How to Confidently Navigate a Freelance Career

Millennials are increasingly abandoning 9-to-5 corporate jobs for self-employment and entrepreneurial careers. This is not just because we may find cubicle walls stifling or a rather uninspiring shade of mauve—although this is reason enough for me to join the flock.

In my experience, freelancing often translates to professional freedom and empowerment.

My fellow entrepreneurs and independent contractors revel in the luxury of an open schedule, casual work attire, and income control. Others love the alluring “work from anywhere” aspect of a freelance career. Laptops on a beach, anyone?

For many freelancers, self-employment also enables them to indulge in their passions. If you can’t find a job that fits your interests, create it yourself!

I am a definitive, vocal player in the field of avid freelancers. But if you’re keen to navigate a freelance career, it’s essential to be mindful of the various logistical and financial challenges in addition to the perks.

Set yourself up for success now by keeping these strategies in mind.

Know your niche (i.e. your strengths)

Every successful freelance career emerges from a specific niche. Freelancing is, in many ways, much like composing an academic essay.

The most compelling, A-worthy essays get to the point right away. They evolve from a central, concise thesis statement that presents the author’s argument immediately. They are well-composed because of this carefully crafted thesis.

Your freelancing niche is your freelancing thesis. It is the place where you shine in a world of freelancers jostling for attention. In other words, your niche is your strength.

If you want to be a freelance writer, spend some serious time identifying what type of writer you want to be, who your ideal audience is, and what industry expertise you may offer. The same goes for freelance artists, graphic designers, chocolate-makers, glass-blowers, and mechanics.

Your niche will also be an area in which you are already somewhat fluent. It’s rather tough to write convincingly about digital marketing, for example, when your expertise lies in breeding horses.

Sometimes niche-finding involves research. Get on the internet (but don’t get lost). See what’s out there. If you are an artist or a writer, browse freelance platforms to get an idea of what other artists are creating and who they are attempting to reach.

The more specific your niche is, the better. If you doubt this, think about YouTube sensations. All of those emerged from a unique, specific, original idea.

If you are already a freelancer, you can still hone your niche. It is always a fluid thing. Mine is always changing.

Photo: @init4thelongrunblog

Create appropriate boundaries

All that talk about work/life balance is relevant. It’s also easy to ignore. But a true commitment to freelance living requires a true commitment to boundaries.

Those luxuries of a freelance career—schedule control, the ability to set your weekly working hours—can also quickly become demerits. I have found that freelancing can accelerate and tank my work ethic simultaneously, particularly if my daily life is indistinguishable from my working life.

Keep your ethic, your mind, and your body happy by setting a weekly work schedule. For me, this means methodically blocking off hours every day to devote to work purposes. It also means completing work by a certain time so that I don’t find myself plunking away on my laptop at 1 a.m.

Watch your weekly hours, too. Do your best to keep those below forty.

It also helps to perform work in areas of your house or community that have nothing to do with your “outside” life. Establish a home office devoted solely to work purposes. Linger at the public library or indie café for freelancing afternoons. Maintain this divide.

Network wisely

Even as a freelancer, networking is still valuable. Successful freelancers need just as many footholds (if not more) as non-freelancers.

Build a LinkedIn profile to get started. Reach out to alumni organizations through your university and join relevant Facebook groups.

Be your own advocate, no matter what work you perform. Get some snazzy business cards and hand them out. Set up your own website. Practice being the one who introduces herself first (rather than the other way around) at gatherings.

Build a community of fellow freelancers, too, especially those who aren’t in your niche. It is easy to get lonely when you’re remotely working day in and day out, but it is possible to find comradery, even without the office break room.

Engage with a daily vision

I just mentioned the word “lonely” above. Freelancing can be isolating, and it can be discouraging. It’s easier to find ruts when work isn’t guaranteed or you lose sight of your niche.

For this reason, start each day with a daily vision of your freelance career. Create a vision board if you feel like it, or simply meditate on the shape and tenor of your ideal career path.

I start my days with Earl Grey and a glance at a cartoon that shows two young girls sitting under a tree, one of whom is reading a book. The black-haired girl asks the bookworm, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the bookworm responds (still lost in her book), “A writer.”

Visualize freelancing success. Then go out and grab it.

Photo credit: @fleurrell

Keep building a portfolio

If your freelance work has anything to do with art, design, writing, or creation, build a portfolio of your relevant pieces. Store articles or graphics on a website or a blog. Mention these pieces in your resume and upload media on LinkedIn.

Your portfolio is your resume, in many ways. Many potential clients and future employers will ask for this—in some cases, they will overlook freelancers who have nothing to show.

Your work is valuable. Keep track of it to prove your worth.

Stay informed

Managing money mindfully is central to navigating a freelance career successfully, especially because you are the sole conduit for all financial transactions.

Freelancers, unfortunately, are still working American citizens and, therefore, taxpayers. Many independent contractors must pay quarterly taxes to the IRS, depending on the extent of their freelance work.

Nonetheless, as a self-employed individual, you are still eligible for many deductions, especially work-related expenses (such as home offices, materials, and computers).

Stay informed so that tax season doesn’t create a fiasco: start here, or consider signing up for QuickBooks Self-Employed.

Be organized

It is so easy to lose yourself in schedules, invoices, and projects as a freelancer. Remember all that talk about boundaries?

Organization can help streamline work days, giving you the means to navigate tax season, complete projects on time, and maintain your career vision.

Invest in a planner to organize work days and plan for deadlines. Keep your desk or work area decluttered. Snag some file folders or spend an afternoon organizing your Google Docs folders.

Take a day each week to organize, clean, and clarify. I call this day Clarify Sunday—I also use this day to decompress, rest, and do laundry.

If freelancing is on your horizon, don’t forgo it without first tasting it. A successful freelance stint can become a career provided you are mindful and dedicated.

Revel in the alluring qualities of freelancing–bring your laptop to a beach! But also prioritize organization, crucial boundaries, and practicalities (like quarterly taxes). Build your own community through networking.

Above all, keep your eyes on the prize. You can be successful as a freelancer if you believe you can be. Trust me, I know.

how to confidently navigate starting a freelance career in a creative field and be taken seriously by paying clients.

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