What did you wish you had known when you got started as a freelancer?

Starting to take on freelance work and your own business can be daunting. It’s difficult to know where to begin or which pitfalls to avoid. We asked experienced freelancers across various industries what they wished they had known when they began working for themselves to make your freelance journey a smoother one.

Next to having your equipment ready to go and clarity about your skillset and talents, it’s good to have a list of potential clients ready. Another option is to find a freelance platform that is fairly new and isn’t too competitive.   

It’s also good to know that it’s okay to ask questions and your freelance network doesn’t have to be all about clients but can also include a community you can go to for support. Many of our experts agreed that you don’t have to be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck.

Becky Benshoof

Becky Benshoof

Make solid connections with other freelancers in your field and related fields. It may be easy to think of other freelancers especially in your industry as your direct competition, but far from it. They can be some of your greatest resources! 

When you're just starting out it can be scary and isolating. It can be difficult to know if you're on the right track or making the right decisions. Speaking to other freelancers can alleviate some of these concerns and you can get amazing advice because they have been in your shoes. 

There is no 'one size fits all' way to build a freelancing career, so the more you hear from others and what has (or hasn't) worked for them, the more confident you'll feel about your own efforts. Creating solid connections can also lead to client referrals and new opportunities. 

Website: www.benshoofwriting.com/

Matt Tutt

Matt Tutt

I wish I'd known about the importance of having a strong network of other professionals around me.

This could be other freelancers, people you've worked with previously in an agency, or anyone who you can reach out to if you ever wanted any help.

I've found that being a freelancer at times can be a bit daunting, especially when you run into issues. You're the one who has to deal with all sides of your business - marketing, sales, accounts, and tax - everything else that comes aside from actually 'doing the work'. Sometimes it's easy to forget about all these other sides of the business.

Having a small network of other people around you to go to, to chat about things when you need a bit of help is invaluable. I didn't have this network around me at the start but I've slowly been able to build one up in the 10 years I've been working as a freelancer.

Another benefit of having a network of freelancers, especially if there are overlapping skills between them, is that you can often share projects or pass work to one another. Perhaps you pick up a client that needs a new website but you don't offer that skill. You can pass it over to a freelancer you know and trust, and if it's a good fit you'll have probably done them a nice favor. You never know, they might return that favor one day too.

If you're struggling to find a network you can also try joining a local coworking space as you'll be bound to pick up some useful connections, or even to join a Slack or other online group. I found a great one called the Digital Marketing Union which has been well worth the membership. It's a safe space where you can chat about all things business, freelancing, and of course, digital marketing. Finding a community of like-minded people and building your own little network will make your life so much easier as a freelancer!

Website: www.matttutt.me

Social Media: www.twitter.com/MattTutt1

Tom Crowe

Tom Crowe

When I started as a freelancer, I wish I had better understood the market rate for my services. In the beginning, it is easy to be so enthusiastic about having your first clients that you forget to make sure you are being paid fairly for your work. 

Sometimes it is useful to take an initial income hit to develop a portfolio, but it's important to make sure that this is only temporary and that you are paid fairly for the number of hours you do. Many industries have good benchmarks for freelancers that are published online, so it is good to check these and align your prices accordingly.

Website: www.tomcrowedigital.com

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/tom-crowe-freelance-seo-specialist-london/

James Taylor

James Taylor

The main thing I wish I'd known (or, at least, wish I'd been told), is that there's not enough time in the day for you to look after all aspects of your business by yourself.

By this, I mean that you need to treat freelancing like running any other business, and accept that there will be people better suited to look after certain aspects of your business than you.

For example, when I initially started out, I struggled along trying to do all of the accounts myself, and very quickly discovered it wasn't my strong point. Getting an accountant who specialized in freelancers was one of the best things I ever did!

It goes without saying that you quickly spread yourself too thin when trying to do everything. I wish I'd known who to outsource certain aspects of the business to from the outset, as it would've saved a lot of stress and burnout!

