3 Invaluable Lessons I Learned From Freelancing (That Will Help Newbies)

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it's a feather bed.”

- Terence McKenna

This one's for Ming, who made the leap.

Recently, I received a message from an old friend. She said, "Hey, I thought of you because I think I might be ready to spend some time as a freelancer. You're my inspiration because you've been doing it for so long."

My first honest thought was, "Oh, thank God! I can finally stop listening to this woman endlessly whine about how miserable she is at her work." Ha!

As the days went by, I thought about how I first made the leap into freelancing and digital nomadism - I quit my job, twice - and the journey it took to get me to where I am today.

I've achieved some liberties for making certain life choices. But there are also new things I've learned since making those choices, that I never knew from before. Things I wish someone had told or taught me when I first ventured out as a digital nomad.

So I thought I'd help her make the foray into freelancing and 'digital nomadism' with a small collection of truths and lessons I've had to learn to sustain this new lifestyle.

These are not, by any means, the gospel truth. These are my truths and lessons - and yours could be completely different - but perhaps it could be useful to someone out there who are not quite sure what to do after tendering that resignation letter.

1. FREELANCING IS not ALWAYS "doing what you love"

That's a big lie a lot of people have been led to believe. When you're a freelancer, you'll earn money doing what you love plus a whole host of other crap you don't necessarily love. You're forced to be a one-person show a lot of the time. You're forced to learn new things and pick up new skills - many of which you may hate.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've always hated math or anything to do with numbers. I avoid it like a plague. But now that I'm a business owner, I learned that numbers are a big part of business and if I don't stay on top of it, my work and my business crumbles. Dealing with numbers is honestly my biggest fear, but I do what I have to do.

Since then, I've also learned how to make videos, something I never thought I would ever have to learn as a copywriter. But I did, because of the value it gives me and my business. These days, I actually enjoy making video content.

If you're thinking of freelancing, prepare to juggle many, many things - even things you hate doing. You're signing up to be a Jane of all trades.

2. start treating yourself as a business

The most important thing I learned is to stop working like a freelancer and start growing like a business. 

Freelancing is tough to break into when you're competing with so many others. So the best way to keep yourself ahead is to treat yourself as a legit business. That means, start creating a presence. Here are some things you should start doing right now:

  1. Seek a mentor. I didn't have one when I started but boy, how I wish I did.
  2. List down your best skills and figure out how you can make money from them.
  3. If you sell services, figure out how/if your services add more value to your customers before deciding on a price/rate.
  4. If you don't have a professional website, create one now. 
  5. Don't be too proud to work for free or for very little money. This may be counter intuitive, but strategic gratis work can unravel massive opportunities, especially if you're just starting out. I created a case study out of a "discounted" project I did with a small startup, and that content has not only proved how good I was at my work but it brought in more clients! 
  6. Aim to retain your clients. Package your products or services for the long-term.
  7. Invest in yourself. Put some money into getting practical, reliable gear that'll help you run your business online from anywhere.

3. You'll work harder (BUT smarter) than ever

Freelancing is not an easy ticket out. There's going to be a lot of hard work involved and there will always be stress. But when you're working for yourself, at your own time and pace, you'll slowly learn how to work smarter for your own business.

The best part about working for yourself is that you'll always be learning new things along the way. Not only with skills but also new ideas and perspectives. Some of the smartest things I've learned throughout my journey that might be eye-opening to you:

  1. No one's better than you; everyone just has a different experience than you. Understanding this concept gave me the confidence I needed to approach mentors or well-known people who I thought was out of my league (to approach). 
  2. There is no such thing as negative press or feedback. It's only what you manifest from it that controls your outcome. Remember: you could be the juiciest, most delicious peach in the world, but there will always be people who still don't like peaches. (Dita Von Teese)
  3. Skeptics, haters or those who tell you you can't are usually those who have never tried themselves. For me, this has been true 99.9% of the time. So their words literally mean nothing.
  4. Sometimes you have to make the decision first, and then the solution will follow.

I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom here to take on the exciting new adventures and challenges on your path. Most important of all, don't forget to stop, look around and offer a moment of gratitude for the things you do have. Having a positive outlook on life has dug me out of my deepest ruts, so trust that there is no right or wrong in this world - it's only what you make of it. Good luck!

If you have your own invaluable lessons or advice to share with my friend or other aspiring freelancers, let me know down in the comments!