Freelancing: 2 Years, $230,000+ and 9 Big Lessons Later

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Two years ago today, I stocked up on canned chili, dusted off the desk in my home office and officially left my job. 

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Photo Credit: kolbisneat 

If you want the whole story from the early days, I wrote this post 150 days in on how I turned down a guaranteed 6-figure payday to go into a field that (depending on who you asked) guaranteed I’d make hardly anything for a good, long time.

For now, though, here’s an excerpt:

“I printed off the job offer and pinned it to my bulletin board with a circle around the dollar figure I’d just walked away from. This would be my reminder.

Every morning, I’d look at it and remember exactly what I gave up to chase this idiotic dream of bashing a keyboard for profit.”

I had an unspoken goal: I wanted to match it and prove that I could be just as successful (financially) on my own.

In my first year, I came up just shy.

In my second year, I obliterated that number by +28%. 

Since I launched in 2013 full-time, Business Casual Copywriting has generated over $230,000 in profit and more than that in revenue.

That in a supposedly “saturated” industry that “pays peanuts”. But please don’t read me wrong:

I’m not sharing that for your applause or because it makes me feel good to wave around vague income numbers and pretend I’m king banana.

Yes, I hope the dollar figure will earn your interest – but I want the lessons I’ve learned to be the part that earns your respect.

Here are the 9 most important lessons I’ve learned in the past two years:

1. If you want to be a successful freelancer, you can’t just be a strong writer (or artist, or developer, or…)

Some of the best writers I know barely eke out a living off their craft. That is NOT because writing isn’t valuable, demand is low or the market is too saturated.

It’s because freelancing is a business, and they don’t know how to operate like one.

If you want to win as a freelancer, you need to learn how to…

  • Market yourself (the most important skill you can learn)
  • Handle your books
  • Manage your time
  • Negotiate a deal
  • Meet a deadline
  • Network your butt off

Businesses like working with businesspeople – they do NOT like working with clueless creative divas – although they do find how cheaply they can get work out of them attractive for a time.

If you want to win as a freelancer, brush up on your business skills. Hell, I’d say it’s even worth it to go in-house for awhile, just to see how businesses really run.

2. Confidence changes everything.

Nobody ever hit a home run by bunting. And as a freelancer, nobody is going to go to bat for you except yourself.

If you’re afraid to raise your rates, push back on a client or stand up for yourself, you will keep on spinning your tires and continue earning less than you could be.

Here are some facts you need to accept:

  • If you have the talent, your years of experience DO NOT MATTER. Clients pay for your results, not your résumé. 
  • If you operate like a business, hit deadlines, deliver strong copy and are easy to work with, you’re already in the minority of freelancers (just ask anyone who’s hired them before).
    That’s worth a premium.
  • You are going to hear “No”, have clients disappear and quote people who cannot afford you. Deal with it. Being exclusive to an audience who can afford you is actually a good thing.
  • Your clients are making money off the content you provide – usually an out-sized return on what they paid. Don’t be afraid to make some money yourself.

Confidence in the way you charge, communicate and handle your business is attractive to the right audience – and if you don’t push the envelope, you’ll never know what you’re really worth.

Good freelancers change the conversation from “Here’s what we need and what we’ll pay you” to “Here’s the level I’m on – if you want to be on it, here’s what it costs.”

3. Find a focus.

When I started out, I cast a wide net out of fear that if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be enough work.

I don’t regret doing that for one second – it taught me what I was good at writing and showed me where the better margins were. It also helped me survive year one.

But as soon as you figure out where the money is and what you’re really good at/passionate about, you need to cut down your offering and JUST do those things.

If you’re the go-to gal for “___________”, you can command more for that type of work because you have a reputation and more power in the relationship.

I nervously cut blogging from my offering in favor of conversion-focused copy (websites, landing pages, email marketing campaigns). I worried my income would go down. Blogging work is easy to come by and pays reasonably well.

When I eliminated blogging and let the world know my new focus, my income went up instead. My fear was unfounded. Focusing works.

4. Never underestimate the power of a single connection.

I am constantly amazed at how relationships I’ve forged have turned into projects, opportunities and even a TEDx talk!

