When people consider a freelance career, they first tend to think of the difficulties: not enough time to do it; other, more important, commitments; trouble finding work, not earning enough, etc.
But before you spend too much time thinking about what might get in the way of a successful freelance career, know that these obstacles can be overcome with a good plan.
It’s the sneaky distractions that most likely get in the way of your success. Here’s a rundown of some of those distractions and how to prevail over them.
1. Spending time and energy on things that don’t matter
When you’re first getting started in your freelance career, it can be hard to tell what does and doesn’t matter.
For example, you might spend hours thinking about how to incorporate your business. (Start an LLC? Register as an S-Corp?) The truth is that many freelancers in the U.S. are just fine as sole proprietors. Being a sole proprietors requires little to no paperwork. You don’t even need an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. You can just use your Social Security number. (Though getting an EIN is free and easy and sole proprietors can get one!)
Plus, individual sole proprietors are taxed the exact same way as a one-person LLC. More often, this is a form of resistance. You’re letting this decision get in the way of just doing the thing. (Of course, no one wants to run afoul of the law; talk with your tax pro for your best steps!)
Here’s another one: What should you name your business? You could spend weeks trying to come up with the most innovative and creative name when, in reality, you can just use your own name.
If something is not moving your freelance business forward, then chances are it doesn’t matter.
2. Spending too much time and energy on things that DO matter
There are things you do need to address to ensure you have a successful career.
For one, you need a website. But you shouldn’t spend dozens of hours teaching yourself design skills and how to use WordPress. In just a few hours on Squarespace you can create a sophisticated-looking site with their easy-to-use templates.
You should always be looking to make progress and not to achieve perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist and chasing it is a waste of time.
Your time is better spent getting things like your website up and running so you can build your freelance business.
3. Spending too much time and energy deciding
Smart decision-making requires a little bit of time. But you need to know when you’re spending too much time getting to a decision.
For example, choosing between buying the domain name “sallyworks.com” or “sallyfreelancer.com” is a valid decision you will need to make before your website goes live. But it’s a one-hour decision, not a multi-day decision. Ultimately, there’s not much impact on your career by choosing one over the other, so pick one and move on.
Even with bigger decisions like how much to charge a client, you can’t spend days deciding. Gather all the information you need and then decide. And know that over time, decisions like these become easier the more you make them.
Don’t get stalled in the “decision-making” phase instead of the “action” phase.
4. Spending time and energy worrying about things you can’t control
It’s natural to be concerned with our business. And it’s easy to fall into the worry trap. But worrying is not productive. It only expends energy you could be using toward building your business.
For example, let’s say you’re worrying about pitching a new client. If you’ve learned all about their business and your pitch includes a benefit to them (like how you can solve a problem they have or how to help them earn more money) then you’re prepared to make the pitch.
What you can’t worry about is the outcome, which is out of your control. If the client doesn’t hire you at the time you pitch them, there could be lots of factors. Try to get the answer for why now is not the right time for them to hire you. Is it a budget issue? Will more funds be available in a few months? Does your rate need adjusting?
All you can do is your best going into every situation and fight the tendency to waste time and energy worrying about things you can’t control.
5. Spending time and energy worrying about things that aren’t an issue yet
Along those same lines, it’s also a waste to worry about things before they happen—even things that may never happen!
For example, you must pay taxes on your freelance income. That’s why you should create a separate savings account and put aside a percentage of each payment you receive that you can use come tax time.
Ask your tax preparer or CPA for the right percentage you should be setting aside. If you secure these funds in a separate account that you use only to pay your taxes, then you won’t have to worry about paying your tax bill on April 15th—or spend the time worrying about them all year long!
Spending time worrying about taxes (versus doing something about them) is a waste of time. Let yourself worry for a few minutes and then analyze the worry itself. Is it something you can control? If so, do something about it. If not, do some yoga, meditation, or listen to some calming music until the worry subsides.
6. Having no system for landing work
One of the biggest obstacles in a freelancer’s life is finding and landing (and maintaining!) clients. If you don’t have the work coming in, you risk feeling like a failure.
Establishing a system for your clients is essential to a freelancer’s success. Just wishing and hoping to land work won’t cut it. Job bidding sites like Upwork or Fiverr aren’t systems—they’re one-and-done project platforms that put your career in the hands of someone else.
A successful freelancer controls the narrative of their own story, including who they want to work with, how much they want to be paid, and when they want to work (which is why most of us became freelancers in the first place!).
7. Letting setbacks stop you
How you view setbacks says more about you than it does about the actual outcome. Let’s say a freelancer was working hard to hit their first $10,000 month. The end of the month rolls around and they’ve managed to hit $9,500.
This might be tempting for them to view as a failure.
At the same time, another freelancer who’s working hard to hit their first $1,000 month would see that $9,500 as a HUGE success.
So, the first thing to realize is that failure is all relative.
Failure is just a story you’re telling yourself. And you have the power to change that story.
The narrative of a freelancer is the story you write…and continue writing.
8. Taking setbacks as a reflection of you and your work
Experiencing a setback doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you. You may have failed to meet a goal, but that doesn’t mean that you as a person are a failure. One of the worst things we can do to our mental well-being is to make an external condition affect how we think of ourselves.
A failure is simply an outcome. Better yet, it’s an opportunity to learn.
Think of everything you do in your business as a learning opportunity. Every pitch you send out, every call you have with a prospective client, every connection you make on LinkedIn.
With each endeavor, you should seek to learn if how you approached each outreach if it was successful or not.
Let’s say you write a basic pitch letter and then customize it for 50 companies. You send out that letter as an email and no one replies.
Is that a failure? Well, it might seem like one. But think of it as a learning opportunity. Is there a way to fine-tune your letter? Is your messaging not hitting the mark? Did you target the wrong companies?
What you might once have thought of as a failure could be turned on its head and considered an opportunity to get better results next time.
Failures are simply missed learning opportunities.
Try, learn, tweak, and try again.
Why do people fail in freelancing? The simple truth is that the biggest deterrent of most people’s freelance business success isn’t the economy—it’s themselves. It’s wasting time and energy instead of taking decisive action.
Did any of this especially resonate with you? Let me know in the comments below!
Last Updated on August 10, 2023 by Kate Sitarz