6 Lessons Learned from a Year of Freelancing

Picture of Carla Tensuan

Carla Tensuan

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Have you ever wanted to start freelancing? The freelance life is exciting, and I’ve learned so many lessons in my first 15 months. To this day, I still can’t believe I’ve become a writer. I’ve been fortunate to work with clients from all over the world. I’ve penned blog posts, press releases, creative copy, and other types of content. In my first year of shifting to my new career, I’ve picked up a few things that might help you if you’re thinking about freelancing, too. I want to share my top six lessons learned so you don’t have to go through the same obstacles or make costly mistakes.

Lesson Learned #1: Set it up from the start

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I didn’t deliberately choose to become a freelance writer. Freelancing was my way of earning income while searching for my next full-time job. But since job openings were scarce in 2020, when many organizations weren’t hiring, I decided to pursue freelancing. After one or two months of looking for clients, I got my first gig.

If you’re committed to becoming a freelancer, I recommend setting yourself up for success. Register with your local tax authorities and work on your accounting and finances. Sorting this important matter later rather than sooner is costly. This was one of the lessons that I learned the hard way: I spent several days and thousands of pesos catching up on my bookkeeping and tax filing.

Lesson Learned #2: Do the hustle

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One of the most common mistakes budding freelancers make is to look for gigs and clients only when business is slow. I’ve made that mistake myself, and there were lean months when I earned very little money from freelancing.

Entrepreneurial freelancers know how to hustle or work on business development. They keep looking for new clients, gigs, and opportunities, whether through pitching, networking, or working on their profile and portfolio. I spend one day a week on winning new clients, but I’m gravitating towards spending an hour each day on my freelancing business.

Lesson Learned #3: Work directly with clients

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In the first two months, I limited my search to the freelancing platforms and marketplaces I knew. But at some point, I was unnecessarily spending money on membership fees and boosting my bids and proposals. In addition, the platforms I signed up for deducted up to 20% of my earnings in service fees. It doesn’t sound like much, but think of how much you could’ve earned with these deductions.

From my experience, working directly with clients rather than signing up on freelancing platforms offers more perks. I’ve earned much more by directly working with my clients, and direct clients are also clear and straightforward about their expectations.

Lesson Learned #4: Know your worth

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I hear this often, but I didn’t know the actual value of my writing when I began my freelancing journey. I was naïve. I thought that I would win a project with my credentials if I lowered my rates, and it didn’t work like that.

There are many more freelancers who will offer even lower rates. More importantly, lowering your rates suggests that your services don’t bring as much value. Don’t underestimate your true worth—research the fair rates for the kind of work you’re offering.

Lesson Learned #5: Manage your workload

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With the freelancing life comes flexible hours. However, with so much time on your hands, it’s easy to put things off until the last minute. There were days when I had to work overtime to reach a deadline when I knew I could’ve started on the tasks sooner.

I’ve learned the value of breaking down my workload into several shorter, more manageable tasks. Pace yourself. By gradually working on an assignment throughout the week, you have more time to hone and revise your writing. Finishing everything in only one day can be stressful.

Lesson Learned #6: Keep learning

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When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always trying to improve your skills. You’re constantly researching, reading, and taking classes. Being a freelance writer is no different.

Don’t be afraid to learn! Since I started freelancing, I’ve picked up quite a lot about search engine optimization, copywriting, and blogging. I became skilled at working with people from different countries, doing my bookkeeping, editing my writing, and using various software applications. When you stop learning, you stop growing as a freelancer, creative professional, and person.

About the author

Carla Tensuan is a freelance writer, editor, and communications specialist. She specializes in crafting creative copy, blog content, and press releases. She enjoys listening to podcasts, reading books, and practicing yoga in her free time. She lives with her husband in Manila, Philippines.