Have you ever met a freelancer that failed?

I was asked this question by a student when I spoke to one of Lamar Dodd School of Art’s classes this Fall of 2019. [side note Lamar Dodd School of Art is one of my clients!] We were discussing running a business as an artist.

When the student asked this question, I was struck by the word “failed”.

Because to “fail” means you tried, really hard. And honestly, when I see a freelancer or any business owner try very hard…they don’t fail. When I answered the student, I rephrased the question for my answer.

I haven’t met freelancers that “failed” but I have met freelancers that never made it, I said.

Freelancers that never make their work their whole thing. Freelancer that phrase their work as something they do “on the side”, “sometimes”, “a little bit”. Freelancers that never leave their full-time job*. Freelancers that say “I’m not a professional at this or anything”.

These are the ones that do not make it.

So, I wanted to tell you what I told the student.

If you are going to be a freelancer (aka become a business owner), you need to make your business your whole identity.

What you do should be on every social media profile of yours, it should be the first way you describe yourself.

Maybe you work at a coffee shop full-time to pay the bills (what I did all through college). But you aren’t a barista, you are a photographer (or web developer, or videographer, or writer).

When someone asks you what you do, say “I’m a photographer” not “I do photography on the side sometimes”. Even if you only have one photography client a month. Who cares.

Also, if you want to be a business owner you should put all your eggs in that basket, aka make it a full-time commitment, as soon as possible.

(I will say that freelancing isn’t for everyone and some people thrive working full-time for a company. I support that 100%!)

I was thrust into full-time freelancing after I got fired from my first agency job. I got fired because I published my freelance portfolio website. I just wanted to make a few thousand dollars to pay off a new (to me, very used to the world) car. I did not want to quit my job. I did not want to freelance full-time. That’s because I didn’t think I would make it.

Getting fired was the best thing that happened to me. It forced me to commit 110% to freelancing. I had no savings, I had no clients, but I had 24 hours a day to try. To try very hard.

Also, money.

When you are a freelancer, money will be something you talk about every day. Money will be something that doesn’t come every two weeks. My advice is to..

  1. Get over any weirdness you have about money. Know what you have, know what you need to survive or thrive, know how to give a fair quote to clients. And when I say fair, I mean fair to you. Fair enough that you can make a living! Read more about my money thoughts @ How to File your Taxes as a Freelancer.
  2. Save money. Obsessively. Literally nothing will feel better than knowing that you could have no work and no income for six full months and you’ll be fine. Like paying your bills and meeting your friends for dinner kind of fine. Actually the only thing that will feel better than that will be having enough for a whole year (my current goal). In the three years since I started my business, I’ve let my consumerism fade away. I don’t crave many things. I can attribute that to the fact that many affordable things make me very happy (library books, grocery shopping, exercising). Another benefit to saving money is that you can be more picky about the work you choose. If a project sounds stressful with a not-so-nice client — skip it! You can afford to. Money is not what determines happiness, but it can give you some peace of mind and a little freedom.

So, no, I don’t think anyone is destined to fail at freelancing. I do think some will give up on it before they really, really try to make it work. And I want you to know, that one, I believe in anyone who wants to do this — I don’t care if you have no clients, savings or experience. And, two, I’m here for any questions or advice on how to run a business independently.

*There are some freelancers that ❤ their full-time job and love the freelancing they do on the side and I totally respect that. However I do see a lot of people that never quit their full-time job because of fear and self-doubt. That’s who I’m talking to here!