If you are a freelancer who has been chasing after clients and worrying where to find your next gig even before your current project is completed, then you might be doing the wrong thing. And guess what — before you know it, you’ll risk burning yourself out.
Stop thinking and acting like a freelancer
Some of the most common reasons for burnout among freelancers are the following:
Chasing after clients. If you’re doing this, you’re not into a freelancing business. You are struggling — struggling to be financially healthy and stable. This is hard because when one project ends, you have to bid again, send a new proposal or wait for a client looking to pay $5 for a service. It feels like starting from scratch every time. This is not only tiring but also unsustainable.
Dealing with unreasonable clients. Not all clients and all projects are the same. Nothing can be more frustrating than chasing a client and finding out later that you just got an unreasonable client or a demanding project.
Finding it hard to say ‘no’ to any project. Sometimes, there are so many “attractive” projects right there on Upwork. So, you keep on proposing or bidding until you realize that there are already so many projects on your plate. You’ve just ended up with so many commitments. This is a surefire way to lose your focus.
Lack of time for yourself. Let’s admit it — freelancers understand what it means by a downtime or a “dry” season. You probably want to work as much as you can while there are still many projects. The ending? What else but burnout?
Lack of specialization (or niche) in your services. Just because you can do ‘a lot of things’ doesn’t mean you can offer ‘a lot of services’ to any client. A freelance writer, for example, may be tempted to accept all kinds of writing projects, e.g., copywriting, academic writing, content marketing, competitive analysis, research, etc. instead of specializing only in one or two fields. All of these types of writing have different requirements and approach, and juggling among all of these may just slow down the completion of any project.
Although you can take several steps to overcome burnout and stay motivated, totally avoiding it is still the best option. To avoid burnout, consider your freelance career a business. Most freelancers don’t realize this.
Why? They’re too busy chasing after clients.
If you want to thrive, take off your freelancer’s hat and wear an entrepreneur’s hat beginning today.
Think and act like an entrepreneur
If you began your career as a full-time employee and later ventured into freelancing, you knew at the beginning that you had also ended your “employee” status that made you come to work at 9 a.m. and leave the office at 5 p.m.
As a freelancer, you can get the freedom and flexibility that you want as well as the salary you’ve always dreamed of, but you need to be ready to work smarter, not harder.
As a professional freelancer, you must develop an entrepreneurial mindset by being more strategic in your activities. Here are five simple ways to do this:
1. Have clearly defined vision, mission and goals
Chasing after clients or sending project proposals after another is not a goal. It also shows that you have no vision or mission. Ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in the future (vision) and what impact do I want to have as a professional freelancer (mission)?”
You can set your own vision and mission by first being clear with your values. You also need to set specific goals. What do you want to achieve in the next year or next three years? Make your goals measurable.
Do you want to gain more clients in the next few months? How many clients? When exactly do you want to achieve it? Perhaps you can say, “I want to gain 100 new clients by June 2017.”
To achieve your major goals, try to break them down into short-term goals. For example, to gain 100 new clients by June 2017, you might need to gain at least 20 new clients each month. You can further break down your short-term goals into tasks by indicating what you will do every day to add at least 5 new customers to your client base once a week.
Tip: Be honest with yourself about where you are now as a freelancer and be clear with where you want to be in the future — do these if you want to thrive in the freelancing industry.
2. Identify your core products or services
You are the CEO of your own freelance business. The main services that you offer to your prospective clients depend on your key skills. So if you are a freelance writer with an entrepreneurial mindset, your writing and editing skills backed by your technical experience will help you decide which specific services to offer.
Now, you might ask — what if you have several skills, e.g., you can write articles, edit content, create infographics, produce video content, manage social media, use WordPress, do SEO, transcribe audio content, edit photos, etc.?
Just remember: Don’t try to be everything to every client. Identify your core skill sets by combining 2–5 skills that can make you do one specific job effectively and efficiently.
For example, you can make writing, editing, SEO and WordPress publishing your core skill set. With these skills taken as one, you can be a blogger who is not only good at writing and editing but also knowledgeable in SEO and WordPress publishing.
You can choose to have secondary skill sets and consider both hard and soft skills.
Tip: Have a focus. Avoid being “jack of all trades, master of none.”
3. Identify your core customers
After you’ve decided on your core services or skill sets, the next step is to identify the clients who need those skills the most. They are your core customers. You might discover that there are so many potential customers out there looking for the skill sets you’ve identified. In such case, you need to streamline a bit more by finding your niche.
What does this mean?
For example, on the skill set ‘writing + editing + SEO + WordPress,’ you can be a freelance blogger or writer. However, writing is quite a general skill. You still have to narrow this down by identifying the industry you want to write about or maybe the type of writing you want to offer.
On the industry: Do you want to write about fashion? Or business? Or travel? Or food? Choose the ones that you are most knowledgeable about or the ones that you are most interested in.
On the type of writing: Do you want to specialize on general article writing? Academic writing? Copywriting? Business writing? Content marketing?
Narrowing down by industry and type of writing will help you find the perfect clients that match your skill sets and interests.
Tip: Offer your services only to clients who need results that you can deliver using your core skills in a chosen niche. That way, you get to excel each time and every time.
4. Invest in marketing
Without customers, your freelance business won’t exist. Again, don’t fall into the trap of scanning freelance marketplaces every day to look for clients or on waiting for a customer who can spare only $5 for a service.
Instead, invest time and money in marketing your services.
Start by scanning the market. What do other freelancers offer? How can you make yourself stand out in the already saturated market? How do you become a remarkable freelancer? The answer is by building and growing your personal brand.
“Choose to do something better, different, unique — to be the one and only. And if you are the one and only … you will be paid fairly, you will be respected, you will get to decide what happens next.” — Seth Godin on Unemployable with Brian Clark
As a brand, you need to create awareness on the services you offer, establish your credibility and strategically position yourself in the market. Gary Vaynerchuk suggests developing a personal brand by being a “big fish in a small pond.”
Remember that your brand’s market position is influenced also by how you deal with your clients. Always deliver what you promise, so your clients will continue doing business with you.
Tip: Create your own website. Leverage LinkedIn to position yourself in the market if you want to attract high-paying clients. These types of clients rarely go to Fiverr, Upwork or other bidding freelance websites.
5. Invest in learning
Every successful entrepreneur invests in learning. Every freelancer is a learner. The way you do business last year may no longer apply today or tomorrow. To give value to your clients, you first need to add value to yourself. Remember the cliché, “You can’t give what you don’t have”? It’s still true.
“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” — Warren Buffett
Several learning opportunities are available online. You can learn almost anything you ever want. Here are some learning options to consider:
- Enroll in massive open online courses (MOOCs). You’ll find paid and free MOOCs on Udemy, FutureLearn, Open2Study, Coursera, edX, Udacity, etc.
- Watch relevant videos on Lynda.com and other similar platforms.
- Read books and ebooks from your computer and other devices.
- Listen to audiobooks.
- Find a mentor.
Are you ready to break free?
Breaking free from the 9-to-5 employment is both scary and rewarding. Not everyone is cut out to become a freelancer who must take charge of his or her own career by building a one-person business and ensuring a steady flow of customers while maintaining financial health.
To thrive as a freelancer, you need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and have a higher purpose. Otherwise, you might give up too easily when things don’t turn out right.
Apply the tips above and you’ll be on your way to taking your freelancing career to the next level! Good luck!