10 Lessons Learned from Two Years of Freelancing

It’s been two years since I graduated from college. That’s two years since running around Europe to “find myself”. It’s also been two years since I started freelancing as a means to make extra money.

Last year, I wrote a post about the 20 lessons I had learned from freelancing for a year. It was all along the lines of being a slave to my work, that thinking outside of the box can be smart and the lack of work/life balance.

This time around I hope that I’ve become smarter as things have become more steady in my life than they were this time last year – I’ve got fixed income coming in, I’ve held a full time job for a year, I’m no longer a stranger in my own hometown and this blog has got a very steady group of supporters. Overall I’m in the most stable position I have been in since graduating in the midst of The Great Recession.

This time around I’m trying to teach myself how to work smarter instead of harder in an effort to take things to the next level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m afraid of work – in fact, I’m a total workaholic – it’s that I’ve come to learn lessons that will help you enjoy your life rather than slaving through it. Below you’ll find 10 lessons learned from two years of freelancing.

1. Your blog is a better marketing tool than a portfolio. I have a portfolio – one that I spent a pretty penny on last year for a nifty design that I ended up scrapping. And you know what? I barely ever use that thing. I’ve come to realize that this blog is a better marketing tool. Simply put it shows off my skills, gets my name out there (Hello Forbes and The Consumerist!), paves the way for networking and actually helps people. My portfolio on the other hand kind of just sits there.

2. Facebook is amazing – even with all this timeline bullshit. Everyone is mad at Facebook lately because of all the new timeline rules (What do you expect from a company that goes public? They have to make their money somehow!). I was pretty pissed off myself until I logged into my Google Analytics and realized I get a hefty amount of traffic from the Grad Meets World Facebook page. I’ve also had clients find me through Facebook!  Once I started paying more attention to my Facebook page the sense of community around this blog became more close knit. I was also able to increase my Facebook fans just by putting it out there more and encouraging my friends to share it’s content. To be honest I wish I would have paid attention to Facebook much sooner.

3. AWeber is superior for email lists. Last year I moaned and groaned about the fact that it took me so long to create an email list. After I had kicked myself for that I ran to MailChimp and created a list just because it was free. After months on MailChimp I just wasn’t all that happy. Once I started doing more research I realized that MailChimp actually put a lot of restrictions on what you could do, like not allowing affiliate links. After more research I found that AWeber was a better fit for me. Granted, I lost about half of my subscribers during the moving process but I was already prepared for that. Overall I think AWeber is much better for blog broadcasts, affiliates and branding.

(P.S. I did make the move worth while by offering The GMW Post-Grad Took Kit – 2 guides and 3 templates to help you rock your post0grad life.)

4. Working smarter is better than working harder. I’m going to be honest when I admit I haven’t made as much money from freelancing this year. However, it’s because I’ve taken on a philosophy of working smarter instead of becoming a slave. For instance, last year I had a client that would pay me $300 a month for writing 15 blog posts on a month to month basis. This year I’ve got a client that pays me $300 a month for 2 blog posts and contracted me for six months – thats $1800 for a fraction of the work. Not too shabby, eh? Granted, the second client took me much longer to land, but the return is definitely worth it.

5. Re-branding and reworking is necessary. Up until recently there was no real branding to Grad Meets World. I was offering a bunch of services but had no real unifying theme. After participating in the Brazen Careerist Social Media Bootcamp I started thinking about ways I could create a brand. It took months before I found something I really enjoyed but I eventually picked my colors, took new photos with a photographer (Shout out to Amanda Soler Photography!) and really got clear about my message and what I had to offer. The feedback was incredible as people started really enjoying the whole experience I had to offer.

6. Self-care should be your Number #1 Priority. I drove myself into the ground last year trying to keep up with a new full time job, running this blog and less than worthwhile freelancing projects. After realizing that this just wasn’t working out for me I decided to dedicate a certain amount of time to myself each week. I can now proudly say that I’ve got 6 months of a regular yoga practice under my belt. I go a minimum of twice a week after work and have really found that it has had a positive impact in my life.

7. Perfect Work/Life balance is crap – go with the flow instead. I recently posted a vlog about how I damn near drove myself crazy pursuing the perfect work/life balance. I was trying so hard to reach this perfect even balance between my job, freelancing, fitness, money, relationships and social life that I was just plain exhausted. This year I vowed to start going with the flow more – if work is at the forefront for a while fine, if I have to make a sacrifice here and there I’m cool, if I can get to yoga more than twice a week great, if plans fall through it’s no biggie.

So for instance, instead of having a trainer and going to yoga I decided to just stick to yoga. Instead of trying to rack up all the freelancing clients I could find, I decided to only take on projects that were worthwhile to me. Instead of kicking myself if I miss a class for my life coaching certification I remind myself that I don’t have to get everything done ASAP. Life balance comes with going with the flow – not trying to control every part of your life.

8. Defining your ideal client is paramount. It took me a long time to define my ideal writing client, but after much consideration and thought I realized that this a paramount process to making money on the side. For instance, I will no longer take on clients that aren’t willing to pay me what I know I’m worth. I will no longer take on projects that don’t excite me. I will no longer take on clients that won’t sign an agreement. I won’t take rush jobs unless I’m paid more. These are all things that you have to clearly define if you really want to be successful at making your own money.

9. Bumps in the road are not the end of the world. This site completely crashed in December – and I mean it was done. While I was able to get most everything back for some reason a year’s worth of posts were not able to be recovered. After my near panic attack I decided to remove myself from the situation, take a hiatus for a couple of weeks to think about how I was going to fix this. In those couple of weeks I ended up taking up yoga and again and came up with the first initial steps toward really branding this blog. Moral of the story: bumps in the road aren’t the end of the world. In fact, they can pave the way for better things.

10. Building your tribe is more important than making money. A lot of people have the dream of ditching their 9 to 5 and working independently.Unfortunately most of them fail, and here’s why: they aren’t patient and they’re coming from a place of making money rather than a place of truly wanting to connect. They are so desperate to make something happen that they bring their anxiety into their work. Guess what? People can sense the desperation.

Building a business doesn’t happen overnight. You have to build a tribe that trusts you. You have to connect with people. You can’t just slap on some Google Ads or shove products down people’s throats without making a genuine and sincere connection. It just won’t work. And so once again I find myself repeating, patience is a virtue and perseverance is omnipotent.

After two years I feel more confident about my skills and my rates. I went from getting paid $5.00 a post to $150.00. I’ve learned how to identify my ideal client. I’ve fostered patience and going with the flow as a way to approach not only business but life – and it’s been much more beneficial both for my wellbeing and the bank account. I still work hard, but only for things that are worthwhile and I know will propel me forward. I’ve learned to come from a place of wanting to make a deeper connection with an audience and that has helped me get media mentions, articles published in top publications and meet amazing people.

This isn’t just a way of making extra money anymore. It’s a brand with a message and a tribe.




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2 Responses to 10 Lessons Learned from Two Years of Freelancing

  1. Stephen Kavita July 12, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    The best way to enjoy freelance jobs is setting high standards. It is a good feeling when work comes looking for you rather than the other way round.

    Every job you get make sure you do your level best to over deliver. This way your clients will keep coming back to you will more and better jobs. And more importantly refer more people to you.

  2. Julie September 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    I wish I was as smart as you when I was in my 20’s. But looking back I have to say that all of the freelancing and crazy odd jobs I did have prepared me for running 3 businesses today. It does take time to get through the learning curve, but it’s well worth it.

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