Website: www.jamestaylorseo.co.uk/

Social Media: www.twitter.com/JamesethTaylor

Sally Fox

Sally Fox

I wish I'd known that other people who do the same job as me are my colleagues, not my competitors. As soon as I became part of a community where we could all learn from and support each other, my freelancing career changed radically. My advice to any new freelancer would be to find your people and make some friends.

Website: www.sallymfox.com

Social Media: www.twitter.com/sallymfoxwrites

Paul Maplesden

Paul Maplesden

It's that great clients aren't just hiring you to complete a piece of creative work - writing a blog post, designing a logo, setting up a website - they're really bringing you in to solve a problem. That often means going beyond the brief they've given you and thinking about why the piece of work matters. How does it fit in with what else they are doing? How can we, as freelancers, speak to that greater need?

Once we can understand that we can tailor how we provide those services. It means we can offer advice, build relationships, and become more of a collaborator. This creates trust with clients and encourages repeat business. It also helps to build confidence that we know what we're talking about and leads to more fulfillment in the work and higher rates.

Website: www.paulmaplesden.com

Matt Belcher

Matt Belcher

One of the things I wish I'd known as a freelancer is the importance of waiting until you have a solid number of clients lined up before you take the splash into the freelance way of life!

When I left the agency I was working with to start freelancing permanently, I hadn't had the chance to build up those direct clients, simply because of the nature of the brands I worked with - they wouldn't deal with a freelancer directly. With that in mind, I should have waited until I had managed to build a nest egg, instead of having a painful and fairly stressful first year of freelancing.

My advice would be to try and ensure you have enough work to tide you over BEFORE you make the switch! Don't do what I did and just assume everything will be ok!

Website: www.mattbelcherpr.com/

Social Media: www.twitter.com/mattbelcherpr

Erin Cryder

Erin Cryder

At the beginning of my freelancing journey, I wish more experienced freelancers and business owners had shared several things with me. The main one is to focus on one person or mentor's advice and run with it. There are a million ways to do something (especially in the online world), and it is EASY to get shiny object syndrome.

People who have been 'at the game' for a while will know precisely what to say (whether it's making more money, saving you time, feeling less isolated, or something else) their copy will get to the root of one of the many things you will feel as you start your business.

Do not fall for this.

Almost every course-creator or coach's system will work if you put it in place long enough and give it a solid effort. The problem is that this takes time, and we all want instant gratification. Stick with it. Do not bounce and go to the next freebie, course, or whatever has caught your attention; it will actually derail you from achieving your goals more quickly.

That being said, it is worth it to make one significant investment (if possible for you) at the beginning and get advice from ONE person to take the next steps toward your future. When you invest, think about if that person has the type of business and values you would eventually like to have in your company. That's a great fit.

Website: www.erincrydercopywriting.com

Social Media: www.instagram.com/erincryder_copywriting/ 

LaNell Angerstein

LaNell Angerstein

How important it is to understand taxes and the implications of 1099s. New Freelancers should always consult a tax pro or preferably a CPA when starting their business.

Website: www.6degrees.media/

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/lanellangerstein/

Joseph Kahn

Joseph Kahn

When I first ventured out on my own, there were several things I wish I had known back then that I know now. The first of which is to get support from a community and to also realize there are many organizations and individuals out to help those entering into business. I really wish I had known all of the organization's names and website addresses of those passionate about helping me in my cause.

Website: www.josephskahn.com

Social Media: www.twitter.com/josephskahn

Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma

Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma

I wish I knew that working more didn’t mean I was doing better. It only meant I was fast approaching burnout. Weekends off and office timings are important for freelancers too, and one must stick to them.

Website: www.samarpita.in

Social Media: www.instagram.com/samarpita/

Cassie Douglas

Cassie Douglas

It takes a lot of time and dedication before you get a steady flow of clients. Also, you have to be a self-starter to make it work. Without having anyone telling you what to do and when you can only rely on yourself.