Brand new freelancers I’ve supported have turned around and sent ME awesome projects.

Whether it’s a client, acquaintance, new friend or fellow freelancer – try to treat everyone with respect and leave them better than you found them.

Have meaningful conversations instead of rolling around, handing out business cards. Be helpful first; listen more than you speak.

And never write anyone off because they’re in a position where they can’t immediately help you or give you a job.

You never know where that person might wind up, or that relationship might lead.

5. Freelancing is a job.

Yes, you can work in your underwear, wake up at 11:00pm and drink beer all day if you want to.

But you shouldn’t.

Freelancing is NOT the beach vacation or easy, unbridled freedom you imagine it to be. Yes, it can be very flexible.

But it’s up to you to set your schedule, nurture your body and mind, deliver for your clients and build your own future.

That doesn’t happen if you’re goofing off on Facebook every day or coasting along, waiting for work to find you.

Equally important, though: Don’t let the lines of your work and the rest of your life blur to the point that you’re staring into your phone at the dinner table with your friends or answering emails at 8:00pm on a Sunday.

This is only a job, not your life. Separate the two.

6. Scaling is harder than you think it will be.

I tried to start a little writing team – and for awhile, it worked. I had 10 subcontractors (not all busy at once) and was passing off work like nobody’s business.

But it fell apart.

I quickly learned that the time I was spending trying to train them, fix their mistakes and compensate for their missed deadlines was easily offsetting the extra income I was making.

I paid them too much, too fast out of wanting to try and prove freelancing could be lucrative.

So I killed the team.

Then, I thought I’d write a book or sell a course. Passive income, right? Both those things sound easy. Neither one is.

Perhaps hardest is giving yourself the time and space to build another asset – ignoring immediate income for the sake of building something bigger.

It’s totally possible, but it’s not as simple as you’re imagining – I promise.

7. Trust your gut (every. single. time.)

When you’re sitting there, staring at that email and feeling uneasy about the client – don’t take them on, no matter how much is on the table.

When you’ve written that quote out but you’re debating lowering the price because you *think* the client might not be able to afford it, stop and go back to your first number.

When you’re scheduling your time and think to yourself, “That’s going to be an ugly weekend.” – don’t book it.

Every single time I’ve gambled against my gut instinct on a decision, I’ve lost – and you will, too.

8. Some days will be total write-offs. That’s OK.

Any writer can relate: There are days you wake up knowing nothing is going to get done that day.

Your best work eludes you. You can’t get traction. You’re burned out, tired and uninspired.

When those days come, flex your freelance muscles and get away from the desk. Exercise. Be with people you care about. Play a video game.

Whatever constitutes a good day for you.

And then, don’t feel guilty about it. Wake up early, get back to work, and plod on.

Stop fighting off days and instead, form habits that keep them from ever showing up.

Find out what sets you off – distractions, habits, stress – and be proactive about the way you go about your day so that the next one will be productive, too.

And please, try to get enough sleep.

9. Money matters – but only so much.

I started this post out with some financial figures because I knew it’d get your attention.

People love talking about what other people make, and the “six-figure dream” is more or less universal among freelancers.

I’m not going to sit here on my throne of privilege and pretend cash isn’t important or worth striving for – because it was for me.

But realize that no matter how much you make, someone else is making more.

Paul Jarvis built a course that’s made him my entire years’ revenue in a few months (and growing).

Joanna from Copy Hackers charges twice my hourly rate and works on projects with minimums twice as big as mine (or bigger).

And my friend Ross Simmonds, who went out around the same time I did, turned my entire two-year profit in ONE year this year.

Even after crushing my first goal, I was kind of bummed out for awhile because I felt like I was behind.

But two years ago, I’d have thought that was insane. Because it IS.

I’m on someone else’s rung, and so are you.

There’s always a bigger fish, and if you choose to compare, you’ll never be satisfied or proud of the life you’re building.

There’s so much more to this than money.

Whether it was the chance to be your own boss, do what you’re good at, have the flexibility to travel – remind your self of what freelancing means to you and what drove you to make the move in the first place.

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy motivational poster on Pinterest, don’t freelance because you want to make a living – freelance because you want to make a life.

