My Shaky Freelance Beginning & How I Cleared My Head

Posted on May 26, 2010 in freelance | 10 comments

Way back in January, when Utah was basically one large ice cube, I was busy indoors trying to plan out a smooth transition between full-time employment and full-time freelancing. The plan included three steps, which went something like this:

  • Step #1
    Search out credible books on freelancing and use them to get an overall picture of the freelance writer’s life
  • Step #2
    Make a list of basic things I need to do to establish my freelance business, then transfer the items to post-it notes (easy to put up, take down, and replace if the cat eats them) and display them in a prominent place
  • Step #3
    Take the next 5 months to complete the items on my list

Steps 1 and 2 were a breeze—I soon had a collage of post-it notes lining the wall of my office—but Step 3 sneaked up on me. After delving into just one item, I realized how much time and planning everything was going to take, and I was petrified. I tried focusing first on the items I had experience with—namely, business branding—but the more I worked, the more I found myself going in circles.

May came, and I was now jobless and in Ohio. I wanted so badly to do well at this new freelance thing, so I threw myself into another section of my list: legal entities, business names, and business licenses. The subjects were intriguing, but I was still wasting hours running in circles and wondering what would be best for me.

After I had been at this for about a week, I was miserable. I was frustrated. I felt utterly useless. What was I doing wrong?

Then my husband came home from work and offered me a generous helping of perspective. I had dreamed about freelance writing for years, and now that I had it, I wasn’t even writing. No wonder I wasn’t happy! I sat and pondered that thought for awhile, and realized where I had gone wrong.

  1. First, I had convinced myself that I needed to do everything the perfect way for my business to succeed—and that I had only one shot to make it right. As a result, I clung to my list, because those were the suggestions that seasoned freelancers had offered. I saw gold in those suggestions. What I didn’t realize is that these writers had developed this advice after many years and many mistakes. I had been trying to skip steps in the learning process, and now I knew it wasn’t working.
  2. Second, I thought I had asked myself all the right questions, such as why I wanted to do freelancing, but I hadn’t looked deep enough yet. I still didn’t have a clear picture of where I was headed or what I hoped to gain.
  3. And third, I had been focusing way too much on theory, without actually applying anything I’d learned. I’d read a ton of books, made a ton of lists, talked to a lot of people, but I hadn’t actually put any of it to the test. Yes, taking action was scary, but I couldn’t move forward if I didn’t do it.

Once I realized these things, it was fairly easy for me to see my situation clearly and sort out the things that were absolutely essential right now from those that could wait awhile. Through this little lesson (and hundreds of others over the past several months) I’m finally learning to give myself time to get my bearings and just enjoy the journey. Now I understand that it’s okay to take it a step at a time, enjoy the process, laugh when I make stupid mistakes or fall short on something, and appreciate the progress I’m making.

So there’s freelance lesson #1 (or maybe #1, #2, and #3). Now it’s your turn. How have you come to know what’s important to you? How do you keep your focus and remain positive, despite setbacks?

photo by Cayusa, under a creative commons license

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  1. I’m still figuring that out….
    Have you read “Writing Down the Bones”? I’m reading it right now, and I’m not sure why this post made me think of it. I guess it’s because some of the suggestions in that book pushed me to actually WRITE after a penless period of several months. Just thinking to myself, “It won’t be perfect at first, but the seeds of perfection will, at least, be planted!” helped me to actually get out the thoughts that were bouncing around my head. They were nonsense thoughts, really. Nothing all that inspiring. But then, nothing comes of an unplanted seed, right? No clumsy thought will sprout into a magnificent novel if it merely lies dormant in your head. You gotta open the packet and plant the seed!

  2. I’ve had very similar feelings while developing my freelance graphic design business. In fact I still feel them sometimes but at least, like you, I’ve learned to enjoy to journey.

  3. “Glorious Accidents”
    It’s a fun book about successful businesses begun by people simply doing what they love. The love led to the business, not the other way around. I prescribe site seeing tours taken one to two times weekly. More often if needed. These will inspire you.

    Oh and, you don’t need to read the book. The title is enough, don’t ya think?

  4. I love it, Robin! I often feel like people (myself included) try too hard or fight for too much control over the end result, yet some of the most successful people got where they are by simply focusing on what mattered most to them and letting their future unfold. I’m slowly learning to be that way. Sounds like a very interesting book, and one to read–perhaps while enjoying those site-seeing tours you prescribed.

  5. I didn’t know you had your own freelance graphic design business, Jonathan. That’s awesome! I would love to hear more about your experiences with freelancing.

  6. I haven’t read “Writing Down the Bones,” but it sounds like a great book to put on my list! And I’m so glad you found a way to start writing again after a dry spell. I seem to struggle with that on a daily basis (with fiction writing more than anything). I can’t figure out why I have this huge desire to write but then make excuses when I actually sit down, but I suppose it’s something you learn to deal with after you’ve been writing consistently for awhile. I think I told you: NaNoWriMo 2009 was the first time I actually learned how to persuade myself to write fiction, and the process I went through was very similar to yours. All my life, I had wanted to write fiction, but I let my fear of imperfection get in the way. I guess NaNoWriMo provided the sense of security I needed to figure out that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from writing, and that even if it wasn’t perfect right now, it would be a step in the right direction.

    Keep me updated on how your writing is coming! I know you’ll have a published novel in your hands one of these days, and I want to be first in line. :)

  7. Thanks for making my morning a little bit better with this great article!!

  8. Well I found this on Digg, and I like it so I dugg it!

  9. Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.

  10. Thanks for the heads-up, Annie. I’ve been doing a bunch of revamping on my blog lately. I hope to have everything in working order soon. :)

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