Get far enough along on your journey and you’ll realize that there are TONS of things you’d do differently if you got a second chance.
That’s true for life, and it’s true for freelancing too.
I can’t complain – things have worked out pretty well for me.
But if you’re at the beginning of your freelance career, you’ve got time to implement these lessons for yourself.
In this episode, follow along as we cosplay as young, ignorant Jacob and figure out what he could have done better.
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What are the things that I wish I knew at the beginning of my freelance journey that I know today?
In this episode, I’m going to be covering six different things that I wish I knew way back when, when I first started freelancing.
Whether they’re mistakes, misconceptions, or just lessons I’ve learned along the way, these are the things that I wish I could go back and teach my younger self.
So if you want to cosplay as young, ignorant Jacob today, don’t go anywhere.
Today’s episode is sponsored by CopyAI, a toolkit that helps writers, marketers, and freelancers skip writer’s block and quickly create first draft copy for themselves and their clients.
If you’d like to get a full 30-day free trial, head on over to http://copy.ai/jacob and sign up there.
So let’s talk about the six things that I wish I knew when I first started freelancing.
#1: Nobody Cares About Your Credentials
This is one of those things that I spend a massive amount of my time teaching new writers.
One of the things that most people are used to in an employment context is that you have to go through a series of gates and gatekeepers in order to be considered qualified for any given position or role.
Your journey through your career is essentially a journey of checking off boxes and meeting certain, somewhat arbitrary criteria that allows you to then progress to the next level.
In freelancing and entrepreneurship on the other hand, those check boxes don’t really exist.
As a general rule, there are no gates and no gatekeepers.
It all comes down to what can you do for someone? And what are they willing to pay you? And that’s it.
This is something that takes many people a long time to wrap their head around. And I would even say a lot of people never manage to do so.
I see so many freelancers who spend years and years and years trying to figure out what credentials they need to hit their goals…
When the only thing that’s been between them and their goals since the beginning is just their willingness to get out there and sell.
And this carries us over to…
#2: Nobody Cares About You At All
This is something that kind of sounds harsh, but when you really understand it, it’s quite liberating.
There are people out there who are going to dislike you or take particular issues with you- bias, this, that, or the other – but at the end of the day, your audience is the entire marketplace.
There are no individual gatekeepers who can prevent you from hitting your goals.
Nobody cares about you in a positive way, but nobody really cares about you in a negative way either.
The only thing people care about is themselves. And what they’re doing. Their goals, their aspirations.
Your job coming into this market isn’t to be preoccupied with yourself and what you want.
It’s to go in and find what everyone else wants and how you can provide that for them.
So this leads us into lesson three…
#3: Find Ways To Help Successful People
The single best way you can get ahead in your career is to find already successful people and figure out what they want, what their challenges are, what’s preventing them from hitting their goals and how you can help them overcome those challenges.
And initially that may sound really daunting.
You may be wondering “If I’m coming in as a new freelancer, how can I help people who are already successful? What do I have to offer?”
And the thing you have to understand here is that every successful person has a laundry list of things that they wish they could get to, but can’t.
They don’t have the time.
They don’t have the systems in place, and within the context of their business, there are too many other things that have higher priority for them to get to those.
Additionally, every entrepreneur has things they’re not even aware of that could benefit their business. But because they’re successful, because they’re pretty smart, they recognize those things when they see them.
So coming in as a freelancer, whether you’re looking to specialize in just being a damn good writer or to really understand marketing and learn how to offer various marketing services…
You have the opportunity to come in and identify areas of people’s businesses where you can lend a helping hand – where you can provide your writing ability, or you can provide a specific marketing service, whatever it is.
It doesn’t even have to be something that you invent yourself.
You can find a blog post from some other marketing expert that outlines some specific process that has helped their business, turn that into a step-by-step workflow for yourself and go offer that to other marketers.
There are hundreds, thousands, millions, millions of ways to add value to people’s businesses, even with relatively simplistic skills.