Thank you so much to my friends, family, clients and peers who have made this journey so worthwhile.

I’ve still got so much to learn, but I’m looking forward to the trip.

If you’re a freelancer or business reading this and you want to chat about freelancing / ask questions / hire me to help you plan and write content that makes you money:
Business Casual Copywriting 
@JoelKlettke 

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106 thoughts on “Freelancing: 2 Years, $230,000+ and 9 Big Lessons Later

  1. How does this post have no comments yet? This is super badass stuff that I’ve found 100% true in my own world as well. I started freelance copywriting *full-time* 10 months ago. The confidence thing and trusting your gut CANNOT be said ENOUGH. If you think they’ll be a shitty client…they will be. If you think you should charge more (if you’re worth it) then do it. If you act like a boss- you’ll get treated like one. Thanks for sharing man, you gained a new stalker on Twitter.

    • Joel

      Cheers, Brian – glad to have ya as a stalker, hah! Hope your freelance journey has been going well, and if ever you want to bash around ideas, just let me know.

  2. Superb and honest post. I’m just a newbie starting out on my own with the same “anniversary” as you. Despite that, you’ve been a great resource and very generous with your time.

    Because of that, just like you said, if I’m successful you can bet some of that success will bounce off me and stick to you.

    I plan to remember what early supporters are doing for me, so that when I’m sitting on my high horse one day, I don’t overlook the young buck that will take on the world one day if only I’d give them a few minutes of my time.

    Here’s to another (and bigger/better) year!

  3. Andrew McGarry

    Delighted to read your story Joel. Glad it’s working out for you. My gran used to say that paper won’t refuse ink, and with so much awful content marketing around these days it’s people like you and Ian at Portent that really stand out. Good luck for the next two years!

    • Joel

      Cheers, Andrew and thank you so much! I hope the next 2 years are even better – just, in different ways. Here’s to new experiences!

  4. Nina

    This is awesome! I wish there was a version for undergrad students. It’s becoming so much more prevalent in our lives to start freelancing early on, even though we haven’t started our “real lives” yet. Whether it be to earn some cash on the side and/or hone our skills, it’s important but there’s so little quality content on the topic…

    • Joel

      A fantastic idea – I’ve been floating around the idea of creating a “Week One” resource for freelancers – everything you need to know to get started, from how to attract new clients to how to price yourself to the personal preparation you need to make BEFORE trying to go full-time. Think that would be valuable?

      • Joel, I think that would be immensely valuable. Not for me perhaps, I’m too old for the necessary lead time but certainly for the youngsters. I was a little dismayed and yet understanding of Nina’s comment about “real lives”, Nina if there’s so little quality out there, get out and write it!
        Joel congratulations on your past two years and here’s hoping that you next two are as productive for you.

      • I’m a recent graduate, just starting to get my freelance career off the ground. I would love a week one resource! I’m gonna follow you on Twitter and keep an eye out for if you ever post it =)

      • Absolutely, I would be very interested in that kind of week one resource! It’s awesome to hear first-hand account of swinging for the fences and really connecting. There’s so much advice out there that seems insincere.
        I admire your confidence, and will use it as inspiration as I step up to the plate. so true about knowing what you’re worth and not being afraid to ask for fair compensation. I struggled with that in my previous job, trying to be extra nice and agreeable and pick up slack for everything, while getting passed over for promotion and raises. I honestly think I was too nice, crappy at negotiating, and afraid to believe in myself.
        Anyway, thank you for the info and I’ll look forward to more info.

        • Joel

          Thanks for letting me know, I’ll keep that in mind. Being agreeable is a bit of a curse if you take it too far – you can’t be afraid to hear “no” or have someone scoff at your quote. That’s just sort of par the course, I think. “Too nice” is a problem – but don’t be a jerk (obviously). Assertive is the better word.

          Cheers!

  5. Nicholas Chimonas

    “Stop fighting off days and instead, form habits that keep them from ever showing up.”

    Man does that hit home for me. I know some of the habits I need in order to keep me happy in the office. It’s the life balancing acts that are polar opposites of sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

    Things like camping in the Idaho mountains and wrenching on an old broken car.

