Freelancers are not tiny-little entrepreneurs who haven’t succeeded yet. Freelancers, people like you and me, are doing a different sort of work, the work of a passionate individual.
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The 7 things you’ll need to break into freelance
Learn what it takes to break into full-time freelance, and prepare for the road ahead.
When we’re first starting off, we’re usually focused on just getting some kind of paid gig. We measure our success by our ability to get the first gig, and then the second, and then the third. These baby steps are crucial to feeling successful, so how can we get started on them today?
Here are the things you need in order to break into freelancing.
💰 Some kind of existing income or savings
Building up freelance income takes time, and life is expensive! You should have some kind of job or other situation bringing in income, or a reliable spouse/savings account 😊 This ensures that the issue of money is off the table, which allows you to focus entirely on building your portfolio and sales pipeline.
💸 A willingness to spend money to make money
When we’re intentional about how we spend our money, we’re really investing. This helps curb the anxiety that can come with having to spend money to make money.
Examples of things worth investing in:
- Lead generation (like paid listings on some niche marketplaces)
- Tools that save you time (which gives you more opportunity to earn)
- People who can save you time and do things better than you
- Tools that save you money (like Catch, that helps you save for retirement)
- Experiences that enrich your life and decrease stress, like yoga classes, vacations, and simple trips to the park and restaurant with your family or friends. Life is happening; don’t forget to enjoy it all. 😊
This becomes more clear when we realize that how we spend our money, time, and attention is actually an investment into the people we want to be now and later in life.
💪 Confidence in what you bring to the table
In the beginning, it’s natural to tuck our tail in relation to clients. Humility is important; just always remind yourself to be confident in what you know. Eliminate self-doubt and that back-of-your-mind talk that tells you you’re not capable, or good enough, or whatever it says.
That voice is your survival instinct, your negativity bias, which is great in life-or-death situations, but really hinders our opportunities for growth. Listen to Applying Awareness podcast host Adam French talk about this negativity bias from 22:45 – 24:45.
💁♂️ Humility to always keep improving
When we don’t have any visible proof of our quality of work, it’s really hard for people to trust us. Clients also like to make decisions by themselves or with their team, without you in the conversation.
When we’re first starting off, our work isn’t always the best. We know what good work looks like, and we know we’re not quite where we want to be. This is a good thing! Listen to Ira Glass explain why this “gap” exists, and how you can push past it:
So how do we earn trust? Break through the gap?
Like Ira Glass says: by going through a large volume of work.
Building a portfolio is the second-most effective way to get hired for new gigs. Why? It proves to potential clients that you’re not only able to do the work, but great at it, too.
I’ve come to learn that it’s not about overnight successes or flashes of excellence, but periods of repeatable habits.
How to be great? Just be good, repeatably.
Just be good. Repeatably. The entire article is about the “one step at a time” philosophy to getting better at things.
So if you’re still asking the question, “How do I become great in life?”, I would ask you to reframe the question as “How do I become good in life” or even “How do I become decent” and focus on developing those habits to repeat over time. Transform these habits to be your baseline.
The cool thing to me about this?
The “greatness” is almost less about how high you climb those stairs—and more about how long you’ve been climbing.
At the core, it’s about being willing to put that work in. Let’s borrow from Sahil Lavingia in its simplest form:
Building products, writing, and painting are not mental excercises, they are physical ones.— Sahil Lavingia (@shl) April 16, 2019
Reading to improve is like watching someone else workout – it does almost nothing for you.
To run better, run.
To paint better, paint.
To write better, write.
To build better, build.
Be willing to put in that work and it will pay off.
🙋♀️ A small but enthusiastic market of people to serve
No matter how amazing you are at something, the blunt truth is that you’re only going to get paid if other people want what you do. If nobody wants your excellent anthropological fan fiction, or the most creative haikus they’ve ever read, you’re toast.
Seth Godin discusses the concept of “a thousand true fans” in This is Marketing:
For the independent creator of intellectual property (a singer, perhaps, or a writer), it turns out that a thousand true fans might be sufficient to live a better-than-decent life.
On the other hand, things are really easy to sell if someone appreciates their value. You also shouldn’t aim to please the masses, either. Seth Godin’s wisdom again from 6:32 - 8:52.
🙌 A general high-agency, aptitude, resourcefulness
Whether you want to be a writer or an architect, working for yourself takes the ability to figure things out on your own.
Freelancing is not the easy path. Things like GigLoft can make it simpler, and more fun—but the process is grueling. You must understand that it takes patience, determination to succeed, and resilience not to get discouraged. Scott Belsky, cofounder of Behance and 99U, explains in The Messy Middle that we must “short circuit” our reward systems.
Stephen Kelly also explains how we can do this:
As he says, even just opening up a special bottle of spring water, when done with intent, can help you feel more successful about what you‘ve done.
Resources vs. resourcefulness
Listen to Tony Robbins explain the difference between what we think we need (resources) and what we really need. Watch from 4:50 – 6:30 (or all the way 😋).
So, resourcefulness trumps any number of resources. All day.
😈 Grit when things get tough, to keep pushing through and putting that work in
Let’s face it—things get tough. Sometimes, we lose clients, or have trouble finding new ones, or hit a legal snag, or taxes, or… 😱
The #1 thing that will save you from the lows is grit.
Listen to psychologist Angela Duckworth explain from the TED stage, from 3:01 - 3:28:
How will you know when you’ve “broken in” ?
“Making it” is not about a particular financial outcome. It’s a way of being in life.
Executive coach Dom Faussette describes it this way:
Once you’ve broken in, the going gets a bit easier—but if you want to keep growing, you’ll have to keep putting in the work. It’s one thing to break in, another to become full-time, and a very different thing to be the best in the game.
Or switch it up.
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