing. But as the saying goes, pride cometh before a fall. You can’t put everything into a nice neat business plan, your competitor analysis will never represent reality and your great marketing schemes will be noticed by no one.

As it happens, everything that I got wrong in my business planning was positive. I was mortified to turn up to the same networking event as a main competitor, only for them to pass me a whole load of work. The type of clients I thought I wanted would never have been profitable and marketing my services is nothing like how it happens in the text books.

Go into everything with an open mind and be prepared to seize opportunities when they come about.

Manage your time

To some people time management comes more naturally than others. I thought that I could impress everyone by working every hour that there was. That was completely unsustainable.

Being able to switch off was one of the most important lessons that I have learned in my first year of freelance website design. I am much more productive for it. It also stops clients calling at all hours of the day and night looking for answers to whimsical questions.

Enjoy it

There have been many challenges in my first freelance year and I’ve not always had as much cash as I could have hoped for, but it has also been very enjoyable. If you are embarking on your first year of freelance don’t forget to reward yourself for being your own boss. Have lie ins and extended lunches without fear of being told off and enjoy the flexibility in work that you know have.

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