    The more balanced I keep my life, the easier it is to focus on work when work needs to be done.

    Putting extra time into work around the dinner table with friends or at 8:00PM on a Sunday doesn’t result in more or better work happening.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdoms gained, Joel.

    • Joel

      Balance is SO hard. For example, I know exercise makes me so much more productive – but, ironically, I don’t give myself the time to do it! And of course, things like late nights or drinking or anything that makes me feel ill the next day are all things I need to try to eliminate. Still figurin’ it out. Thanks for reading!

  6. Jamie Press

    Such a fantastic read, Joel. Glad to hear you’re kicking goals.

    Anyone reading this and thinking of hiring Joel, speaking from experience myself, just do it!

    You won’t be disappointed.

    • Joel

      :) Jamie, that means so much. Thank you for reading and your kind words, it’s been such a good trip so far and I hope it just keeps on rolling.

  7. Fantastic effort, Joel. Nice one for being so transparent, not only about your earnings but also in passing on your advice on how you achieved it.

    I’ve been trying to work out the maths behind that number to try and work out your hourly rate. The classic ‘number of working days’ number I always hear is that there’s about 220 working days a year – let’s say 230 to keep it a nice round number. That works out to $1,000 per day. With all other freelancer activities (sales, networking, admin, etc.) it’s impossible to work an 8-hour billiable day, so let’s say 5 hours – that’s $200 per hour. From my experience, that’s a fantastic rate for a copywriter – I know some copywriters who struggle to make $50 an hour, and – if they do – they certainly struggle to keep their pipeline full at all times.

    In addition to changing your service focus (cutting blogging in favour of conversation-focused copy), do you also have an industry focus as well, or perhaps only deal with companies of a certain size/turnover? And with (I’m assuming*) above-average hourly rates for a copywriter, you must deal with your fair share of duff enquiries. How do you handle enquiries when you just know that they can’t afford you? Is it still worth it to you to sound them out, just in case, or do you turn them away/ignore them/refer them elsewhere? Have you gotten to the point yet when you can instantly tell based on the initial call/email?

    Also, one thing I’m battling with at the moment: when does price get mentioned with a prospective client? Is it mentioned straight away (“sure, I can help you – I charge $200 p/hr…”) or later on, after you’ve done research, etc.? If you’ve done both approaches, which one has worked best for you? I never ever used to mention price upfront, but I’m now leaning towards that way more and more – mostly as a time-saving activity (as it weeds out the unrealistic enquiries who have little-to-no budget)…

    Sorry for all the questions… 😉

    * Based on my own experiences – so please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Joel

      I’ll be transparent again:

      1. I have no hourly rate and don’t bill that way – see my “Adventures in Setting My Freelance Rates” post.

      2. The prices I quote on projects are for value. For example, I did two pages for a client at $4,000 a couple months back. Did it take me 40 hours? 20 hours? 10 hours? Nope. But the result drove the client 50% more conversions, so they don’t care. THAT is how I price.

      3. I do a LOT more than 220 working days, and keep in mind that it’s $230,000 over the course of TWO years, not one, so your math is a little bit off (though I wish it were the case!)

      4. Industry focus has been on digital marketing agencies, SaaS companies and trades – though I seem to be doing work with a more and more diverse clientele. I’d like to limit myself to a few niches down the line, but right now, there are companies who can afford my rate in a few different industries, and I’m enjoying them all. I’ll focus again when I feel it makes sense.

      5. My inquiries are actually not so “Duff”. I’ve tested so many ways of displaying rates and communicating my value that I’ve found most people who can’t afford me figure it out really quickly and don’t bother. For example, I’ve got a project minimum listed on my rates page, so most tire-kickers read that and disappear. It’s actually incredible how good the quality of the leads that come in are – I spend very little time pushing people away now. But to answer your question, I can definitely tell on a call if someone is serious – I can usually figure it out from their very first email. When I feel like someone is just yanking my chain, I’ll quote even higher than normal to see if they play ball. If they do, well, we’re talking!

      6. Price comes up after we determine the scope of their need and whether or not we even like each other enough to work together. I DO lead these days with a project minimum as a qualifier, just to make sure the client understands that I’m not interested in small, one-off work.

