Freelancer Fears and How to Combat Them

When I left my full-time creative studio job, I did so in pursuit of the coveted “freelancer” lifestyle I heard tossed around in digital spaces. Freelancing is ideally the best of both worlds. You’re your own boss, build your own schedule, and decide which projects you’ll accept or reject.

photo by Xanh Tran

I’d met numerous contractors who seemed to mesh flexibility and stability in their careers. I wanted that freedom for myself.

Not only did I want more time for my personal projects, but I also wanted a stronger hold on my work community and my professional future. It all seemed simple and romantic at the time, so I quit my job jumped at the opportunity. I leaped so fearlessly because I had savings and graduate school as a backup plan. I didn’t know much about the logistics of freelancing, only hearsay and knowledge from the creators I knew.

I’d met numerous contractors who seemed to mesh flexibility and stability in their careers. I wanted that freedom for myself.

The freelancing fears kicked in shortly thereafter. I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I was a newfound small business owner of a company completely made up of myself. However, those fears gave way to knowledge and a long-term freelancer lifestyle grows more attainable the more I remember these realities.

1. You’re your own marketing team.

I personally feel unemployed whenever I’m not working on a project, and I believe it comes with the territory of this path. It takes time to readjust outside of a 9–5 lifestyle and the uncertainty of when you’ll get your next job can be unnerving. Opportunities pop up in unexpected ways — a friend can recommend you from your newsletter, someone can find your website from a Twitter post, you can even reach out personally to a group you think would benefit from your services. But ultimately, the responsibility lies on you to circulate your skills.

It can be stressful to be your own marketing team. I am a person who overanalyzes social media. My heart starts pounding before I write every post I have on the internet. My inner dialogue turns into an existential crisis by the time I upload a photo of myself researching at the library.

Personalize how you contact your audience because that’s arguably the most on-brand part of this process.

There are ways to ease this anxiety. You don’t like the instantaneousness of social media? Commit to sharing your ideas in a weekly newsletter. You like images more than words? Build a platform off Snapchat or Instagram. Personalize how you contact your audience because that’s arguably the most on-brand part of this process.

2. Be aware of what you can offer and what you can’t.

When you’re working for yourself, your job description might not be as narrowed down as clients are used to processing. I do work in video, photography and writing…but I’m also an event producer and do bilingual community outreach work. And everyone has their own ideas of what each of those roles means to them. It’s my responsibility to communicate clearly what they mean to me, and find the best way to translate my skills into what they need. If your client needs something that you can’t offer, It’s okay to subcontract. This helps you build your working community even more and it’s a great opportunity to learn about a new skill.

People will be quick to project their definitions onto you, regardless of how you or your portfolio describes your abilities.

People will be quick to project their definitions onto you, regardless of how you or your portfolio describes your abilities. Make your boundaries firm. Format your timeline clearly. Be selfish in how much energy you’re willing to attribute to each project, because people will mistake your inch as a mile, real quick.

3. Always have a contract.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trading with a longtime friend or a new work connect, it’s best to have a record of what everyone in the arrangement agrees to do. Ideally everything will go according to plan. But should there be a disagreement later, emotions alter memory. It’s easy for someone to feel shortchanged and undervalued if the responsibilities aren’t in writing.

Others will be quick to devalue your work, and reminding yourself of your worth will help combat the haters when you’re tested.

A contract also helps formalize the value of your work, both to the person you’re exchanging with and to yourself. It can be difficult to attach a dollar amount to your labor, resources, and creations — but this step will help you grow as a creator. Others will be quick to devalue your work, and reminding yourself of your worth will help combat the haters when you’re tested. Plus, you’ll have numbers to fall back on in case there’s a cancellation. ALWAYS have a cancellation policy. People change their minds all the time due to unprecedented circumstances, and that person could be you.

Keep in mind your exchange doesn’t have to be monetary. If you’re a graphic designer looking for custom furniture, keep an eye out for a carpentering business in need of an updated marketing plan.

4. Your community is everything.

Just like in a company set-up, you’re not going to like everyone and everyone isn’t going to like you. However, there is a difference between liking people and respecting them.

Respect goes a long way in freelancing. It shows people that you value their perspective and contribution because of their skills and experience. The more relationships you build with that solid foundation, the more people you’ll have to vouch for your work and even forward you opportunities in the future. That said, if they don’t respect you, you are entitled to work or not work with whomever you like.

You might lose access to some connections by setting these boundaries, but I’ve learned you don’t want to be involved with people who mess around with disrespectful work politics anyway. When you do good work and stand up for your values, those who matter will take notice. Working relationships are like personal relationships in that you attract the company that you keep.