Lessons from One Year of Freelancing

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Becoming a freelancer is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Follow me through this article to learn about how I started, what I have learnt in one year of freelancing, the ups, downs, mistakes, and achievements of freelancing.

FRECOng has given me the opportunity to interview and speak with several people about freelancing and one thing I have come to know is, not a lot of people know what freelancing is. I know this seems strange to people who have been in the freelance world for a long time but it’s the truth.

You probably wonder how possible it is for people not to know what freelancing is, but you will be surprised. Several people misconstrue what freelancing is and they mix it up with several other definitions. 

The most common misconception is that most people think freelancing means working for free.

This goes to show how important it is to let other people know what being a freelancer is. Especially if this is what you do or what you plan to do. 

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Freelancers are constantly looked down on and misunderstood because their type of work is ‘unconventional.’ It takes an open-minded person to understand what it means to be a freelancer and all that it entails. So I will be starting these lessons with a simple definition of what a freelancer is.

According to Investopedia, “A freelancer is an independent laborer who earns wages on a per-job or per-task basis, typically for short-term work. Benefits of freelancing include the freedom to work from home or from a non-traditional workspace, a flexible work schedule, and a better work-life balance.”

According to me, “A freelancer is a person who wants more than what a 9-5 job has to offer. They want more than a lifetime of being controlled by someone else and want to launch out on their own to take charge of their career by doing what they love for several people whenever they like and getting paid handsomely for it.” That is my definition or at least that was what I thought when I started this journey. 

Follow me through this article and you will understand more about what I mean by this.

How I Started Freelancing

Sarah Olaleye

This January makes it one year and two months since I have been freelancing. I started freelancing in December 2020. It started as a side job. The truth is I had been freelancing since June or even before then, I just didn’t know I was. I studied Accounting in the University but I had always known I wasn’t going to work as an accountant. 

By the time I finished school and went for NYSC (National Youth Service Corp (where Nigerians serve their nation for one year, almost like the army) I knew I wanted to be an editor. Before then I had been writing and editing for fun and for school (I wrote the best final year project (winks). In school, everyone knew me as a writer. I just never took it seriously. I even published a novella in 2017. So NYSC came and then, I had it in mind to work in a publishing company as an editor because I love books so much and I wanted to make a living by reading. I was so eager to learn more about editing by then. 

I also wanted to work as an editor with a company or for anyone, so I could get enough experience before I started working full-time. I spoke with my best friend about this and he spoke with his friend who was a publisher. 

That was how I got a side job as an editor for Parousia Reads and Magazine, a Christian publishing company with over 50 publications. I still work there till date. 

I will say that was when I started freelancing but I didn’t know it at the time. 

One day, I was checking the internet for resources on editing, then I came across Afoma Umesi’s blog post on being a freelance editor. That post changed my life. She has changed the website containing those freelance posts to Reading Middle Grade now, but you can still see the ‘for freelancers’ section on the blog.

I started reading and reading and my mind was blown. I didn’t only read that one post, I read more. She had interviews with freelancers and also several other posts of her own. 

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The freelancing journey Pexels.com

Through those posts I discovered Adebola Rayo whom I reached out to on Instagram (she gave me links to resources to learn editing). I discovered Molliereads (I am still determined to take her editing course one day). I discovered Kat Boogard. I discovered the Co-founder of Narrative Landscape Publishing Company, whom I later worked with for 5 months as an editorial assistant. 

I also reached out to Afoma on twitter and she gave me incredible pointers on how to get clients.

By the time I was done with these posts, checked on these people, reached out to them, and got intentional about my twitter page — I had decided in my heart — I wanted to be a freelancer.

When I finished NYSC in October 2020, I got back home and by December 4, 2020, I became a freelancer on the side while searching for jobs. I opened a new  (insert upwork profile) Upwork account too and started sending out proposals.

Even after I got a job, I was still working as a freelancer on the side, taking up editing jobs, proofreading jobs, content writing jobs, working for Parousia and still doing my 9 – 5 jobs.

That was how my journey started. Fast forward to December 14, 2021, I finally decided to go full time freelancing, which was a decision I made given how much I had learnt about freelancing in a year.

Some of which I will be sharing with you below.

The Ups

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Several people want to go into freelancing for different reasons but for me I decided to go into freelancing for the flexibility. I realised I like working at my own pace and I really don’t like being told what to do.