      • Hahaha… I am incredibly, INCREDIBLY embarrassed about my useless maths skills there…! Sorry about that.

        Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions nonetheless. Valued-based pricing (rather than time-based pricing) is something that I’m juggling with at the moment, especially when I did a small report for a big organisation based on how long I thought it’d take to do it (i.e. hourly pricing), when the insights it gave would’ve most likely given 100x ROI – I feel a bit foolish not charging a little bit higher for it. But you live, you learn eh!

  8. Per

    Made some of the mistakes myself as an affiliate in last 5 years. The disciple stuff is really important, I’ve seen many people starting businesses not paying attention to counting vacation days and how much they work each day. It’s hard to earn more then a regular job and working less.

    I made that mistake the other way around, worked too much not balancing my life. That can be hard to turn around I can tell you. But that’s a long story.

    The scaling stuff is interesting also. I’ve worked both with freelancers and have one employee. And it takes time to train someone. Minimum 2 years, maybe longer. Specially in my business, as nearly everything is new. Can’t learn it in school. With freelancers this is probably not possible, as you can’t train someone over phone or email, it’s the disciple stuff again. Send a document probably won’t work.

    Anyway, great post. You pretty much covered everything a startup need to think about and I learned a couple of new things myself.

    • Joel

      Thanks so much! Yeah, training is hard. But I’ve found one-on-one instead of trying to grow to fast has made a massive difference for me. And like you, I’ve had to scale BACK my working time and make sure I don’t go overboard and forget to live :)

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Very inspiring article, thank you for that. As a newbie freelancer, I felt topic 7 and 8 talking to me directly. It’s so good to know that I am not the only one struggling with such issues. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Stumbled upon this article via my Feedly list, and man, this is a great read!
    I’m in a slightly different field, and have been doing some freelance work here and there, have a small client list, but still don’t have enough courage to leave my nice cushiony in-house fulltime work :)
    I can’t agree more with No.7 – trust your gut, always!

    Thanks for the great article, Joel!

  11. Dim

    Loved the article! I am inspired. I would love to know how you manage your contacts/network. It’s the one thing I really need to improve upon!

    How do you organise your contacts, so you stay sane? How do you contact them/what are your pipelines for contacting them/them contacting you.

    facebook is personal, ofcourse there is linkedin < but its kind of unpersonal. what sort of database etc

    • Joel

      Hey, Dim!
      So… this is an area I need to improve on.
      I use email, obviously, and then Trello for project management. I also use Twitter.. but.. don’t really have much of a system there. I tend to only work with about 5 clients at once, so it’s pretty streamlined. People tend to find me through twitter, linkedin, or posts like these – and once on my site, the funnel starts with the “Hire Me!” section. From there, we usually call or Skype.

      Does that answer your question?

  12. ” Freelance because you want to make a life.”
    This resonated so much with me. Curious to know if you felt that having a number for the first year added to the motivation or confidence in how to position yourself.

    • Joel

      Thank you!
      I think it did – but, for others, it might be discouraging. For me, I was on a mission to prove to myself I could be as valuable in my field of choice as I would be to an employer. I had a goal.
      But money wasn’t the only goal – I also wanted to be happier. At my old job, I was miserable – not because it was a bad place, but because it had become a bad fit. I’d say you need goals in different areas, not just money, to make sure you’re not focusing on the wrong thing.

    • Joel

      Rest assured – it’s been eaten! Plus the lifespan of a can of chili can be measured in decades, I’m pretty sure.

  13. Jimmy

    Really great post, thanks for posting it. As a freelancer for the last 3 years it really did cover a lot of the issues and questions I ve experienced along the way too. I never had to kill off an entire team of people; that crossed the line into excessive violence for my own business situations but never say never :)

  14. Amazing post, really well done, thank you. This was exactly the kind of stuff I needed. I’m trying to get my toes wet in freelancing currently, and all I’ve been told lately are absolute horror stories. This is was inspirational, to say the least, its nice to hear someone say “it’ll be hard, but it’ll be worth it” for once.
    Also, that I really really really need to start working on my networking skills lol.

    Once again, thanks for the awesome post!

