5 Things I Learned from My First Freelance Job

I had always wanted to be a stay at home mom. Most likely it was due to the fact that my mom stayed home with my sisters and me when we were younger. But she always managed to bring in an income while being home with us full-time. She taught piano lessons at home, played piano for weddings and funerals, played organ at church, did transcription work for a local attorney’s office and ran a home daycare for a few years. I also vaguely remember helping her deliver newspapers at one point. The point is, she was there for us and she was able to bring in an income to assist our family financially. I wanted to be able to do the same.

But deciding to make money and actually making money are two very different things. I struggled for months with figuring out what I should do and how I should do it. I found a few jobs on Upwork, one of which I really enjoyed, but many of those jobs are very short term and the process of reapplying/rebidding/interviewing seemed to take forever, so I quickly got burnt out.

Meanwhile, my husband and I had been working with a non-profit to increase membership, engage members at events and overall run a more efficient group. An opportunity came up to speak with the board president about a few topics and the website came up. We talked about what we’d like to change about the website, Facebook page and Constant Contact email communications. As we were talking I found myself saying “I can do all of those things, let me put together a plan and get back to you”.

And that’s exactly what I did! I came up with a plan and presented it to the board president. He loved the ideas. Next came the money talk. I had already thought about how much time I would need to spend each week in order to accomplish the tasks I had laid out. I think the best thing I did was being prepared. If I had said “I don’t know, what do you think” I know I would have been paid for far less. Instead, I told him how much time it would take each week and what I’d like in return. He accepted. That was that – my first freelance job was a six month contract doing website content management, creating Facebook posts and campaigns and building weekly Constant Contact emails for our members.

I don’t share this to brag, or to say that finding freelance work will always be this easy. It won’t. But I learned a few things from my first freelance job:

#1 Asking Friends and Family for Work is OK

It’s OK to ask former colleagues, friends or family for work. You need to be prepared for them to say No but also be prepared for them to say Yes! I admit, I was nervous to ask for this job – mostly because it didn’t exist at the time. But I found an area where I could thrive and help our non-profit at the same time. It seemed like a win-win. If you see an  opportunity like this, please take it!

#2 Be Ready to Talk about Money

Be ready to talk about money. You have no idea what ‘expensive’ means to another person and for sure KNOW YOUR WORTH! Think about whether an hourly wage or weekly/monthly salary makes the most sense. For this job I chose a monthly salary. This worked out in favor of the client more than me, because honestly if I worked out the hourly rate I would probably be a little sad. But the truth is, I wanted the experience and it was work I enjoyed. So even though I ended spending more hours each week than I had initially planned, the project benefited us both.

I know that if I had not thought about money or let the client choose the rate I would have been paid far less. Be forthcoming and don’t be embarrassed about being paid. Maybe they’ll say no, maybe they’ll counter and maybe you’ll find a happy medium. You’ll never know unless you try.

#3 Set Work Limits for Yourself and your Client

When working for people you already know, set limits on when you will work, answer emails and phone calls, etc. This is something I didn’t do at first and it made life more difficult. I felt like I was constantly answering phone calls and emails when I wanted to spend time with my daughter. So I eventually stopped doing any work until she was napping or in bed at night. Honestly this might be obvious to some, but I had wanted to impress the board and worked too hard in the beginning. You should not work 24/7.

When you discuss salary, make sure you go over communication expectations. Maybe you and the client should have a phone call once per week to go over projects, or maybe the type of work you do wouldn’t require many phone calls or emails. It all depends on your situation and your expertise. But for sure set limits for yourself so that you aren’t overworked.

#4 Not Everyone Can Do What You Can Do

This took me a while and sometimes I still struggle with this: not everyone can do what you can do. Sometimes our strongest knowledge base/skills seem so obvious to US that we assume everyone can do it. Not true! For my first freelance job I was working with a non-profit of 2000+ members and NO ONE could do what I did for them. I originally thought they had a website/social media team, but it turned out they had one person doing those tasks plus a million other things. I was able to take website/social media off of his plate and it worked out great for us all.

List out your skills (and yes, everyone has skills!) and brainstorm where you could fit in. What do you LIKE doing? Maybe it’s photography, social media, writing, organizing emails and documents, answering emails, customer service, etc. There are so many small and large businesses who need work done by eager, dedicated professionals.

#5 Working Freelance is Fun!

And lastly, freelance work is fun! I loved being able to get up early or stay up late to work. I could take work on the road with me when we visited my sister, who lives a few hours away. Setting my own schedule is the best. Plus, I was doing what I liked to do which made work enjoyable and easy! Find work that you love and it won’t feel like work.

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