Website: www.uncoveringflorida.com

Social Media: www.instagram.com/datcassdoeee

Suresh Chaudhary

Freelancing is a 24/7 hustle: Even if you're having lunch on a Sunday noon, a client can call or email and ask you for their work, ask you for changes to a particular project. When you're a freelancer, your work schedule doesn't know a weekend, a weekday, or a public holiday.

Know your worth: This is the most difficult lesson that I've learned, and one that I've sung, but never truly understood until now. To stand out among the sea of other freelances, you need to be perfect at what you do, and you must also know your value.

Freelancing is not easy: It was really hard to get started. It was a mess. Clients weren't paying on time, some blatantly refused to pay, and there were months when nothing was happening. Nobody told me these things would happen, but I've learned to live with them. It’s easier to give up when you're a freelancer especially when it feels stagnant, and you don't have anywhere to run to get comfort.

Website: www.blogsmastery.com/

Social Media: www.twitter.com/blogsmastery

Lee Mac

Being an SEO, I make websites and rank them in Google. Initially, I tried to do all the aspects of design, but my time was better spent focusing on my specific narrow band of expertise, which is search engine optimization. I should have outsourced any niche-specific elements of the work like video and graphics to those who are professionals.

Website: www.seopremo.co.uk

Social Media:  www.twitter.com/seopremo

Dale Basilla

You don't need certifications to land a client, as long you have the experience, provide proper expectations, and are able to provide the service you have promised. When I started learning and wanted to work online, I thought certifications are important. It is important to some but not necessarily all.

What's important is to:

  • Continuously learn and improve oneself
  • Learn from people in the industry
  • Always be hungry for knowledge 
  • Have great work attitude
  • Master a specific skill but not all
  • Make clients happy

Website: www.howpo.info/

Social Media: www.facebook.com/HOWPO.info

Daniel Brooks

Having a good understanding of your legal implications with regards to tax contributions is really important. Naturally, as a full-time employee for a business, it's not something you would have to worry about. Finding a trustworthy and experienced accountant has been absolutely crucial for me and saved me a lot of time.

I'd also recommend anyone new to freelancing or setting up as a small agency gets themselves some contracts written up and make sure that your clients sign them. Not only does it give you some protection to make sure you get paid on time but it also gives your clients a clear scope of work that is going to be delivered.

Website: www.nannyrecruit.co.uk/

Social Media: www.twitter.com/NannyRecruit

Kristen Rive-Thomson

Kristen Rive-Thomson

When I first started as a freelancer, I wish I had known that it's okay to just be yourself. I think when you're just starting out, it's easy to get caught up with what everyone else is doing. But you can end up being a carbon copy of all the other newbies out there. It takes time to find your own voice, but it's so important. 

Only after signing up to a copywriter community, and taking on a mentor did I truly come into my own as a freelancer. I realized that if I don't post on my social media accounts one week, or if I want my website to look and sound a certain way, that's okay. It's my business after all. After that, it was easy for me to find my ideal clients because I was able to connect with them in a real and authentic way.

Website: www.rivetingcopywriter.com/

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-rive-thomson

Andrew Lambert

Andrew Lambert

My time and talent are worth more than I originally started to charge. When you're a freelancer, many companies assume that your services should be 'free,' 'cheap,' or 'affordable.' While you might need to initially start with lower pricing, you shouldn't have to sit at that low rate for such a long time. 

You have given your time and talent and that should translate to good pay. Your work and the portfolio you provide to those decision-makers is your proof that you're good at what you do and you should be paid accordingly.

Website: www.lambertconsulting.biz

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/lambertconsulting/

Donna Wishart

I wish I'd known how isolating it is to be a freelancer. You spend most of your time by yourself, working quietly on projects and talking to clients by email or over the phone. It's all very remote and that was the biggest shock when I gave up my 9 to 5 job to become freelance. 

I was used to having colleagues around me, dealing with customers throughout the day. So going to working solo and just having myself and the cat for company was quite a shock to the system. But, it's amazing how productive you can be when you don't have people to distract you!