    • Joel

      Thank you for reading, Tom! Yes, there are horror stories. It’s hard work. It’s not easy. But if you can learn to network and learn to pitch yourself, you can do very well. I hope you succeed!

  15. Patrick

    Great read. Networking will do wonders for most when it comes to the freelance area.

    This is coming from someone who likes sound design and web development. I’ve only gotten to connect with a couple groups who are in those areas of work but that’s one step forward.

  16. Joel,

    I would really appreciate a blog post about how you found business – things that worked and things that didn’t.

    Thanks for this, btw. It found me when I needed it.

  17. #8 is so true. After 7 years freelancing, i’ve learnt to blow the day out if i’m not in the mood. I used to sit at my desk and try and work but its a waste of time. Fight the guilt and chill!

    • Joel

      Sometimes it’s better not to fight yourself to produce.
      When you’re on a deadline, on the other hand, you gotta try to find a way. That’s where I usually try to exercise or get out of the house awhile and come back fresh.

  18. Great post! Don’t totally agree with using teams, but maybe it’s different for writers. Yes, trust your gut! I have paid the price, every time I went against it. Every business decision has two possible answers: No or Heck Yes!

  19. Great to see a post on how it can be done instead of all those posts about how this can only be done if you take multiple less-than-minimum wage gobs and work yourself ragged.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how this type of work and charging what you’re worth is possible and sustainable if you work at it. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Joel

      I am a firm believer that those with the right work ethic and willingness to learn can succeed at freelancing; I’m happy to have reminded you of the same :)

  20. Elizabeth

    Thanks for the article! I found you through Twitter and am glad I did. I’m trying to part-time freelance for now and eventually move to full time (I’m a student also so school is a priority in my last year). I’m having a lot of trouble swallowing this idea that “new” writers should write for peanuts and I’m glad to hear voices out there that reject it.

    On the other hand, I haven’t found a single client yet but I imagine this is for a different reason than my unwillingness to work for free or under even federal minimum wage.

    (And your comment on a Week One for freelancers would be fabulous to read!)

    • Joel

      Elizabeth – so much of how well you do depends on how you position yourself and how much you invest in finding people who can pass you work and getting them to know you, like you and trust you enough to do so. You need to figure out what you have to offer and who might be in need of it – then invest time in building a presence that shows those people you are capable and worthy of the investment.

      Thanks for the note on Week One; I’m taking the idea seriously, though I do have other things to address first :)

      Cheers!

  21. Hi Joel, great post!! I love that you managed to articulate what it has taken me an entire year to figure out: if you have an off day, just roll with it! I have a question for you too though – did you do a copywriting course at the start of your career, and which one did you pick? Thanks! Keep up the awesome work.

    • Joel

      Hey Rachel – No, no courses. I just ran with it. That said, I did get the dark arts long-form book from CopyHackers, and I frequently read spots like copyblogger, unbounce, conversionxl and more to continue learning and growing :)

  22. This was such a great read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I am currently trying to find my way into freelancing as I have just graduated from RIT with a degree in photo. However, I want to work part-time too elsewhere to gain more knowledge of how businesses run. Nevertheless, my biggest hurdle to get over is my own confidence and realizing what freelance means to me. Congratulations on making your goal in your first two years! Best of luck!

    • Joel

      Thanks, Mariah! How exciting to be stepping out. For confidence, sometimes it pays to just pretend what you’re quoting isn’t real – imagine you’re on a movie set or something where results don’t matter. A bit of “pretend” sounds cheesy, but it can work. Working part-time is a smart move – it allows you to save, plan and invest in your own brand before depending on it – and gives you the safety to network without worrying about covering your rent. Best of luck to you.

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  24. “Confidence in the way you charge, communicate and handle your business is attractive to the right audience – and if you don’t push the envelope, you’ll never know what you’re really worth.”

    Joel, as someone who has worked with you in the past (and hopefully the future), I can certainly validate this point from the client perspective.

    You were not the cheapest writer we talked to – not by a long shot. You pushed back on unrealistic deadlines and it’s not unusual that you turn down work because you’re booked 3 months out.

    You run your sh*t like a business and it’s clear. We’ve worked with countless freelancers who don’t and have paid the price one way or another.