As a freelancer, there are times I work in the day, or sometimes at night, and nobody questions that decision or makes the decision for me except me (though I’m learning how to maintain a healthy work-life balance everyday) and this is something I love.

Another thing I like about being a freelancer is the power it gives me. The power to choose who I want to work with, the kind of work I want to do, and when I should be paid for my work (I am still learning this though).

But freelancing is not all rosy, check out some of my downs!

The Downs

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The first downside I will mention is that there are times you won’t have work to do. There will be times when you will have no clients or your clients could go on a holiday and you won’t have work to do. Also, for you as a freelancer, during the holidays, you will not receive any holiday bonus or those benefits that come with a 9-5 job. 

In freelancing, you get paid as much as you work. Unlike a 9-5 where you will still get paid the same amount even if you don’t work as much as you did the last month. It’s different from freelancing. You work, you get paid. You don’t work, you don’t get paid.

Another downside to freelancing is that though there is flexibility, there is also every tendency you will work all day which will not happen in a 9-5 job. This is your business and clients are counting on you. 

If you spend the best part of your day sleeping or having fun, you will have to make up for it at night, because you have to please your clients.

The Mistakes

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One major mistake I will say I made is that I didn’t go into full-time freelancing early. I kept pushing it back because I was scared of the unknown. I also battled imposter syndrome and wondered if I would ever get enough clients to sustain myself.

This pushed me to work 9-5 jobs I didn’t really enjoy doing. Along the line, I learnt 9-5 jobs were not for me. I realised I couldn’t cope with someone constantly telling me what to do or someone making me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, or someone rubbing it in my face everytime I make a mistake that they pay my salary and I had to listen to them because they could fire me any time. It was nerve-wracking. Knowing you are made for more, feeling stuck, yet not being able to leave to do what you really like. It can be very disturbing.

I struggled to cope with these jobs but later got tired. The very last people I worked with played around with my salary and made the job even more tiring for me. That was when I decided I had to end this.

I hated feeling anxious and wondering if or when they would fire me.

Another thing was I knew I had so much potential inside me and I was scared to invest it in someone else’s business when I could use these ideas to grow mine. It was a battle of the mind for me and it was not also fair to the people I worked with.

Around November (I think), I listened to Afoma’s interview on Being Freelance’ Podcast and yet again my mind started beating fast (that feeling of wanting more came running back again). 

By then I was working with several people as a freelancer (I was still working a 9-5 (or so I thought), I had even started telling everyone I was a freelancer. I knew I wanted to be a freelancer but I kept wondering if I was ready and that was a major mistake I made. The thing is you’re never ready for anything in life. It only gets better when you start.

Another mistake I made as a freelancer is allowing clients to dictate when they will pay me or working before being paid. I have learnt in a hard way to take my business into my hands and tell clients how I want to be paid and refuse to work if they don’t agree with it.

Which brings me to the famous price and rate issue. Earlier as a freelancer, I collected the most ridiculous amount for the most hectic jobs. I still feel the pangs till date. That feeling of being underpaid and also not telling clients when you’re not okay with the rate because you don’t want to lose them. It’s the worst feeling ever and it’s a mistake I’ve learnt from.

One other mistake I would like to add is not documenting the work I did when I first started freelancing. Which is something you should take note of. While I was designing my portfolio page and putting together the long list of work I have done, I realised I couldn’t remember the titles of some work I did and I didn’t know how to get them again. It was really painful for me. 

The Achievements

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My freelancing achievements Pexels.com

The most Important thing I’ve achieved as a freelancer is people loving my work. Before becoming a freelancer, I fought impostor syndrome. Working 9-5 did not also help matters. I had bosses that wouldn’t appreciate your work. Bosses who wanted you to work exactly how they work. Bosses who didn’t understand that creativity comes differently to everyone. Bosses who wouldn’t allow you express your creativity. It was hard for me because I hated (still hate) being put in a box.

Then going into freelancing and working for several people from different parts of the world who treat me with respect, pay me well, and actually love what I have written or edited for them (Wow), makes me feel good and even more confident in my skills.

