The Brutal Truths about Going Freelancing You Will ONLY Learn the Hard Way

Oh! There’s plenty of money to make in it.

YouTube videos, articles and pop-up ads…They all glorify the idea of quitting a stable 9–5 job to set up a freelance business. Why slave for another when you can rake in millions, right?

And before you know it, you’ve risen to bait.

You’ve already started fantasizing.

You’ll be the boss. You’ll choose your working hours. Work from anywhere. Why go far? You’ve even counted the dollars you’ll make per month. The amounts you’ll save and all the exotic vacations you’ll take.

We feel bad to be the ones to break it to you, but you should probably stop building those castles in the air.

Freelancing is a brutal world. The many so-called-successful-freelancers out there lure you to jump on the bandwagon, but do not mention a word about the struggles of being a freelancer.

Yes, you heard it right. It is a STRUGGLE, EVERY SINGLE DAY, unless you learn the ropes real quick.

Freelancing is far, far away from sitting in your pajamas and sipping on coffee as you attend to customers. It is a struggle

● to keep the motivation;

● to win clients and retain them;

● to create a sustainable income.

While there are perks, I won’t deny; there are ugly truths that no one tells you.

The competition is cut-throat

You try to reassure yourself when making the switch to freelancing with the ever-popular line: ‘others have done it’.

Those others are your competition. Probably, well-established ones. Not just that, as we speak at least a hundred get added to the pool.

To quote Peerism, “Freelancers could represent 80% of the global workforce by 2030.” Imagine the number of freelancers you will be pitching against to win a project that pays you a measly sum. Phew!

It may be months, even years before you gain your footing.

Freelancing is not something that succeeds from the word go. You won’t make any money in the first month.

It will take you time to land paid clients that balance your finances, especially if freelancing is your primary source of income. And from there, a few more months to establish yourself as a trusted name in the field. Expect the initial phase to be lean.

Be prepared for no work periods

Winning clients is by far the most difficult task as a freelancer.

There will be slack periods some lasting a few weeks, while others extending for months. Worse they happen frequently. No work translates to no paycheck.

So, while you’ve been tempted by those earning checks shown to you by YouTube influencers, you don’t see this coming. A big bank balance is your only saving grace during no-work months, slow months and for unexpected expenses. And if you don’t have it, you’re in for big trouble.

The stress of no income is intense. Take our word for it.

Don’t be surprised if you are offered peanuts

Freelancing is often equated with free work. No jokes!

As a newbie, you’ll even come across clients who expect you to complete work for no pay. You have many freelancers tell you how they spent the first few months offering free work in exchange for building a portfolio. Other clients bargain, asking for more work at the same price. Pathetic, we know, but that’s the other side of the freelancing coin.

Your paychecks may not always be enough to fulfill the luxuries and exotic vacations you’ve dreamed of. Earning less that you expect pushes you into a vicious circle. Trying to gather every cent, you accept any and every client, low-paying as well as the finicky. These projects suck the joy out of freelancing. You’ll soon start wallowing in self-pity, and it won’t be long before you hate what you do.

What’s more? Be prepared to find yourself drained physically and emotionally when you are stuck serving such clients.

You’ll be working longer hours

Wasn’t that supposed to be fewer, more flexible working hours? Time for a reality check.

As a starter, you’ll hear a lot of crap about why you should lowball. No experience. No fancy-schmancy portfolio to show off. And hence, you deserve the peanuts. You will work, work and work to make a decent income that puts food on your table and pays all your bills.

Freelancing lets you achieve the perfect work-life balance. Hogwash!

There’s fear and insecurity too!

If you thought layoffs were the only real concern, freelancing has its dark side too.

The fear of losing a client is very real. It is a thought that won’t stop nagging you. Worse still, if you invest time and effort in a project only to have it rejected by a client.

It is hard to say how much you will make each month. It depends on the amount of work you get. Some months it is more, others less.

It is not easy

Were you told something different? This the root of all problems.

Many approach freelancing with the attitude that it is easier, less-demanding and profitable. You’re mistaken. It’s double the amount of work. And, it is definitely not for the lazy.

It’s a lonely world

Sitting in your pajamas, sipping cups of coffee with the music playing in the background while you work on your PC. That’s pretty much what we assume a freelance work scene looks like. Absolute peace!

But it can get quite lonely and monotonous after a while. A greater challenge if you’ve transitioned from an office.

If we keep the work aside, the office gossip and the coffee breaks with colleagues keep us sane. Now, it is just you and your work. You spend the entire day alone, often not having said a word for 8 hours at a stretch. Your social skills suck! You’ll miss the buzz and the companionship.

You might not have a problem with it but that’s when the devil strikes. You start judging, criticizing and comparing.

Freelancing is marketing and selling too

You thought you’d only be a freelance content writer or a photographer or a designer. Complete tasks where your expertise lies.

Freelancing is a different ball game altogether. You are expected to be a jack of all trades. You must know how to market your product, sell your service, win clients and pitch to their requirements.

Quit your job already? Struggling to make your freelance business work?

All’s not lost. Here’s what to do next.

Think about what you have to offer. How is different from what your competition is providing? Quality services will guarantee return customers.

To quote Coco Chanel, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different”.

Learn the art of marketing. Convince people to work with you.

Instead of quitting your job to start with, take up freelancing as a side hustle. As soon as you notice yourself getting comfortable and stable, you can take it up full time. It is going to be hectic managing two jobs side-by-side, but that’s what it takes to set up a successful freelance business.

Money-related pressures are real. But the secret to success in freelancing comes from not succumbing. Look for better paying clients. Don’t lower your price.

Let your client base be a mixed group. Low paying but good clients combined with higher paying, high-demand clients. Also, given that freelancing is risky business, diversify your workstreams. It will help you get through dry periods without impacting your income drastically.

Learn to manage your finances better. Save for lean periods. It will prevent stress and keep you from giving up your freelance efforts before you’ve unleashed your actual potential.

Work on building a portfolio that showcases your work. Create samples based on the niche you are targeting. Let it be your best work. Time management and discipline are equally important. Learn to prioritize in order to enjoy the best of work and family.

Treat your freelance business like a regular, salaried job. Agreed, time is of the essence in freelancing. The more hours you put in, the more you earn. But you need to take care of yourself too. Long-work hours can lead to burnouts. Take a break if you feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

Take some time off to go for a short vacation. And being a freelancer, while you can take your work with you, try not to. Plan ahead and plan well so that you can complete all the projects in hand. Try not to take up new projects. Let your clients know you will be away for a while. Stay motivated.

With freelancing, there will be good and bad days. Days when your stress is triggered by having an overabundance of work. Days when you stress that your entire freelance business is falling apart. Don’t be hard on yourself. You’ll learn a lot along the way. Expand your skill set as you scale.

If you are still thinking about freelancing and you are not sure, ask yourself one question before you make the leap: Are you really cut out for freelancing?

To conclude with the words of Benjamin Franklin, “energy and persistence conquers all.”

Father | Writer | eCommerce Legend | Cat Person | On a mission to learn, connect and contribute useful knowledge within the Medium realm.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store