    Happy to pay the premium to work with a professional.

    • Joel

      You have no idea how happy this makes me to read. Thank you, so much, for being the kind of business who cares enough to invest. Thank you for creating a respectful environment to work within – it makes a massive difference.
      I hope we get the chance to work together again.

  25. Great post! There’s some good takeaways here. Trusting your gut is huge. I almost fell for a scam the other day but I trusted my gut, did a bit of Googling and found out there were a number of people ripped off by the same scam.

    • Joel

      Cheers, Adam – yeah, the gut can be deceiving sometimes, but when it comes to client relationships, it hasn’t led me wrong yet. Thanks for reading!

  26. Focusing on a niche, becoming one of the go-to people in that area, managing expectations, hitting deadlines, and having confidence are things we’ve heard a thousand times…but it takes belief in working these principles to make it happen. Many of us “settle”, when we really shouldn’t. Thanks for showing it can be done and sharing your knowledge, Joel.

    • Joel

      Cheers, John :)
      There’s a lot of thinking, strategy and just plain good business sense involved, but it can definitely be done. Appreciate you reading.

  27. Hey Joel – I just saw this featured in the Moz roundup email! Congrats!! Glad to see things are working out well and your points are all 100% bang on. Glad you are enjoying the life of a freelancer.
    ~Tanya

    • Joel

      Hey Tanya – thanks very much! I’m loving the freelance life, and it’s been so cool to see the post get some traction. Hope things are well on your side :)

  28. Just want to chime in on what a great rundown this is. Thank you. I am still doing in-house work (which has its advantages and disadvantages, like anything I guess) because I know that I lack the proper discipline to thrive as a freelancer. I gave it a shot but I was not up to the monumental amount of work it really is. I applaud anyone with the drive to succeed at it (many of my former in-house colleagues are making it work). And if I have a few more days like I’m having this week, I may just return to this post and give the freelance life another go.

    • Joel

      Thanks, Philip! It’s wonderful to hear someone who respects how much work freelancing really is. I hope your week improves, though!

  29. Hi Joel,
    Really a great article. I think time scheduling and Confidence is the key of success, So every freelancer or blogger should consider these points.

    Thanks

  30. Trust your gut reaction to clients. So true. If you have a bad feeling about a potential client, trust it. I have rarely experienced success with a potential client after initial reservations. Almost always the reverse. Just say it doesn’t feel like a good fit, say you hope they received some value from your conversations and begone.

  31. Hey Joel,
    Great story but you left me wondering what you did after you killed the team? All freelancers have that problem of the business being all about them and I’m wondering if/how you came up with a solution to that?

    • Joel

      Hey Dave – long story short, I’m taking a different approach to sub-contracting now; more one-on-one and rolled out more slowly over time. We’ll see how it works. Last time I tried to scale too much too quickly. A year from now, I may very well not be able to call myself a freelancer as I’m hoping to have built a more permanent team. But we’ll see.

  32. Great read and congrats on the 2 year anniversary. I’m currently working opening a local SEO firm and your wisdom matches that of my mentors. I’ve been told that there will be good days and good clients, but when either is bad, you have to remember why you’re doing this.

    • Joel

      Absolutely. If your only focus is a payday or you get lost in the building game, you’ll flame out. Good luck to you!

  33. HI Joel, very impressing article. I came across it through MOZ Top 10.
    I’m currently working in a tourism company in Amsterdam but I’v been noticing for a while now, that freelancing seems more attractive to me. This is also why I started my blog (to learn, improve etc.). Thank you for these helpful tips!
    During my research, I stumbled across some blogs (Digital Nomades) who “brag” about how easy it can be, while leaving the main problem out of the context: the hard work and to establish yourself as a brand (market yourself). Anyways, awesome post! Regards from Amsterdam, Bettina

    • Joel

      Thanks, Bettina! Yeah, I think the bragging about ease only comes from those who have made it and forgotten how much work went in. It is NOT easy for everyone, and that is a myth that is leaving a lot of people very disenchanted.

