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Aug 7

9 Lessons Every Freelancer Should Know

Freelancing is tough.

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Many people go into it thinking that they get to spend all of their time creating projects that they love, only to quickly realize that this is not the case. Not only do you have to be responsible for the quality of work that you produce, but you also have to now handle all of the not-so-fun nuances that keep a business running, such as accounting, sales, business development etc.

I still am learning a lot every day and still have a lot to learn. While freelancing for these past 6 months, I wanted to share some insight on 9 lessons that every freelancer should know—in no particular order.

Lesson 1: Be Yourself

One of the most important lessons is to be confident in who you are as a freelancer. Start developing a personal approach to your creative work, but make sure you stay clear of making the work be about you when you are hired. You should always add your personal touch to your work, and over time, when your work gets more notice, this will be the main reason clients want to hire you.

When it comes to your personal work, you have to be open to telling your story because you are the only one who is able to do that. For example, I am a freelance web developer and digital marketer, but I was born with one hand and coined my nickname The One Hand Wonder Man. I tell my story in my blog posts which help me relate and connect with potential clients on a deeper level.

Don’t be afraid to tell your story.

Lesson 2: Learn to Say No

Before I dive into this lesson, just know that it is a lot easier said than done. Especially when bills need to get paid and your workload is looking extra light, it is very tempting to say yes to any project that comes your way—but don’t. Look out for the warning signs when speaking to a potential client. Are they punctual? Do they respect your time and not argue about your rates? Do they have a vision of what type of work that they want to be done, or are they all over the place?

Keeping these questions in mind will help you determine if this potential client is a good fit. Remember, when you accept a project you are potentially turning down a bigger one down the line, so you have to make sure that each project you take on is worth your time.

Lesson 3: Define Your Key Audience

Being able to target your audience is going to be really effective when pitching to get new work. If you are a designer who has a portfolio with a lot of work done around software companies, then it doesn’t make sense to spend your time pitching restaurants and coffee shops. Once you have a clear audience in mind, you’ll be able to more effectively lock down clients in your niche. I’m not saying you have to stay in this area forever, but you’ll notice more times than not when pitching potential clients, they want to see the work that you have done that can be beneficial for them and the experience that you have in their field.

Lesson 4: Content is Always King & Queen

I cannot stress this enough. Especially being a web designer, you can create a beautiful website with nice elements and colors, but if there is no content or the content is lacking, then it defeats the purpose. Most of the time as a freelancer you have no control over the content that your client has, but this is where sometimes turning down work because you don’t want it to reflect poorly on your style comes in handy (see lesson 2).

When creating content for your own brand, of course, you should put emphasis on how it is presented to entice the reader, but the message of the piece is what is going to keep them hooked.

Lesson 5: Add Value

One of the most important lessons to learn is to always remember to add value to your clients. You aren’t selling your services. You are selling your value that you can bring to your client. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people and companies that do what I do, but why do clients hire me? Because they can’t get the Max Pete experience from anywhere else in terms of efficiency, work ethic, and value that I bring to each client.

This will not only help attract and retain clients, but it will also make sure that you aren’t undervaluing yourself in terms of how much you’ll be making per project. Once you can effectively prove your value to a client, it is easier to stand firm on your pricing.

If you want to learn more about adding value, I strongly recommend watching this “How To Price Design Services” video by Chris Do and The Futur team.

LESSON 6: Building Relationships

Building relationships beyond just your clients is key to keep growing and expanding your brand. I am not too skilled when it comes to graphic design or photography, but I have people in my network that are who I refer to on an ongoing basis. I often get requests from clients that I can’t handle, but because I was able to build relationships with other creatives, I am able to send them work and vice versa.

The quote “Your Net Worth Is Your Network” is the truth. In order to be a successful freelancer, you have to get out and network with your fellow peers, even just reaching out to say you like a piece of work they did can lead to a long-lasting relationship. Also if you haven’t figured this out by now, the freelance life is pretty lonely. It is a lot better when you have an established network of peers that you can call on to get work done together and bounce ideas of each other.

Lesson 7: Never Stop Learning

It’s very easy to keep your head down and to just focus on work, but don’t forget to keep learning. We live in a great time period where all we have to do is Google something to find the answer. Take full advantage of that. Want to get better at Photoshop? Start learning now. Want to learn more CSS for website development? Start learning now. Keep expanding your knowledge base and you’ll notice the positive effects that it has on you and your brand.

Lesson 8: Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Growth does not happen inside your comfort zone. Yes, everything might seem fine and stable, but there is no growing and learning. You have to be okay with making mistakes and failing. It is all apart of the process and you’ll never know about it unless you step outside your own comfort zone.

One of the points of being a freelancer is to not live the mundane 9-5 office life. You have to learn to get out of a comfortable mindset and take risks. You never know what opportunity is waiting for you outside your own comfort zone until you start exploring.

Lesson 9: You're Your Most Important Client

This might be the most important lesson of them all. One of my favorite pieces of advice I have received this year was “Spend an hour a day working on your own brand before working on any client work.” This really made me change how I start my days because I often used to find myself scrambling to get client work done before I took the time to work on my own brand which led me to put off certain tasks to help me grow and get my name out there.

I strongly recommend spending one hour in the morning tackling the things that you need to get done in order to grow your brand. It can be as simple as answering emails that you have been putting off, researching topics for new blogs posts, or starting to develop your own content marketing strategy. Don’t feel bad for putting yourself first.

Lessons Learned

I hope all or at least some of these lessons help make you a better freelancer before you read them. Being a freelancer isn’t easy, and is always a work in progress. Don’t get too caught up if you aren’t where you want to be exactly in life today. Keep up the hard work, be consistent, build relationships and you’ll be on your way.


Guest Post by Max Pete
Max Pete aka One Hand Wonder Man is a freelance website designer and digital marketer. Max Pete also specializes in social media management, email marketing, content creation, and paid advertising. You can check out his work and get in touch with him via his portfolio.

Chris Do

Chris Do is an Emmy award winning director, designer, strategist and educator. He’s the Chief Strategist and CEO of Blind, executive producer of The Skool, and the Founder and CEO of The Futur— an online education platform that teaches the business of design to creative thinkers.