It’s been a year and a half since I decided to freelance full time. To be honest, I’ve been doing it for nine years now but 2023 was my first full year of working for myself, full-time. I thought I knew what to expect but I've learned a lot more in a short amount of time!
If you're a freelancer, maybe you can add to the list? Let me know.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my first year as a freelancer, after I quit 'workin' for the man.'
1. No matter your salary, it’s rewarding
Full time or not, whether you make $10,000 or $100,000+ a year, it’s rewarding. You reap all the benefits to the work (minus taxes) and most of the time, your output equals your income. You can also revel in the fact that it was your hustle that brought in all of your clients (and money!). It feels good to make your own money and you can take a lot of pride in building a business from the ground up!
2. Set Office Hours
Full disclosure, this is not something I came up with on my own. I am part of a voiceover networking group and when I was preparing to move into full time freelancing, I asked the group for some advice. The one piece I got back was: set your office hours. ‘Huh?’, I thought, ‘That’s the advice!?’ But, once you begin working for yourself, you become one of two people: someone who needs motivation to keep working or someone who needs motivation to stop working. I am the latter. Once I begin working, I won’t stop. I’ll sit in my studio all day and forgo lunch, breaks, walks with the dog, until I’ve done absolutely all the work I need to do and then some. For my own sanity, I’ve set my office hours to be the same as my kids' school hours. There’s the odd time where I need to work after-hours to get a project done but those are few and far between. And I have a much better work-life balance.
3. You’ll work harder than ever!
Obviously this goes along with ‘set your office hours’, but it’s so important that it deserves its own bullet point! As a freelancer, you’re a professional hustler. You have to find the clients, pitch yourself, nurture the relationship and deliver high-quality work. Then, you need to bill them, keep up with your finances and pay your taxes! It’s… a lot. There’s a reason why companies have multiple departments to handle all of these things! If you’re a hustler at heart, you’ll be fine; you may even have trouble pulling back on the hustle (like I do).
4. You have to market yourself
This one is so uncomfortable for me! Despite the fact that I worked in radio and essentially marketed myself on our show each morning, I really hate doing it. I find it easier when I’m part of a team because then it feels like I’m marketing ‘the team’ and not just myself. Marketing myself feels egotistical. But it has to be done. If you don’t market yourself, who else will? If you don’t toot your own horn, no one will know what services you offer, the quality of work you provide or how you can help them in their business. If you’re a one-person-show, it’s up to you to tell them!
5. You might miss having co-workers!
At least, I do. I am a social person and being with people typically gives me energy. While I do enjoy being alone, I also need people around me so, after a while, I started to miss having coworkers whom you catch up with daily. So instead, I have a group chat with two other women who are also freelance voice actors and we consider one another coworkers. It’s such a huge benefit to have people you can talk about work (and other things) with daily! Otherwise, I try to be as social as I can during non-working hours.
6. Hire a good accountant
Hiring a good accountant is something I probably did far too late. I managed to do most of my accounting/finances on my own but having a professional look over your books can save you money in the long run. They’ll find efficiencies, write-offs and tell you ways of doing things that you may not know. That being said, you have to do most of your own day-to-day bookkeeping and that is important to learn! While I’m at it, here’s some bookkeeping advice:
Send your invoices with the deliverable so you don’t forget
Check on your invoices/payments weekly so you can follow up with clients who owe you money (and don’t be afraid to collect, it’s your livelihood after all!)
7. You have to break up with clients
Sometimes, you’ll have a client that you have to break up with. This could be for various reasons but I’ll give you my example: I had a client whom I worked with for a couple of years. He was demanding and not very good with communication (short, nondescript and rude). He didn’t pay well but I knew what I signed up for and continued working with him for those years. Eventually, he kept trying to pay me less and less and finally, I realized I had enough clients without him that I really wouldn’t miss his money. And so I told him I was doubling my rates (knowing he would balk at that, which he did) and we ended our professional relationship. To be honest, I was relieved not to have to deal with him again. He would stress me out with his ridiculous demands and timelines and confusion over direction (or lack thereof). Not all clients are a good fit for your business and it’s OK to break up with them when the relationship has run its course.
Running your own business is not for the faint of heart. Whether you are a one-person show, like me, or have employees working for you, there are lots of things to think about and lots of moving parts daily. It’s nice to be in charge but with that comes a lot of responsibility and, sometimes, things that are tough to deal with. In the end, I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made!