A Year of Learning
Updated: May 2
It's official—I've been freelancing for a full year, and what a year it has been!
I am thankful to have worked with many talented authors and writers to develop their stories and to have found a wonderful cohort of colleagues to share in the experience.
I even took four self-paced courses and read six craft books because professional development doesn't just happen—it requires work.
While I still have lots to learn about this business ownership stuff, I am getting the hang of a few things I thought I'd share in hopes that it helps you, dear reader, with your own freelance endeavor.
Most small businesses fail within a few years, and their trajectories all look relatively similar: Go hard for the first few months, become increasingly frustrated at the lack of engagement (that immediate gratification bug hates waiting), pour far too much money into paid advertisements, quit after the first failure or two because it's too difficult or expensive to continue.
The biggest thing lacking in their processes was persistence.
Now, this doesn't mean that the prudent freelancer continues to do the same thing over and over again hoping that something will suddenly happen.
In fact, I recall Einstein saying something about people who do this...
It means planning the thing, doing the thing, checking the results or outcomes of the thing, acting to modify the thing. Plan. Do. Check. Act. Rinse and repeat.
While this particular point may be contentious for the generalists of the world, finding a niche is key to the success of most freelancers.
Because trying to do everything at once for everybody is a fast track to exhaustion and utter madness. So you want to be a freelance editor? Okay, what kind of editing? What types of books or novels? Who is your ideal client? (Note: You can't say "a paying one" here, that's cheating.)
So how can you define your niche, dear reader? Consider the following:
What are you good at doing?
What do you like doing?
For example, "fiction editor" is too general. After niching, it becomes "developmental editor and story coach for speculative and literary fiction." Much more specific and targets an audience, hopefully an audience that wants to hear more from you.
You're persisting, you've niched, you're working, but you're also running on a financial hamster wheel? You're probably undercharging. For freelancers who come from the corporate world, it seems easy to translate prior salary into the new hourly rate or project rate.
Don't do this. $30 per hour in the corporate world ≠ $30 per hour for the freelancer.
Your corporate salary or wage was artificially low because your employer likely paid for extras, like health insurance, retirement planning, or employee assistance programs. Your employer also took out tax liabilities before you ever saw your paycheck.
Increase your rates to cover all those employer extras (assuming you want them) and set aside enough to cover your tax liabilities. (While I am against the idea of income theft by the government for any reason, it's an unfortunate reality, especially if you've set aside $0 and receive a hefty tax bill at the end of the year.)
Take the time to look at your monthly expenses, including all those bonus extras you want to have, and taxes. Then, determine how many billable hours you want to work each week or each month and how much per hour you need to charge to get there.
Freelancing can be an isolating venture. In most cases, there's no physical office except that designated space in your home. There are no co-workers, no water-cooler chats, no department meetings. You have to create your professional network.
Making real connections with real people will stave off loneliness, and your network will likely become a space of mutual support and encouragement.
If you're a social media user, research other professionals in your industry. Send them messages, start conversations, invite them to video chats so you can see real people's faces on a regular or semi-regular basis. If you're more locally focused or operate in the grassroots agora economy, get out into the community to chat with the people you want to work alongside. You may need their help later (and they may need yours).
P.S. I've launched a quarterly newsletter! The February issue focused on upping the emotional connection between your readers and your characters.
Sign up here to be on the list for the May issue and download Stepping Stones for Successful Self-Edits for free just because I like you.