Article Source: Opinion piece written by Abdullahi Muhammed 


The first thing I learned about freelancing is that no amount of preparation is sufficient. It is a trial by fire, and sometimes it feels as if you wake up in a new world every single day.

That said, now that I have grown from a freelancer to an agency owner, I couldn’t be happier that I took the leap back in the day.

I love the independence. I love the intensity of the work that I do. I love my clients. Okay, most of them. I’ve also learned some really valuable things along the way. I wouldn’t do anything different. Still, these are the six powerful lessons that still impact the way that I approach my career today.

1. Freelancing isn’t for everyone

When I started freelancing, a two of my college friends decided to follow suit and kickstarted their freelance careers too. Within a year, both were seeking full-time employment. Does that mean they are lesser in some way? Absolutely not. Both had the ability to be honest with themselves and recognize that freelancing was not for them. In order to maintain their own happiness, meet the needs of their families, and pursue happiness, they changed direction. I admire both of them for that.

Freelancing isn’t an easy path to take. A lot of freelancers work long hours. I often find myself communicating with clients or working late at night or early in the morning to accommodate clients in other time zones. It can be financially stressful as well when you just get started. You have to cover your own insurance and file taxes. There are no paid vacations. Still, for me, it is all worth it.

2. Natural talent has nothing on discipline and commitment

Freelancing is a bit like athletics. The kid that hits home runs or can dunk the ball may get the most attention at first. However, as the season progresses, it’s the kid who shows up every day and can be relied upon to work diligently and accurately who gets the most play time. Sometimes coaches need a dunker. They almost always need a workhorse who can sink free throws.

Don’t worry about being the whizzbang freelancer who knows all of the latest tools and tricks. You don’t even need to have loads of natural talent. Instead, show up every day and focus on being the freelancer that can be relied upon for accuracy and professionalism.

3. Your biggest asset is your reputation

Always remember that people talk. Whether they are connected by geography or industry, chances are you have clients and prospects who communicate with one another. While you do want them to talk about you, what they say about you and how they discuss you is even more important.

I have discovered that nearly every single time, clients will choose a freelancer with a great reputation over a freelancer with a poor one. In fact, 84% of solopreneurs earning over $100K a year receive most of their work through word-of-mouth.

So strive to keep your reputation perfect. Here are some things that massively contribute to that:

  • Never make promises you cannot keep.
  • Always speak positively of your competitors.
  • If you make a mistake, be proactive in admitting it and fixing it.
  • Keep very accurate billing records and always be transparent.
  • Return emails and phone calls promptly.

4. Stagnancy is the enemy, constant learning is key

I started my career as a freelance writer. Today, I offer an entire suite of services that I never imagined that I would. This is because I realized that in addition to providing copywriting services, many potential clients were interested in learning the art and science of online marketing themselves. So, I was flexible enough to add marketing consulting and training to my skill set.

I also work in a field where there are constantly new rules and tools emerging. I know that I cannot be stagnant. Constantly learning about business management, freelancing, marketing, emerging tech tools and industry best practices is key to continuous growth. Dedicating a few hours a week to personal education is essential to remain an in-demand hire.

5. Setting boundaries and saying no is tough, but necessary

At first, I accepted almost every job. Even if it meant compromising sleep or family time, I took it. I even accepted work from clients that I knew had a reputation for short changing freelancers. I believed that turning down work would mean low income, and that I would miss out on referrals and other opportunities. It nearly drove me to burn out.

What I have learned is that first of all, it is okay to turn down assignments. Any client who will get huffy about that isn’t one that is worth having. It’s also healthy to set boundaries when it comes to work hours and availability. I am certainly more available to my clients than the average employee to their corporate employer. However, I still maintain strict personal and family time.

6. You must embrace uncertainty and risk

There is no guarantee of success in freelancing. You have to embrace that the future is going to be uncertain. You may even fail. Still, if you can make this happen, it is rewarding and worthwhile. I am grateful every day that I took this leap. If you are prepared for hard work, customer satisfaction and lifelong learning, you can be a successful freelancer.

These are the important lessons that have helped me achieve success as a freelancer. I sincerely believe that others can benefit from them as well. Freelancing is hard, but definitely worthwhile. Learn the right lessons and your chance of success increases significantly.