Nearly 10 months ago, after being fired from my day job, I realized it was finally time to focus in on my own freelance business. Not a passion project, not a side-hustle, not another “small business”. I was going to build a full-blown company. A company focused on helping others with their online presence. I thought I was ready.
I thought I had read enough books and listened to enough podcasts that I would be up for any challenge thrown my way. Every time a new obstacle came up, I told myself, “This is just another bump in the road. Keep going.” After six months of pothole-littered roads, I realized I wasn’t even in the right lane.
I sat down, took a breath, and gave myself a few weeks off from day-to-day work. I reflected on what I learned and what I did wrong, and exactly where I’ll have to go next.
6. You’re going to lose friends
Throughout my life, I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to have supportive friends. Many of them shared my excitement in personal life goals and never did they rebuke my small projects. And then it came time to focus on my business.
I quickly learned that although many people wouldn’t put me down in my journey, they wouldn’t be around to support me. In building the business I missed multiple social outings, all so I could focus every last dollar into this career. Most of those friends stopped reaching out altogether, but a few didn’t.
Those few friends that kept reaching out meant the world to me. They showed me they valued our time together, and not just the cup of specialty coffee we shared. Those friends got a blocked off time-slot in my calendar. They got my full, undivided attention, and I savored every moment of it.
5. People don’t value you as much as they say they do
This one was painful to learn. When I began building the business, I started reaching out to my network of creative and freelance friends. Often we would work together quid pro quo, with the expectation that I would receive future work leads from their clients. More often than not, that relationship never went anywhere. The friend never brought me any work, never talked me up, and sometimes just flat out dropped me. The few friends that were the exception, I hold them close to my freelance heart.
It wasn’t only friends either. Clients did this to an amazing degree. I specifically try to never work on “exposure”, but I did find myself lowering my prices often just to make ends meet. In these situations, the client always touted how they were excited to bring me “so much” future work. It never happened.
In those moments with friends and clients, I realized that they were so quick to put me on a pedestal as a way to secure their work completion. When in reality, they were never prepared to return the favor.
I eventually realized that the clients that valued me the most were willing to pay the literal price upfront. Those client relationships have grown and solidified in a way that no others have.
4. You’re going to have to put yourself on a pedestal
This one is a bit tricky to explain. To be a freelancer, you have to be good at a specific skill. To be an effective freelancer, your value in that skill has to be higher than others. To be an amazing freelancer, you have to be able to walk around tooting your own horn.
I’m not saying go around showboating and telling everyone you’re an “entrepreneur”. Rather, you should be able to clearly explain to a client what you do, why you do it, and the value you’re going to bring them. Then, you take all of that and wrap it up in an air of earned confidence.
An example of that would be:
“I build amazing e-commerce websites for clients because I realized too many small businesses weren’t seeing the benefits of an online store. Here’s an example site I built for a client who sells puppy accessories. She saw a 400% increase in sales once I introduced a new payment processing system.”
After attempting and failing to close multiple client gigs, I realized that my timidity was hurting me. I confidently knew I could solve a problem, but I was reluctant in explaining that to prospects. It didn’t make a damn ounce of sense, and I still don’t understand why I struggled with it.
I began putting myself on a pedestal and letting clients know that I was the best person for them. Others may have been cheaper, but I would be the one to solve their problems giving them the freedom to focus on the rest of their business.
3. You’re really going to have to know your stuff
And then some.
This one sounds obvious, but it’s not as clear-cut. Past knowing the basics of your specialty skillset, you’re going to have to learn how to learn. Learn where to go to get the right answers to your questions, find up to date resources, and surrounding yourself with the right community.
WordPress is a great example. You may know how to install and configure WordPress, but can you grasp an understanding of how that very specific, client-requested, plugin works? “Knowing your stuff” here would mean knowing where to go to learn the ins and outs of the plugin, caveats, and have it successfully working for your client in a timely manner.
2. You’re going to have to get better at communication.
Basic grammar writing skills aside, your clients will love you if you can truly understand how to communicate with them. When they ask you for ideas on how to build a new website, you don’t just tell them you can do it. You let them know you understand their needs and goals, and that you can accomplish everything in an effective way for them.
This clear communication skillset becomes crucial when things go wrong. By having a methodology for your communication, you can help protect your client/freelancer relationship. I’ve had clients ask me where along a project was or why it was delayed. Since I keep meticulous open documentation (emails, Trello boards, and Google Docs), I could always pinpoint back to where anything stalled. For some clients, unlimited access to this information took some getting used to. But soon, they began to rely on the systems as much as I did. Our meeting times became more efficient as well. Instead of spending time asking, “What did you accomplish last week”, we could jump straight into, “What are you going to accomplish this week?”.
1. It’s going to be harder than you ever imagined
I almost avoided even adding this to the list. It’s so cliche, it’s laughable. But by not adding it to the list, I would’ve been dishonest with myself.
I’ve dropped out of college, moved across the country, had a break up that ruined me, and yet building this business was tougher than all of that. I was challenged emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. And all I wanted to do was be my own boss!
That’s what makes being a business owner so amazing. The freedom to build what you want. The reward of putting yourself out there in the world in a way many others will never be able to. That grit that keeps you fighting when you’re knocked down.
And that’s exactly what I’ll keep doing.