Website: www.whattheredheadsaid.com

Social Media: www.instagram.com/genuineplacebo84

Luca Tagliaferro

To the younger me, I would say not to compare yourself with others. This doesn't mean that you can't learn from others that are more experienced and more successful but never compare yourself to the best ones, it makes you feel unhappy and frustrated. It's important to keep an eye on your self-worth and make small progress on every project.

The second tip is that you need to market yourself as soon as possible. According to your skills and abilities, you can be a blogger, a TikTok influencer, a YouTuber, whatever suits your personality. I like writing and my blog is what I use to position myself on the market because for me TikTok doesn't work.

I also started to use Fiverr Pro, which is a platform that many SEOs criticize, but that allowed me to get my first clients and then become independent within 1 year. I took every small project on board, those that nobody wanted, and that allowed me to get new connections that turned into bigger projects for a longer period of time.

Website: www.lucatagliaferro.com

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/luca-tagliaferro-509b709/

Dr. Pamela Russell

I wish I had known that it would take more time than I had allocated in order to get everything up and running smoothly. I wish I had known that my value was not determined by the responses I got. It can be discouraging to get started and you see all the reviews of other freelancers who are having great success. You forget the time it took is usually not given. I wish I had known even though I'm a freelancer there's help out there for me so that I can be successful also.

Website: www.drpamrussell.com

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/drparussell/

Marla Tabaka

Marla Tabaka

I wish I’d known the importance of focusing more on pricing that represented my true value and tracking sales, income, and expenses. Instead, I allowed my financial fears and lack of clarity to steal my focus. This placed me in an overwhelming situation, especially at tax time, which I allowed to continue for three years. 

If I had used a system like QuickBooks and paid taxes quarterly (even partial payments would have helped), it would have reduced my stress and allowed me to focus on growing my business. In retrospect, I didn’t believe in myself, so I didn’t charge enough and avoided the financial reminders of my struggles.

Website: www.marlatabaka.com

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/marlatabaka

Yvonne Villasenor

Yvonne Villasenor

When I was starting out as a freelance writer, I wish I knew how to maintain a healthy work-life balance and what steps to take to avoid burnout.

In my experience, I struggled with feeling inclined to say 'yes' to every assignment - even if some were far below my typical rate with fast turnaround times (e.g. due within hours sometimes!).

As a freelancer, you - of course - want to be reliable and give your clients quality work. However, it's important to take care of yourself first ... which can be hard to do when all your time goes to working on projects and responding to emails as soon as they hit your inbox.

What helped me achieve a healthier work-life balance was learning:

- How to respond to new opportunities if I was at capacity or needed to extend the proposed deadline

- How to increase rates

- How to create boundaries for myself so I could prioritize the freedom + flexibility that comes with freelancing (and not feel guilty about it!)

Self-care is essential as a freelancer. If you're constantly working and burning out, take a step back and see what can be done to help create a healthier working situation. That way, you can feel your best and, in turn, do your best work to have a successful business.

Website: www.yvonnevillasenor.com

Social Media: www.linkedin.com/in/yvonnevillasenor

One of the most important things that many budding freelancers overlook or don’t consider is that they don’t have to be able to do everything on their own without any external support. Many of our contributors and seasoned freelancers recommended joining a network of industry experts or a freelancer community. Doing freelance work can be lonely but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to anyone and get help if you need it.

When you’re starting out, you’re also soon going to face the fact that you might not be able to complete all tasks around every aspect of your business. Most freelancers get an accountant to worry less about taxes or outsource content creation that another freelancer can do better. If you’re asked to do something you’re not able to do, use it as an opportunity to build your network and recommend another freelancer, who returns the favor in the future.

Start with lower pricing as you’re figuring out who you are as a freelancer but change to a higher rate soon. It’s important to know your worth and not compare yourself to others too much. You’re dedicating time and providing talent to your clients, which should translate into a good rate for both you and your clients.