5 Things I’ve Learned as a Freelancer After 10 Years


It has been more than 10 years since I started working as a freelancer.

Over the years, I have performed a wide array of tasks as a professional freelancer: writing, and editing, proofreading and commenting. I have worked with clients all over the world. Some clients have been tremendous, while others have been…we won’t go any further.

In this time, I have also learned quite a bit about the freelance business. Everything from how you should communicate with editors to how little you will earn in any given month, there is so much to know. You simply don’t embark upon a freelance journey out of nowhere and expect to make a six-figure income. Like a fine garden in your backyard, it takes cultivation, dedication, and patience. With these three attributes, you will be handsomely rewarded.

The freelance industry is ballooning, which also means competition. You have to stand out from the crowd, conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times, and always be on the prowl for clients. Even when you are overloaded with clients, you still have to seek them out. Otherwise, one month you will barely have any work and the rent will be late.

Here are five things I have learned as a freelancer after 10 years:

Always Save Your Money

I am grateful that I have been consistently busy for the past few years. There isn’t a month that goes by where I am not crammed with a heavy workload. (I am by no means complaining!) It is a freelancer’s ultimate aim to be constantly inundated with orders.

With that being said, you should always save your money, maintain a budget, and be ready for anything to happen.

Whether you are overloaded with work in March or have just one daily task to complete in September, you have to spend as if you’re in recession mode every single day. Since being a freelancer means not having vacation pay, benefits or perks, you have to sock away a minimum of 20 percent if your earnings in addition to how much you have to pay in taxes.

But you can only save if you are not spending beyond your means. Just because you might be making $5,000 in one month, it shouldn’t lead to you splurging every single day on Starbucks (or Tim Hortons) or going out to expensive restaurants every second night.

As a freelancer, you have mimic the behaviours of squirrels.

Let the Editors be the King

What a mistake I made years ago!

I happened to write for one publication for about five years. I worked with the same editor during that time. He eventually quit the company and was replaced with someone else. One day, I submitted an article to the outlet and the editor had incorrectly modified the headline – it didn’t make grammatical sense. I informed the editor of the mistake, and the reply suggested that he/she was insulted. After this incident occurred, I was never given another assignment ever again, even as I regularly made contact, asking if there was any work for me. I was kindly told that I would be emailed if there was any assignments available. To this date, I have never been assigned an article.

Simply put: you must allow your editors to reign supreme, to be the king (or queen). You must never second guess them, never correct their errors and never make suggestions!

Treat Your Clients Like Gold

For the last decade, as I previously mentioned, I have worked with hundreds of clients worldwide. I will be honest: ninety-nine percent of them have been gold, but that remaining one percent has been hard, even if they were treated like gold.

A majority of the clients you come across will pay you well and on time. If they like your work and your professional demeanour, they will return for more and may perhaps be your primary client for the next couple of years.

With this in mind, you need to be respectful at all times. You have to go that extra step to ensure you are the go-to freelancer for their needs. This consists of many acts, such as sending end-of-year thank you notes or being understanding if they have to pause their work orders for the next month.

Remember, respect is something that is earned, and it is always a two-way street.

Never Sub-Contract Your Work Out

If there is one thing that you should absolutely avoid – and if there is something that clients detest the most – it is sub-contracting your work out. This is terrible in multiple ways.

First, clients are hiring you to perform the job at hand, not someone else. Second, you are wasting your money and risking your personal finances by eroding your overall earnings. Third, you risk the quality in your work, which may ultimately disappoint the client. Fourth, you may actually lose your client if they find out that you have outsourced your job.

Even if you lack the time, you will need to make time in your busy schedule to complete the orders. Again, there will be times when you have no work at all so it is important to take and complete every job that is sent your way.

Sport Professional Attire at Home

One of the apparent benefits of working from home as a freelancer is wearing whatever you want. This could consist of sporting your birthday suit or covering yourself in velvet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. a la George Costanza.

Don’t do this.

Sporting professional attire – pants, shirt, socks and a pair of shoes – is crucial to help you stay in work mode. If you’re wearing your pajamas, or even your beach attire, your mind may not necessarily be focused on your work but rather the television, the beach or your Facebook.

This is similar to the fact that you shouldn’t perform your freelancing duties on the sofa in front of the TV or working in bed (we’re not all Proust, you know?).

Final Thoughts

Every freelancer has his or her own experience. They may have their own tips and suggestions, but these are mine.

It is risky to exit your career in the corporate world in order to be self-employed and live month-to-month. There are numerous benefits to working as a freelancer – the hours, the freedom and being your own boss – but there are also some negative factors that you will inevitably face once you dive into the freelance pool.

More and more people all over the world are bringing their talents to the freelance world. As the years pass, the competition will increase, and you may need to constantly update your skills and bring your prices down. This may be hard at first, but, if you dedicate yourself enough, you can persevere and flourish.


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