If you’re a genuinely good writer, writing is a universal skill set that everyone needs to some capacity.
It’s a great way to come in and add value to someone’s business.
One thing I’d point out here is that I mentioned successful businesses.
One of the things that I see a lot of young freelancers do is look for the lowest common denominator businesses and business owners to help.
They don’t feel confident in their services and abilities, so they look for people who they aren’t really afraid to fail with.
And while there’s nothing wrong with this, what I would encourage you to do – particularly as you start to push yourself out of your comfort zone and really develop your skillsets – is look for people who are already winning.
Look for people who are successful and find ways to add value to their businesses, because that’s going to open up a lot more doors for you.
And it’s going to be – if you genuinely have something useful to offer – those people are going to be a lot more receptive to what you’re doing than businesses that aren’t struggling.
Businesses that are struggling are very hesitant to invest in new things.
Businesses that are successful are often looking to invest in more things. They just don’t really have the time or manpower to tackle them.
And that’s where the outside freelancer is a perfect fit.
This is one of those things that I didn’t personally pick up on until several years into my career. And I wish I’d known it from the very beginning.
But regardless of where you are in your career, the key to pursuing and landing opportunities like this is lesson number four and that is…
#4: Everything Is Sales
When I first came into freelancing, I saw sales as an asset and an ability that I was bringing into a whole new market and was going to fit into a bunch of other skills that I needed.
And to some extent, that was true.
But the longer I’ve been operating as a freelancer and entrepreneur, the more I’ve come to realize that everything is sales.
Whether you’re sending an email, posting something on social media, pitching a client, having a sales discussion, sending a report to an existing client…
Everything you do is sales.
It’s all about selling yourself, your ideas, your services, your ability to achieve outcomes, your ability to help people solve problems.
It’s all sales.
And this lesson sort of ties back to what we already talked about: that nobody cares about you. They care about themselves and their own goals.
When you are attempting to interact with people and achieving your own goals, you’re essentially just selling them on the idea that something that achieves your goals will also achieve their goals.
Or to kind of flip it from the other angle, you’re finding a way to attach the achievement of their goals to your own goals.
But that said, selling just opens the door. What you do from there is up to you and comes down to mastery.
And this leads us to lesson number five…
#5: Prioritize Mastery Over Income
Keeping your mastery curve going up and to the right is way more important than making your income graph go up into the right.
This is probably the single biggest mistake that I see with new freelancers and entrepreneurs. They get way too preoccupied with income way too early.
Obviously, money is very motivating. I get it. And I personally have made the mistake many times of choosing income over the most profitable long-term choice.
That said, there’s also places in my career where I’ve intentionally sacrificed income in order to increase mastery, which has resulted in dramatically more income on the flip side of that decision one to two years down the road.
This is the lesson that I probably most wish I had had really drilled into my head from the beginning.
As much as is possible for your unique situation, prioritize increasing your mastery over increasing your income.
And the income will come back to you five or ten-fold what you would have made if you had taken the income-first approach.
Last, but not least (and sort of in a similar vein of delayed gratification):
#6: Start Your Long Term Projects As Early As Possible
Start your long-term projects as soon as possible, and create a plan to make small, consistent efforts towards that project over the long term.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was pursuing the freelance service side so heavily that I really didn’t do any work on projects of my own.
And while this ended up working out for me okay, I wish that I would have started working on some of these longer term projects years before, and just made a plan to do a very small amount of work each month on these projects.
If you have a long-term project that you imagine will take a few years to build, start now.
Make a plan (5 to 10 hours per month) to start working on this project.
Get a website up, start putting out some content, start building your email list, start doing a few social posts.
Whatever your plan is, start now – even if it’s with a relatively small, but consistent investment of time, effort, and money- and you will thank yourself in the years to come.
So, that’s six things that I really wish that I had known and understood when I first started freelancing.
I hope you found it helpful and I will catch you in the next episode.
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