  34. A truly inspiring article!
    I have so much to go back to, re-read, rethink and leave for a while incubate. The life of a freelancer is a life of full responsibility, without the ease and security of an employer to do it “for you”. A really inspiring read this was. Thank you!

  35. Hi Joel
    Thanks for an excellent read and a reminder that we are all human, even the big(ger) fish! I resonate so much with your words and am thrilled to hear that you too have down days. I’m very hard on myself for being unproductive, but I think I can learn to let that slide.
    Thanks again and best of luck on your fabulous freelance journey!

    • Joel

      Hey Katherine – it’s kinda hilarious to me I’d be considered a bigger fish, but I’ll take that one with a smile! I absolutely have down days and rough spots, and I think the more we ALL share this journey and learn from each other, the easier it’ll be for everyone to make it. Thanks so much for reading.

  36. 100% spot on, Joel. I recognise every single lesson and agree wholeheartedly with every point.

    I started out a bit over 1 year ago and I’ve been lucky enough to exceed my old salary in my first year, with a decent growth projected for this 2nd year too. I did it by adhering to all those lessons you mentioned above – I made a few errors along the way, as we all do, but we learn and move on.

    Right now I’m more at peace with myself and my place in the world than I’ve ever been. I still feel anxiety, mostly due to uncertainty about the long-term prospects of my chosen craft – SEO – but I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to pivot and change focus if the need arises.

    • Joel

      Absolutely, Barry – we all need to learn some lessons the hard way – I’m still making a lot of mistakes, but it lets me know I’m growing and learning new things, which is encouraging. I’d have absolutely NO worry you would be able to pivot – with the network you have and the friends you’ve made, you’ll land on your feet for a long, long time if you ever decide to jump off into a new field.

  37. Hi Joel, Excellent writeup. The biggest challenge I face doing freelancing is to get inspired to work with a zeal. The only thing keeps me pushing to work is money, obviously the bigger the amount, the more the excitement to work.

    • Joel

      Money is fleeting; it’s a good goal for awhile, but I think ultimately I’ve found that now, it’s more about trying to build a life I enjoy. I hope you find the same!

  38. Came across this thanks to the aforementioned Moz Round Up.

    This needs to be printed out so I can stick it to my pinboard and help motivate me to keep on track.

    I’ve arrived at attempting freelancing at a point in my life where I’m lucky enough to have a safety net – if I fail completely I will still have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. Sadly this seems to be what is holding me back and whilst I can survive I’m not thriving. This inspires me to thrive – thank you. You deserve every sucess you achieve

    • Joel

      Thanks so much, Violet! Yes, sometimes I cut out my safety nets on purpose, just to force myself to grow. That was what I did when I cut out blogging – my ONLY guaranteed income at the time. Since then, I’ve done nothing but progress, and that is awesome. I hope to see you do the same.

  39. Hi Joel, thanks so much for sharing your experience and some great tips! I’ve recently packed in my job working as an SEO to chase my dream of freelancing. I want to work for myself to have more control over the work I do, the projects I am involved in and the skills I develop. I know it’s going to be worth it but it’s a little daunting just now. Reading your story has given me an extra boost! Thanks!

    • Joel

      Glad to hear you got a boost! It can be a bit intimidating, but how you start out is so critical. Now is the time to be focused, brave and extra tenacious!

  40. “There’s always a bigger fish, and if you choose to compare, you’ll never be satisfied or proud of the life you’re building.”

    Great article! The above quote is something that resonated with me and I am sure with other people. It is something worth remembering but not always easy to put into practice!

  41. Wow! Great article! It’s really some really inspiring things. It’s nice you hit your financial goal. Mine isn’t quite that high though…. not that I’d ever complain about earning that high.

    I will say though I’m totally co-signing on that don’t compare yourself part. I almost gave up my freelance dream because I started to compare myself to others. I felt like I just didn’t measure up to others. But I quickly said screw it!

    I’m a good writer and I have potential and drive and I want to work from home as a freelance writer! Good enough reasons for me to carry on, don’t you think?

  42. Hi Joel,

    I just learned about you from another article on freelancing, and I’m sure glad I did. Wonderful suggestions and tips!

    Are you going to bring us up to speed on how Year 3 was?

    Best,

    Sharon

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