50/50 Post: The Best Freelance Advice You Ever Received

Women Sharing Advice. What's Your Advice About Freelancing?Whether you’re a seasoned freelancer, part-time freelancer or freelancer-to-be, I’m asking you to share here. You can be a writer, designer, photographer, consultant, or artiste. All that matters is that you participate!

Long before I took a last gasp and made the life altering, “I’m going out on my own” announcement, I’d been reading everything I could about life without cubicle walls. Ideally, I wanted to have a few clients on a part-time basis first, but that’s not how life worked out. With my move to Denver, I had to leap or get a new full-time job and hold off on the dreams of being my own boss at least another year.

With all the ups and downs, especially that cold first month, I’m so glad I did it. In fact, I’m so thrilled to be on my own, I’ve been helping other freelancers (or almost-freelancers) navigate their way. It’s inspired me to ponder about my own journey and the best advice I received. It was this:

Tell everyone you know about your freelancing business. Since I was leaving a job, this part was easy. In simply sharing my news, I received amazing support and (most valuable of all) referrals. I was floored at the number of people who provided email addresses and said, “Tell ’em I sent you.” It opened doors and boosted my confidence.

Now it’s your turn! Like my other 50/50 posts, this is where you share your experience. What’s the best freelancing advice you’ve ever received? Was it from a fellow freelancer? Or did a mentor share her wisdom? Or maybe it was a favorite book that’s since become your favorite go-to resource? And, if you didn’t receive advice for taking the leap, what’s the one thing you’d share with a budding freelancer today?  Please share in the comments.

Photo attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/g-hat/ / CC BY 2.0

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21 thoughts on “50/50 Post: The Best Freelance Advice You Ever Received

  1. I am always amazed when editors praise me for doing things that they have asked for–like meeting deadlines, staying with word count, including (or not) quotations–etc.
    These are not going the extra mile–these are the route to success.
    The best advice–Read your copy aloud before submitting it. All kinds of rough spots show up that you miss when scanning silently.
    A good job leads to more jobs.

  2. Best advice I ever received: Every piece of good writing WILL get published. It’s so true and that advice helped me realize that I should pursue important stories and write well, even if I did not have a market lined up in advance. I also seek out rejection as a way to force myself to try to break into new markets (and I cracked the NYT doing that).

    Thanks for this awesome post. The comments are fantastic as well. I’ll be forwarding this to friends who are thinking of taking the plunge!

  3. Great advice. I think Brette’s story about business improving after getting an office is because it was a sign to herself that she was taking herself and her career seriously. At the beginning, in particular, it’s so easy *not* to take yourself seriously.

  4. Great advice and I agree with all who said diversify, keep an eye on the biz side, don’t burn bridges, try new things & build relationships (not that I always follow this advice myself.)

    I’m also a big believer in having a game plan — and a plan B — which may help temper those days when you’re freaking out about whether the freelance life is for you or not.

  5. The best piece? It’s hard to pick one thing, but it was probably from the person who told me to write for the client and not for myself. Others:

    * If a project is a nightmare, it doesn’t mean that I suck. Call a friend who will remind me that I don’t suck.
    * I am worth more than I know. Charge what I know I’m worth and not what I think other people think I’m worth.
    * Keep a “feel good” folder full of compliments from editors and readers, so I can turn to it to remind myself that I don’t suck.
    * Check out what I’m wearing before I answer the front door. Underwear is fine for working alone. It’s not fine for the Fed Ex guy.

  6. Great piece, and great advice from everyone. A few things spring to mind for me, and some have already been mentioned:

    Never burn any bridges. You never know when you’re going to have the opportunity to work with someone you’ve worked with in the past (and if they had a bad attitude in the past, that may have changed, as well).

    Diversify. Gigs will implode through no fault of your own, so it’s good to have several sources of income, so you don’t freak out when one goes belly up.

    Don’t be afraid to try new things. I’ve re-invented myself a lot of times and have settled into work I love, which is writing about the entertainment biz. But it took me a while to get here.


  7. @Bridget ~ I love your reminder that “fear, panic and excitement are fundamentally the exact same feeling.” Thank you for sharing it!

