Hindsight is 20/20. Experience is the best teacher. You learn by doing.
You’ve probably heard sentiments like those before. But, if you rolled your eyes and thought, “Wow, that’s really not all that helpful!” you aren’t alone.
Sure, maybe things really do look a heck of a lot clearer in your rearview mirror. However, that’s not what you need to hear when you don’t even have the option to look backward quite yet. What if you’re just getting started and trying your best to avoid learning things the hard way?
It’s in those moments when it’s helpful to rely on other people’s hindsight (sneaky, right?). Yes, you can learn a lot from the experiences of others who have stood in your exact spot before—particularly when it comes to making it as a freelancer.
So, rather than continuing to spout a bunch of clichés at you, we took it upon ourselves to get some juicy information straight from successful freelancers themselves. Here are what a few of them had to say about what they wish they knew before they got started.
“I would have appreciated someone with freelance experience letting me know that it’s okay to be a little bit aggressive. To negotiate the fee attached to my work, to explain why I think design A is better than design B, and to have more conviction. You’re being hired because you’re the expert, so don’t shy away from that.”
– Kelly Beall, Freelance Graphic Designer
Don’t Forget Your Finances
“One thing I struggled with early on that affected me long term was the financial end. There’s much more to it than cranking out work for clients. Anyone who is considering freelance work should find a good local accountant, sit down with them, and learn as much about the financial end of their business as possible.”
– Matt Brett, Freelance Web Designer
Ask for Referrals
“I wish I’d been more proactive about soliciting referrals. Almost every editor I know is eager for more writers, and I could have used that to my advantage if I’d simply asked happy clients, ‘Do you know anyone who could use a freelancer specializing in career, tech, or productivity?’”
– Aja Frost, Freelance Writer
Understand the Other Side of Your Business
“The one thing I wish I knew before freelancing was how to be organized in the business sense. If I could just photograph 100 percent of the time, I’d be happy—but running your own business requires tracking invoices and expenses, marketing yourself, and setting budgets. I wish I had a more solid understanding of all of that so I could concentrate more on taking pictures when starting out.”
– Maddie McGarvey, Freelance Photographer
May we be so bold as to recommend AND CO for this very purpose? *cough cough*
Know Your Value
“In the course of your career, especially if you start to work with larger clients, at some point you’ll be asked to make a case for your value. Even if you’re confident about your work, this can catch people by surprise, so it’s something you should practice. Get comfortable talking clearly and confidently about the value of your work, and why you charge what you charge. This is part of your job.”
– Kevin Twohy, Freelance Product Designer
Make Time for Marketing
“I wish I knew to start my day with marketing. It was really easy for me to get sucked into writing, and completely forget to promote myself. That quickly led to a lack of clients. Now, I start my morning with 30 minutes of marketing—which is way less overwhelming than a few hours once per week.”
– Jillian Richardson, Freelance Writer
Get a Rate in Writing
“My first freelance assignment was while I was in college. I was young and didn’t have a clue, but I was just excited to get an assignment to photograph a music festival that I would have done for free. So, I wish I knew about agreeing to a rate before ever shooting anything for a client. Also, I wish they taught me how to invoice in journalism school. Luckily I had a professor that helped me out with that, but at first I was lost.”
– Colin Kerrigan, Freelance Photographer
Need help drafting a rock-solid service agreement? Use this template created by AND CO and the Freelancers Union.
Have a piece of freelance wisdom you’d add to this list? Tweet us @andco and let us know your best advice!