I’ve had a 9-5 boss who told me I don’t have the right skill set they need and yet as a freelancer,  I’ve gone on to create and design a website all by myself (WITH MY FREAKING PHONE…LOL), I’ve written over 90 online articles, edited more than 150 articles, books, and content with little to no complaints from my clients (that sure makes me feel good).

I was also able to create an association for freelancers in my country (after realizing the scarcity of these associations) which is still in progress.

Another achievement is being able to decide what kind of jobs I want and what I don’t want to do, and being able to work on my business on the side too. 

The flexibility that comes with freelancing is complicated but if well managed, it can be the best thing in the world.

Freelancing Lessons

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  • Pick a niche: I have learnt in this freelancing world, picking a niche is not as important as it is spoken about but it is also important too. Whether you niche down or not, you will still make it as a freelancer. But to get the big paying clients and to become an authority in this field of freelancing, filled with so many people, you should pick a niche.
  • Network with freelancers: To be a successful freelancer, you should network with people. I highly recommend Linkedin. I got most of my freelance jobs via Linkedin. I also got some other ones through friends and fellow freelancers. You can also check out twitter. It has a large community of freelancers that you will find very useful if you are  consistent enough. Reach out to freelancers for tips, jobs, advice etc. You can also reach out to me. You will be surprised how nice and accommodating most freelancers are.
  • Create a Portfolio: I lost so many opportunities when I didn’t have a portfolio. Especially on the street of twitter, wherever you see job opportunities, there are several people already professionally pitching for those jobs with their portfolio links in the comments sections. How can you pitch a potential client with “see two samples of my work or I’m a Freelance writer, email me at … to hire me?” Well you can. But it is highly unprofessional. Most clients will go for the ‘ready’ freelancers. So have a portfolio. I designed my portfolio page recently and it even got me a gig too. It was liberating. I didn’t have to say much about myself, I let my portfolio do the talking. If you don’t have a website, you can create a Google drive folder of all your work, so you can have samples to show potential clients.
  • Don’t accept low rates: One of the mistakes I made earlier as a freelancer is accepting low rates or any rates just so I could have work (it’s understandable when you’re just starting out, because you want to get all the experiences you need, but when you’ve been a freelancer for more than 6 months or even less, and you still accept low rates, you are short changing yourself). Last year, I did a job for an incredibly low amount that I had to pay from my money to outsource the job when I got tired of working on it. Imagine how much I lost on that one job. I also had clients who wouldn’t pay me on time even after I had sent and resent invoices. It was not a funny experience for me. So I made up my mind that I will not do any job until I am paid or at least I receive half payment. I also decided not to reduce my rate to get clients. It’s better to lose a low paying client than to regret working for one.
  • Budget: As a freelancer, you must understand that freelancing is a business. You must treat it like one. Ensure you save and budget your income as soon as you receive it because if you don’t, you will end up receiving so much money and not know what you did with it. 
  • Take charge: One of the upsides of freelancing is being in charge of your career or work life. This also applies to clients that do not treat you well or are disrespectful to you. Take charge and let them go. Don’t be afraid you won’t get another client because you will, and those times you find yourself idle or you have less work, devote that time to self-development or something you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Get started now: Are you still contemplating if this is what you want? Don’t be like me and regret in six months time that you didn’t start today. Get started now! Go for it! You can start as a side freelancer or a full time freelancer. Whichever way, start. I had only skills and no experience when I started. Nothing should stop you from starting.

Takeaway

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I will tell you one thing that kept me going when I first started freelancing. It was something I read somewhere (probably an article), the writer said after six months, you will get better and everything will fall into place. 

Well, it didn’t exactly happen like that for me but I can assure you that after six months, I did get my footing in the freelancing world and you can too.

Have a story or two to share about your freelancing journey or fears? Let us hear it in the comments section. If you also want to network, chat, or talk with a freelancing buddy. Email me at aipeditorialservices@gmail.com 

Will you also like to share your freelance story or be interviewed on my blog for a guest feature? Reach me on aipeditorialservices@gmail.com

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6 Comments

  1. Amazing write-up

    Thank you for this beautiful story.

    I can relate with this. Freelancing is challenging, but pays. With time, you will find your foot if you don’t give up.

    Thank you for this.

    I learnt a great deal

  2. This is really an insightful piece.
    An eye-catching statement:
    “The thing is you’re never ready for anything in life. It only gets better when you start”

    Thank you Sarah.

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