    @Peggy ~ You’re so right about persevering! Fear of failure is a big one and can be hard to beat – but it’s so worth it if you can conquer it or at least keep it at bay.

    @Kristen ~ Thanks for sharing your go-to resource. You inspired me to re-read Lamott’s book this week!

  8. When I get in a writing funk, I pick up my old copy of Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It just puts everything in perspective and gives me that boost I need to keep querying, marketing, etc.

  9. The best advice I ever received was to keep persevering and not be afraid of failure. If I hadn’t heard that early on, I would’ve been back in my cubicle in no time.

  10. I love this! I just wrote a very similar post last week (bit.ly/bPJ0o7) about the best advice I received during my transition from full-time to freelance SEO copywriter. Here’s the gist:

    “Just keep in mind that fear, panic and excitement are fundamentally the exact same feeling. It just depends what you’re focused on.”

    On days when doubt clouds my mind, this thought has gotten me through. For me, it puts everything into perspective and helps me re-focus.

    Thanks for a great post!

  11. Thank you all so much for sharing your knowledge, experience and helpful advice! Its extremely valuable.

    @marthaandme ~ I’ve never heard a story of investing in your office to grow your business. That’s a very interesting concept! I knew a recruiter who did feng shui her cube and she felt it increased her success rate. Your office invest tip is something I’m going to consider for myself.

    @Christine ~ Your excellent advice could also be applied to copywriting: its all about targeting your prospects and showing how you can add value.

    @Susan ~ thanks for sharing your advice. This is a reminder that everyone can use — newbie of seasoned — because it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of our clients (or our bank accounts).

    @Kara ~ Your advice could be considered the “laws” of freelancing! I’d like to see #2 as an oath that every freelancer has to sign. It breaks my heart to hear of new freelancers who don’t get paid for their work (or drafts) and never had a contract in place.

    @Nancy ~ So well said and so true! Thank you.

    @Sheryl ~ yes, yes, yes! That’s so true. I think it should go for all businesses, not just freelancers. I worked for a small company that lost one big client and ended up closing a year later. It never recovered from losing that one client.

    @Roxanne ~ I especially appreciate your minder that networking and relationships are cumulative. It’s so true, but it can be easy to forget when you’re focused on the “now.”

    Thanks again for all the amazing advice!

  12. Sheryl is right. It’s easy, especially in the early days, to put too many eggs in too few baskets. The security of it is very appealing, but if something goes wrong, you can find yourself with a long dry spell.

    I would also add that networking and relationships are cumulative, sometimes taking years to “pay off.” While others had a tough 2009, mine was pretty good actually. People kept asking me what I’d done in early 2009 to make the year so strong, but the truth is that it was the impact of 10+ years of work, not anything I’d done in recent months.

  13. How about this one (which is more apparent to me all the time, with the changing economy): Don’t rely on just one or two clients for your core of business; diversify!

  14. 1. Be nice to everyone — that editor’s assistant who answers the phone or who sends you your contract (late) might be the gal assigning in a few years.
    2. Don’t start writing until you have an agreement — preferably a signed contract, but I have spelled out terms for projects via email.
    3. Save receipts and keep track of mileage as you go. Remember, you’re self employed now; lots of work-related expenses you can deduct on your taxes.
    4. Get a good accountant who can help you navigate self-employment taxes and returns.

  15. The best freelance advice I received is to remember that you are in control. If a client makes unreasonable requests or tries to pressure you into working for peanuts, you have the power to walk away. (That’s the beauty of freelancing!) And usually they’ll be another client just around the corner who respects you and is willing to pay a decent rate.

  16. I think the best freelancing advice I ever got was to really study my target publications and narrow my queries down very specifically to match each one. It helped a great deal!

  17. The best advice was from my mom, who is an author. She told me that when she invested money in her office space, her business suddenly grew, as if in response to that. So we redid my office in a very budget friendly way. It was almost like an HGTV show – 2 people, $500 and one room. I made a diagram and moved things around until I found the perfect configuration. I picked a color that inspires creativity and I decorated it in a way that inspires and calms me. And once it was done, my business did suddenly pick up.

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