5 Reflections on My First Year as a Freelancer

Freelancing is like learning a new language. Fluency requires years of practice and always includes awkward encounters and miscommunications. As soon as I think I have reached a new level of competency, I’m challenged by a deeper conversation.

This past year as a freelancer has surpassed my expectations, but not without a few tumbles. Here are my top 5 lessons from 2015, with the hope that they smooth your path in the New Year:

Focus on Why You Started Freelancing

After my leap away from a 9-5 job, the fear kicked in. Distressed over finding new clients and managing my a hectic schedule, I felt stuck in the mud. It took two job offers for me to realize I really wanted to make freelancing work. When I hit that turning point, I refocused on my motivations — and not just financial targets — but the why behind decision become a freelancer.

Here’s why I become a freelancer:

  • To open my life to unlimited creative growth.
  • To embrace the independence and variety that accompanies choosing my own clients and workflow.
  • The ability to work anywhere, anytime, and maximize travel.
  • The satisfaction of running my own operation with integrity and joy.

By tuning my awareness to these intentions rather than my fear of failure, I moved forward with ease and recognized opportunities when they arose.

Don’t Sacrifice Outside Passions and Hobbies

Now that I’m a creative freelancer, I have to fight the instinct to table other passions or hobbies to get back to work. I don’t cook that beautiful recipe I’ve been itching to try or read that juicy fiction book that just came out. Over time, choosing not nurture your passions wears down creative thinking and motivation in every aspect of our lives. I do my best work when I walk into my writing with a full tank: I feel fulfilled and committed to myself, taking the time to nurture joys outside of running a business.

Follow Your Deeper Instincts

If you have an instinct or a hunch about something, you’re need to follow it. Last spring, I turned down a client when I would have loved the extra work. A notable marketer in my field referred me to a startup CEO, and I really wanted to make the project happen. But the tone of this prospective client’s emails and his refusal to discuss payment unsettled me. Instead of pursuing the project, I gracefully bowed out.

Soon, a freelancer friend of mine found herself in the same position with the same client, trying to manage his brusque, rude emails and unreasonable expectations. Both of us realized over coffee that our independent instincts were spot-on. If you don’t feel good about something or someone, walk away— no matter how much you want the work.

Let It Go

In the past year, I’ve missed deadlines. It’s not something I want to do again, but sometimes life got in the way: my Zipcar broke down; I got food poisoning; my grandmother passed away. The more I dive into freelance work, the more I realize how important it is to communicate with clients and keep work in perspective. I take the long view. At the end of the day, I leave try to leave projects behind.

As you navigate your work life as a freelancer, practice patience with yourself and your clients. The most impactful business people learn their trade in time, allowing best practices to evolve as they grow.

Elizabeth Wellington is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist who lives to tell stories. You can find her with a cup of tea in hand, scratching away in her favorite notebook.

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