Despite popular belief, freelancing requires dedicated hard work, every day, for the rest of your career. You’ll definitely have good days and bad days; in fact you’ll have a lot of fantastic days that will end with beers and glory. But there will be very many other days that will really, really suck. This is where a strong support network of people who understand your challenges (i.e. they do exactly what you do) is essential to long-term success.
Embarking on a freelance career is a lonely business - no doubt about it. Whether you’re motivated by deadlines or desperation, it’s easy to get absorbed by the tiny world you believe exists in the space between your face and your computer.
I promise you, no matter how many hours you spend online, there will be days on end (sometimes weeks, maybe even months) with no work in sight. This is your danger zone because this is when your enemies show up. Enemies come in many different forms and you must decide whether to fight with them, run from them or embrace them.
It’s easy to get absorbed by the tiny world you believe exists in the space between your face and your computer.
Before you meet them however, the greatest enemy you will fight as a freelancer is yourself. Nobody can do as good a job at sabotaging your career as you can. Freelancers in their pajamas? Oh yeah that’s a thing! Except they aren’t living the dream - they are in bed, watching YouTube on a loop trying to avoid the paralyzing feelings of fear and failure. They are ruling over the kingdom of procrastination, whilst trolling their competitors on Twitter and constantly checking emails to see if anyone has sent them work. Oh and there’s chocolate … and crying.
Nobody can do as good a job at sabotaging your career as you can.
Negative self-talk, procrastination and poor communication have taken down many a freelancer, and as a result led to an often inaccurate belief that enemies surround them. The blame game has no winners. Feeling insecure about your work, not managing rejection well, or suffering from lack of productivity can affect how you perceive other people’s successes and those negative perceptions can lead you to demonize things unjustly.
Simple steps like working at the times of day when you are most productive, turning your negative thoughts into conversations with others that experience the same things, and talking about ideas and solutions , throws light on even the darkest of days. You cannot do this alone and you will be surprised to find the most compassionate, most sympathetic ears are on the sides of the glorious heads of your competitors.
Putting your energy into swinging doors open is much more empowering than slamming them all shut.
By recognizing your personal internal enemies and finding constructive ways to manage them, you are better equipped to view your competition positively. You can see in them opportunities for growth rather than perceiving them as threats. Managing your freelance career as if you are in a battle zone only isolates you. By understanding your market, and owning your point of difference, you will realize that actually there is room for everyone. After all, putting your energy into swinging doors open is much more empowering than slamming them all shut.
There are loads of reasons why you should make friends with your competition, but here are the most important ones.
The single most valuable ingredient in the career of a successful freelancer is their network. This is where you go when you have no work, who you talk to when you are drowning in work and where the celebrations are when the work is over.
Don’t underestimate anyone you know, always remember that the world is very small and somehow everybody is connected. This is the key to networking because your next job will not come from the CEO of that billion-dollar company, it will come from the cousin of the husband of the woman you met at that workshop you did last autumn.
Your network also gives you more manpower. Everybody you know knows people you are yet to meet. They hear news you don’t hear. They are at events you couldn’t get to and vice versa. They are doing the same job as you every day and in many instances have done that thing you are trying to do right now. So use them, and be ready and willing for the many times they will need you to return the favor. Oh and they will!
One of my greatest frustrations in lean times is people who say ‘maybe you should apply for some real jobs?’ Well meaning, wrapped up in totally insulting. Only other freelancers can get you through these times. They get your career, they know the current situation is not permanent and will even buy you a coffee (because you’re broke) and let you whine about it a little.
There is an essential level of support that only other freelancers can provide and that is the support you need to effectively manage clients. When you are learning to be a freelancer, all of your time is spent getting the clients. Once you get them, a whole new set of challenges appears - how to cost a job ; when (if ever) you should work for free; how to deal with clients who don’t pay ; what services are included in your rates; what you should charge extra for; managing difficult clients. The list goes on. Other freelancers may have dealt with these issues before. Learn from their mistakes and listen to their ideas. It will save you a lot of sleepless nights.
‘Maybe you should apply for some real jobs?’ Well meaning, wrapped up in totally insulting.
It is impossible to develop your own personal brand without knowing your competition. You can follow them on social media and read articles from them or about them, but meeting them and understanding how they work is where the real points of difference are revealed.
As a freelancer, you are your brand. What you are selling is your services, your skills, your smiling face and your can-do attitude. But guess what – all the other freelancers are selling the same thing, so you must decide what your brand is and then refine it until it is clearly distinctive from everybody else. Differentiation is the driving force behind innovation and creative thinking makes the world go round so it is essential you know your competition and they know you to ensure an intriguing and diverse marketplace is able to thrive.
Refining your brand through understanding your competition also has another benefit – it gets you work. Everybody at some stage will be offered work they can’t do. Maybe they don’t have the time that week, or they lack the skills required to execute the work being offered. By having a strong personal brand, promoting it well and making sure your network is across it, your name will more often than not be the first that comes to mind.
We all have different approaches to routine, but having a friend who does the same work as you do can be very useful. Sometimes you just need an extra pair of hands to get a job done. Outsourcing elements of your work to people whose skills you trust can be useful. The job gets done, quality is not sacrificed and the client is happy.
Working with others can help reduce feelings of isolation and promote productivity. Talking through your workload with someone else can build some accountability into your work, especially if you set goals with each other and call each other out on what you’ve achieved that week. Other freelancers are full of handy tips that help you run your business better, without having to do all the research yourself.
Follow the lead of the ones above you and take the hands of the ones below you.
The advantages of befriending your competition far outweigh the disadvantages, but it takes time to find your feet and understand your own professional boundaries. Follow the lead of the ones above you and take the hands of the ones below you. Not only does this ensure a smoother ride to success as you learn from the journeys of others, it also builds a collaborative spirit that attracts more people to your network and ensures when you need support, people will want to be there for you … and the cycle continues.
There will always be people more successful than you and people new to the game, with you firmly planted in the middle. Surrounding yourself with the right people will help you to constantly improve your offering and over time you will have cultivated a strong and esteemed reputation amongst your peers. Positive collaborations are essential for industries to be sustained and innovation to thrive and they’re the key to your sanity as a freelancer , aswell as ultimately your succcess.
Melinda Barlow is an Australian freelance writer and editor, based in Berlin since 2012. Melinda works with print and online media and has a natural curiosity that informs her work. She is a passionate traveler and loves to write most about the world, its people and why we all do what we do.
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