Brand new freelancers have a lot of misconceptions about what it’s really like to build a soloist business. They’ve got good intentions, but the way they frame their business issues tends to be way off (and even a little dangerous).
Here are some common things I’ve heard new freelancers say, why they’re wrong, and how to reframe the idea more productively.
- “I have 30 days to become a full-time copywriter”
- “I’m going to quit my job on Friday and start freelancing!”
- “I tried that once, so I’ll never try it again”
- “I’m going to eat Ramen noodles and work 24/7/365 until I make it!”
- “If Bob can do it, so can I…”
- “I deserve success”
- “I just made $1,000, if I do 10 of these everyday I’ll make $10,000/day!”
Idea #1: “I have 30 days to become a full-time copywriter”
Translation: “I’m broke, desperate, and hate my job.”
Solution: Instead of trying to replace a full-time income in your first week of running a business (that’s what freelancing is), shoot for a much smaller goal that’ll act as a safe stepping stone.
- “In the next 30 days, I’m going to earn my first $100 freelancing”
- “In the next 30 days, I’m going to land my first client”
- “In the next 30 days, I’m going to speak with 5 experienced freelancers and ask them about making the transition”
- “In the next 30 days, I’m going to organize my digital assets (website, resume, CRM, etc)
- “In the next 30 days, I’m going to apply to 10 part-time, remote jobs that’ll cover my living expenses”
Idea #2: “I’m going to quit my job on Friday and start freelancing.”
Translation: “I hate my job and I want to do ANYTHING else.”
Solution: Like #1, this is more about wanting a quick change than making a strategic, smart career choice. Cutting off your income in order to launch a new business from scratch for the first time is extremely dangerous.
- “I’m going to quit my job once I’ve made $4,000/mo freelancing for 3 straight months.”
- “I’m going to talk to my boss about my freelancing plans and work out a retainer or part-time arrangement and turn my current employer into my first long term client.”
- “I’m going to quit my job once I’ve replaced my current monthly income.”
- “I’m going to apply to other, more attractive jobs (instead of jumping straight into freelancing).”
- “I’m not sure about quitting my job, so I’m going to ask for a lot of advice from experienced freelancers before making such a big decision.”
Idea #3: “I tried that once, so I’ll never try it again”
Translation: “I’m very sensitive and scared of rejection and failure.”
Solution: I hear this all the time when new freelancers try selling their services. When they hear their first “no” from a client, new freelancers tend to retreat apologetically, take the rejection to heart, and decide to never try that approach again.
That’s just not right. Experienced pros are constantly selling their services, building pipelines, and developing relationships, often at a scale noobs can’t imagine. You can’t stop at the first “no”!
- “I’m going to pitch this service to 100 agencies. It’s a data experiment, not a reflection of my value.”
- “No? Why not?”
- “No? How about this alternative?”
- “No? How do you plan to address the issue?”
- “I’m going to pitch an offer that I know other freelancers successfully use with my target clients. That way I can focus on improving my sales process instead of wondering whether it’s my style or the offer or something else.”
Idea #4: “I’m going to eat Ramen noodles and work 24/7/365!”
Translation: “I’m hyped up to be an entrepreneur!! Rags to riches, baby!!”
Solution: This sort of thinking usually leads to burnout. Wanting to work hard is an admirable quality - but if it’s not channeled properly, it’ll lead to irregular work, an unhealthy lifestyle, and a very frustrating experience where you’re not at your best.
- “I’m going to work hard to make it, but I’m going to set some boundaries with a rigid daily/weekly schedule.”
- “I’m going to work hard to make it, but I’m going to make time for my family, my partner, and myself.”
- “I’m going to work hard to make it, and I’m going to stick to my pre-set budget.”
- “I’m going to work hard to make it, but I’ll get a second job if I need the extra income.”
- “I’m going to work hard to make it, but my happiness is goal #1 and I’ll track it.”
Idea #5: “If Bob can do it, so can I…”
Translation: “I have no idea what I’m doing, but if that idiot over there can make money then I will too!”
Solution: Comparing yourself to other people in business is never a good idea. Sure, you might be smarter than all of your entrepreneur or freelance friends - but can you sell?
Many smart people fail at their own business ventures, and it’s usually because they think they can “figure it out” academically instead of actively building their sales muscle through experience.
- “Bob is doing well - I’m going to get to know him better and learn about his experience, approach, and systems.”
- “I’d love to do what Bob’s doing. I’m going to try and
- “Bob’s doing well and I’d love to do the same sort of thing - but he’s been at it for 5 years. I’m going to talk to him about how he was doing in Year 1.”
- “Bob’s got a great thing going. What’s the simplest offer he has? Can I do something similar, and just test it out for a small fraction of the price?”
- “Bob’s doing well, but he’s working in a different market and at a different level….so is he really someone worth focusing on as I grow my freelancing? Maybe I should find more relevant role models.
Idea #6: “I deserve success”
Translation: “I want people to hand me money but I don’t really know what my value is…”
Solution: Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’re going to make it. Freelancers usually operate as some form of service providers, meaning they have to sell solutions that deliver their clients clear value.
- “I’m going to learn to sell everything I do based on the value of the outcomes my clients experience.”
- “I’m going to work hard AND work smart.”
- “I’m going to make a very clear plan for my first few years freelancing, and I’m going to define success as ____, ____, and ____ (ex: “10K/mo, 100 happy clients, fantastic case studies with huge client wins).”
- “I know my numbers very well. My project price is $X because on average my clients make 10*$X after working with me.”
- “My success will be based on the work I do and the value I deliver, not some vague universe magic.”
Idea #7: “I just made $1,000, if I do 10 of these everyday I’ll make $10,000/day!”
Translation: “I’m wasting time on silly things that make me feel good but don’t actually add anything to my business.”
Solution: This tends to happen when a new freelancer is playing around with pricing models or just sold their first big project. They’ll get excited about the price, then sit down and project an exaggerated best-case scenario, then get even more excited.
Thing is, that’s not how business works. Growth is rarely smooth. And while it’s good to run your numbers and make projects, you should always be thinking defensively and conservatively - not just getting hyped up over imaginary dollars. You’d be much better off focusing on systems and processes, not outcomes.
- “I know that I want to make $100,000 next year, and that my average project sells for $2,000. That means I need 50 projects. I also know I land about 25% of my pitches, so I need to pitch at least 200 leads.”
- “How can I increase the number of quality pitches I make next year?”
- “How can I increase my project price?”
- “How can I sell more to past clients?”
Dan McDermott - danmcd.me