What I’ve Learned as a Freelancer

Freelancing is one of those occupations that manages to be dreamy and nightmarish all at once. You get to set your own hours, and often work from home. Awesome! You often do not have a steady source of work, and someone is always looking for something for free. Not awesome. But even with the drawbacks, I’ve learned some valuable experiences from freelancing. Things like this:

Never undervalue yourself.

Make sure that the project is worth your time.

Never, ever promise what you cannot deliver.

Don’t be afraid to say no.

Some of these things may seem obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to fall into their traps, especially when you’re just starting out. It’s understandable to go for low-budget projects as a means of gaining experience and buffing up your resume, but these should be small projects to begin with. If someone wants you to edit a 75,000 word manuscript and then ghostwrite another 25,000 words for $10.00, you probably don’t want to touch that, no matter how little experience you have under your belt.

I know that, with the current state of the economy, particularly in the United States (where I live), there’s a dominant trend to grossly underpay people, or even not pay them at all. In exchange, there’s the vague promise of experience, “connections”, and maybe some future work. Maybe. If you’ll keep working for free. (Lookin’ at you, unpaid internships.)

Of course, when you work in creative fields, people especially expect you to work for next to nothing. Why should they pay you to write content for their website? It’s just a bunch of words. Why should they pay that much for a custom sketch? It’s just a bunch of lines. 

Then again, if it’s all so worthless, they could have just done it themselves. But for whatever reason, they won’t (or more likely can’t), and they’ve come to you. So, rather than sell yourself short, always remember that they are looking to not only rent your skill set, but also a fraction of your life. You should get paid your full value, because you’re doing what they cannot.

On that note, however, it is also incredibly important to deliver on what you promise. If you honestly feel that you cannot complete a project by a certain deadline, or something is beyond your skill set, do not, I repeat, do NOT lie and say that you can get it done. In addition to stressing yourself out and probably botching a job, you will damage your relationship with your clients, and hurt your reputation. It’s not worth it. And, funnily enough, I’ve found that honesty is much more likely to get me paid.

Telling the truth and saying that I could not do a particular project has resulted in some cases of “Never mind, thanks anyway,” but has also actually led some clients to propose something much better suited to my skillset that we were both happy to build a contract around, simply because they liked me and wanted to work with me. Trust me, honesty is valuable. You should not put yourself down, but there is nothing wrong with telling someone that you don’t have the necessary knowledge to write the code for their new website, for example, and would be a better fit for drafting the content and finding appropriate images to go with the text. 

And finally, you really can’t be afraid to say no. If someone comes to you with a project that you would never in a million years want your name attached to (possibly something offensive), or if they refuse to offer you anywhere near enough money to compensate you for your time, or anything like that, you are within your right to turn down the job. That may seem intimidating, especially in this economy, but then again, if you’re not devoting your time and energy to a project that is just not worth it, you could be looking for better, more worthwhile work, and probably finding it.

One last thing to remember is that people do expect to get what they pay for. So, while it’s not a terrible idea to work cheaper than you normally would when you’re just starting out and building a reputation or polishing your skills, remember that people will pay for what they truly want and / or need. They expect better work for higher prices, and know that cheap spending will most likely get them a cheap product. Price yourself accordingly.

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