Three Tough Lessons I’ve Learned as a Freelancer
March 4, 2016

Three Tough Lessons I’ve Learned as a Freelancer

It’s been nearly four years since I decided to take the leap and become a full-time freelance photographer and marketer. There’s no way I could neatly summarize all the lessons I’ve learned in one single blog post, but I do want to share three of the toughest (and most important) lessons I’ve faced so far and how they’ve made me into a better freelancer.

#1 it’s okay not to know everything

In the early days, I felt tremendous pressure (which I admit was about 99.9% internal) to have all the answers to my client’s questions. And if I didn’t know something on the spot, I felt as though I was letting them (and myself) down.

After a while of torturing myself with these unrealistic expectations, I eventually accepted that it’s not humanly possible for me to know everything there is to know about my industry (because, duh). More importantly, it’s perfectly okay to admit this.

These days, I’m more inclined to view not having an answer as an opportunity to learn something new, rather than a failure on my part. I’m less afraid to admit right up front when I simply don’t know something. Whenever possible, I offer to do some research to find the answer. Most of my clients don’t even seem to care and appreciate my honesty and resourcefulness. Go figure.

#2 it’s important to set boundaries

Life as a freelancer is all a bit of a balancing act – balancing multiple projects and teams, as well as balancing your work and personal life, especially if you typically work from home every day like I do. It’s so important to set boundaries around when and how you work, not only for your success as a freelancer but for your own personal well-being.

I’ve made the mistake of not setting clear boundaries for myself. Instead, I’ve tried to please every single client while neglecting my own needs and completely overextending myself. Let me just spoil the surprise for you by telling you it’s totally not worth it.

It’s so important to set boundaries around when and how you work, not only for your success as a freelancer but for your own personal well-being.

I’ve learned that it’s best at the start of any new client relationship to discuss my availability and preferred communication channels, as well as my personal working style. This helps to ensure everyone is on the same page right from the start. Every client has unique needs, and I’m of course willing to be flexible in some areas – but in general, boundaries should be established for the purpose of sticking to them.

For example, I generally don’t check email or work on weekends unless I have a pressing deadline or otherwise feel inspired to work. If something urgent comes up, my clients can reach me on the phone or text, but there’s usually nothing that can’t wait until Monday.

By setting this boundary for myself, it establishes clear expectations with my clients who are more inclined to take pause and assess the true urgency of a weekend request. It also means I’m more likely to have uninterrupted family time over the weekend, which is priceless to me.

#3 you have to know your worth (and defend it)

I know I’m not alone when I say that pricing my services as a consultant is one of the hardest challenges I face.

In the past, I had the tendency to price way too low or even agree to work for free, just for the sake of landing a gig.

This was fine when I was first getting my photography business off the ground and trying to build a portfolio – doing free or cheap work in exchange for the experience was a great way for me to develop my skills. But it started to become a problem when the quality of my work continued to improve, and I was still consistently selling myself short. (Impostor syndrome is real, y’all.)

impostor syndrome

Image by Carl Richards

I’ve learned that anytime you don’t charge what you’re really worth, it not only cheapens the value of your services in the eyes of your clients but it’s not sustainable for running a full-time business. I’ve also learned that if a client is basing their decision primarily on price, it’s generally a bad sign.

I feel I’ve finally been able to find that sweet spot with my pricing that works for both me and my ideal clients. Yes, I might be turned down for projects here and there. The upside? Knowing my worth and having confidence in my pricing has helped me to attract the kind of clients I can build long-term relationships with, who truly appreciate the value of my work.

it’s all a learning process

The best advice I can give anyone who works for herself in any capacity is to accept that you’re going to have a lot to learn as you go along and failure is all a part of the process. The sooner you accept this, and the more you’re able to let the failures roll off your shoulders, the happier and more successful you will be in the long run. That’s not to say it’s easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

Can you relate to any of these lessons? Would love to know your experiences.

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