Kate H. Knapp has been freelancing full time for the past three years. Here’s what she’s learned about time management, pay rates, and work-life balance.

Freelancing was not an easy choice and not one that I expected to make. After eight years working at a secure, cubicle-cozy, company, I was unexpectedly let go and had to quickly figure out what was next for my career.

My options were to return to the familiar 9-to-5 workplace or go out on a very precarious limb and attempt to make it on my own. I chose the latter for several reasons: I was looking for work in an industry that didn’t offer a great deal of office-style jobs, I wanted to be my own boss, and I desired the freedom to work on multiple projects—from writing to recipe testing to editing—in my own time.

I, of course, had no idea where to start. So I spent time figuring out ways to market myself. It may seem a little odd to think of yourself as a brand, but that is really what you must become to freelance successfully.

I first created my online portfolio to highlight my work, but also to attract the type of clients I wanted to hire me. From there, I researched whether I should be sole proprietor or an LLC, decided which would be best for my business, and filed the proper paperwork. I then revamped my resume, printed business cards, and updated my LinkedIn profile. (Because you can never underestimate the value of networking. Never. It really is all about who you know.) I was ready to freelance, or so I believed.

My first few weeks officially freelancing were spent building a client base, and that meant hours in front of a computer. I made as many contacts as possible with people in my industry and introduced myself either through email or over the phone. My morning coffee was spent searching sites like Craigslist, Indeed, Upwork, and others to see if there were any new postings. I joined online communities, networked as much as possible, and took almost any job that came my way just for the experience.

And after three years, I realize there are a few more things I wish I had known before making the leap.

  • Freelancing is hard work. Really hard work. It’s a grueling job that requires you to be the boss, employee, marketing department, accountant, customer service, and human resources all at once. And since you have to be all of these things, it is completely up to you whether you succeed or fail.
  • Feast or famine is not just a neat alliteration; it’s a freelancer’s way of life. I wasn’t quite prepared for what this meant until I was working on three different projects all due within days of each other right before having almost nothing to work on for days at a time.
  • Research is imperative. Taking the time to understand exactly what will be required of you (as a freelancer or with a specific project) will help set your expectations and avoid any unnecessary surprises, such as with taxes, invoicing, pitching, and time management. You will never regret knowing too much, but you most certainly will regret being underprepared.
  • Time management is crucial. When I first started working from home, it was easy for work and personal hours to blur together. I had no starting or stopping time, and I soon learned the importance of creating structure to maintain my sanity, my marriage, and my work. It took dedication, motivation, and organization to succeed. I highly recommend using whatever tools necessary to keep yourself on track so your work doesn’t bleed into your personal life. There are plenty of online tools to make life easier, so use them to make your life easier.
  • Believe in yourself. I don’t care how hokey it sounds. Confidence is key, and trusting that you can do a job well will convince others to hire you. It will also help that you ask for what you deserve in compensation, because you will know you are worth every penny.

My parting words of wisdom for those considering the freelancer life: Always be in motion. Never stop promoting, networking, pitching, and producing. You are never too experienced to learn something new, so take classes, join communities, ask for help, and stay relevant. I realize this might sound exhausting, but it does get easier as it becomes just another role of your freelancing career. You can do it. I know because, well, I can do it.

Kate H. Knapp is a Boston-based writer, editor, and recipe tester. See her portfolio at KateHKnapp.com.

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