Setting out as a freelancer can be a very liberating and rewarding endeavor, but that’s not to say it doesn’t present it’s own set of challenges. On the one hand, you are afforded the independence to set your own schedule, break free from the traditional workplace, build alliances with like-minded people, and ultimately pursue your own interests. On the other you have to be your own manager, motivator, and task-master, among other things.
I learned early on that, just because you get to ‘be your own boss’ does not necessarily mean that you are always gong to be a good boss. Each person has certain strengths and certain weaknesses, which I came to learn through trial and error (especially error).
I recently had the chance to read The Freelancer’s Bible, written by Sara Horowitz, founder of the national Freelancers Union. It contains just about everything you will need to know, from getting started, getting work, growing your business, managing your business, and managing yourself. The book bears the subtitle Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Own Terms, and it managed to bring to light a lot of things that as a freelance writer, I wish I had known sooner.
A primary concern for me has always been finding a space where productivity can flow freely. What this comes down to is not just a physically quiet space away from distraction, but also a mental state of clear intent and purpose. From this, what I see as one of the most important and basic concepts covered in the book is the idea that one should always know exactly why they are freelancing.
As with any career path, each and every step as a freelancer should be a deliberate one towards achieving a set of personal goals. Therefore when taking on a task, I always like to weigh exactly what it is I am getting out of the exchange – and yes, I am referring to more than just money. Not only does this help guard against possible problems such as my work being taken advantage of in a way that is not mutually beneficial, it also helps motivate my creativity by being personally invested in a project.
Looking back, there are certainly some things I would have done differently in my freelance career up to this point. For example after graduating from school, I moved to Mainland China to put my language skills to good use and ended up working as a freelance translator, converting websites from Mandarin in to English in order to help attract foreign investors. At the time, this commanded a rate of about $1.50/hour in the city where I was living. Although enough to get by, it was by no means glamorous and was not leading towards something I ultimately aspired to be (super translator?). In the end, it was difficult to maintain productivity when I was not exactly sure why I was doing it.
I guess the basic challenge is to build a persuasive personal narrative, which is compelling and motivating to both yourself and to those around you. As you work towards living that narrative, there will certainly be other challenges and questions which arise, so be sure to check out The Freelancer’s Bible. Sometimes it’s good to learn from your own mistakes, but if you can avoid them altogether – hey, why not?
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PSFK has partnered with the Freelancer’s Union to bring you a content series written by freelancers for freelancers, about how to succeed in the business — whether you’re just starting out, or are a seasoned member of the community.