How Long Does it Take to Become a Successful Freelancer?

In this day and age, we all want quick-fire answers. We want to be sure of something before we dive head first into the deep end and, with the vast amount of crazy technology available today, that’s often possible.

We just have to Google how to do something properly, or calculate whether something is worth our time or not, or type in the ingredients we have leftover in our fridge to get an awesome recipe fired back at us.

So it makes sense that a lot of people want to know how long it takes to become a successful freelancer. Heck, I’m pretty sure if you looked at my search history around the time I took the plunge it would show up tonnes of articles which did or tried to answer the most pressing question of the year — how long does it take to become a successful freelancer?

I get a lot of emails asking about how long it took me to become a successful freelancer and I even wrote a post on it.

But guess what?

It’s not the same for everyone. People get going at different paces, they place emphasis on different parts of business, and they look at success in a different way.

Because success isn’t really a tangible thing, is it? For one person it could correlate with spending more time with family and friends and for another it might mean having a cushy stack of cash in the bank.

Success is personal to each and everyone of us, so there’s no hard and fast timeframe for becoming a freelancer. If you want to become a successful freelancer you have to make your own story and carve your own journey.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Successful Freelancer?

Instead of harking on about how you can become a successful freelancer in such-and-such amount of time, here are some of the things that might help you determine how long it’ll take you to become a successful freelancer.

As long as it takes to… Get comfortable with providing a service

A lot of people think freelancing is a great way to make money from their creativity. Sure, freelancing does require a bucket-load of ideas and creative thought, but it’s not simply an opportunity to flex your brain and be original.

Because, you see, you’re providing a service. There’s always a customer in mind, whether you’re a writer, designer, coach, whatever.

And, to make money, you need to provide your customers with the service they are looking for. Yes, there’s a large dose of creativity involved in most cases, but you’re essentially setting up shop for someone else. Not you.

When you start to realise that your offerings are a service, not a golden unicorn that everyone needs in their life, it’s easier to start providing something that people actually want, need, and value.

As long as it takes to… Learn the value of your services

Okay, now we’ve talked about the pink elephant in the room (you know, that your talents as a writer/designer/artist are actually just a service), we can move onto placing value on your work.

This isn’t simply a case of holding your head high and blasting any client into next year who can’t see how talented and special you are.

Instead, it’s about showing your customers what value you’re offering them. No, you’re not just offering them a website, you’re offering them a platform where their audience can interact. No, you’re not just offering them copy for their “about us” page, you’re offering a tool that will build respect and encourage audiences to connect.

You see?

You’re so much more than a designer/writer/whatever. You’re the person who can solve your client’s problems and make their lives a heck of a lot easier.

Realise this and you’re on the money.

As long as it takes to… Build up a network of awesome clients

I’ll be the first to admit that most of my clients are referrals from other clients I’ve impressed, and I’m pretty sure most freelancers would say the same.

When I first started freelancing I had a small network of travel brands and professionals that I’d met through blogging conferences and social media, but I soon realised I needed to expand my horizons way beyond, well, the horizon.

Creating a network of potential clients who trust and value what you offer is like gold dust. It’ll be the making or breaking of your business.

Think about it… When times get tough who do you call on? The network of people who already know that you provide awesome services, right?!

As long as it takes to… Reach your monthly income goals

A lot of people correlate success with the numbers in their bank account. They think that to become a successful freelancer they need to be making millions. But, whilst I don’t think money is the best way to measure how well you’re doing, it can be a tangible indicator for others out there.

And, let’s face it, if you go from scrabbling around for rent every month to sitting comfortable on an ever-increasing nest egg it can feel pretty good.

But it’s important to have a benchmark in mind if you’re going to measure your success alongside the growth of your bank account. How will you know when you’ve made it? How will you know when you’ve hit the golden number?

The best way to tackle this is to have monthly goals in mind, or a yearly goal and small incremental checkpoints leading up to it. There’s no point aiming for six figures in a year without any knowledge or plan for how you’re going to get there because, well, you’ll end up very disappointed.

It’s more satisfying to see the climb sometimes, isn’t it? Hitting those monthly targets as they get bigger and bigger can be a great source of pleasure for money-minded freelancers.

As long as it takes to… Establish your personal brand

There are thousands and thousands of freelancers out there offering the same services as you. Yes, it can be daunting and off-putting when you come across someone who seems to be doing ten times better than you with ten times less effort.

Truth is, we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes (think of a duck, with its legs manically flapping away beneath the smooth water’s surface).

We’re only certain of what we’re doing, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. Part of this is knowing where you fall in the marketplace. What makes your services special? What will make your clients come to you rather than someone else?

And part of this is knowing what your USP (Unique Selling Point) is and tying this in with a solid personal brand.

Trust is one of the most important things you can garner in your business (which in turn leads to more sales), and one of the best ways to do this is create a brand that’s relatable and solid. If you want to become a successful freelancer you have to have trustworthy foundations — otherwise you’ll get found out sooner or later.

I’ll be writing more about creating a brand as a freelancer soon so keep your eyes peeled for more in-depth information.

As long as it takes to… Realise you’re in for the long haul

It makes me cringe sometimes when I see people asking how they can make money quickly as a freelancer in Facebook groups and on message boards.

The ugly truth is there’s no short cut. It’s a long old slog building up a trustworthy business with a network of great clients. But as soon as you realise you’re in it for the long haul — that the slog is definitely worth it — then you can start making plans and actions that will reap benefits for your business ten years down the line, not just ten minutes. A person who goes on to become a successful freelancer has firm plans for the future.

Being strategic about your goals and plans comes from knowing that you’ll have to work hard for a long time which is difficult in this day and age when we want results quickly.

The number of freelancers who have given up after a few months or a year is overwhelming — simply because they couldn’t see the bigger picture. When you’ve got the end goal firmly in sight, that’s when you can say “I’ve made it!”

As long as it takes to… Work out what success means to you

Aha, you didn’t think I was going to finish this post without talking about the concept of success, did you?!

Because defining what success means to you is the pivotal thing that will help you become a successful freelancer. Whether it’s finding more time to spend with family and friends, wads of cash every month, or a solid reputation in the industry, you need to figure out what success looks like for you.

Only then can you measure it.

Your turn! What does success as a freelancer look like to you? What tips would you give someone who wants to become a successful freelancer?

This post first appeared on Wanderful World, a blog for creative freelancers who love to travel. Sign up to the Creativity Chronicles newsletter to get tips and tricks on growing your kick-ass business and travelling more!

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