5 Signs You Might Be an Average Freelancer
Let's be honest: freelancing is hard.
Sure, there are days spent working in pajamas. Mornings settled in at coffeeshops. The occasional afternoon playing hooky to enjoy spring’s first flush.
But freelancing also means blurred boundaries between your work and your life. It means never having a snow day, holiday, vacation day, or even a weekend handed to you—downtime is never a given.
It means having to excel not only at your chosen craft, but also at other things that keep your business humming (marketing, accounting, sales, and client management just to name a few). It means harnessing your hustle, motivation, and grit to become totally responsible for your income.
Too many people romanticize freelancing. And that’s a problem. Because in a world where the gig economy keeps growing year after year, it’s time to stop looking at freelancing as a sabbatical from corporate life and start seeing it for what it really is: damn hard work.
Technology and the (welcomed) loosening of corporate tradition has made freelancing a reality for a lot of people. The problem is, not everyone’s cut out to be a freelancer. But the weeding out process will be painful for freelancers who jump in the deep end only to find it unsustainable.
So, what’s the #1 predictor of a freelancer’s failure?
To paraphrase Seth Godin, the market for exceptional freelancers has never been better. But the market for average freelancers is abysmal.
Being average will annihilate your freelancing career like a killing frost. Not to mention wreck your finances, shake your self-worth, and send you running back to a full-time job as if your pants had caught fire.
But being average is a choice, not a fate. So, what does being average look like in the freelancing world?
Are you ready to be exceptional?
Know what separates exceptional freelancers from average ones (besides their income)? Download the e-book, 5 Secrets to Exceptional Freelancing, to discover the 5 ways you can transform your freelance business...starting today.
YOUR SKILL SET NEEDS WORK.
Here’s the real deal: As a freelancer, you’re not selling your experience or portfolio, you’re selling your ability to give the client their desired result…whether that’s a photo library that captures their brand aspirations or an email campaign that feeds hungry prospects into their funnel. And you can’t do that if your skills aren’t up to snuff.
It doesn't matter if you're agency-trained (like I was) or a 20-year veteran of your craft. Riding the coattails of your past skills will eventually leave you in the dust. Stay in touch and on top of new trends in your craft and industry. Educate yourself not only to be marketable but also to make sure you're delivering exactly what your clients need.
You think like an employee.
Freelancing isn’t employment. And many argue it’s not entrepreneurship, either. But it does require you to liberate yourself from an employee mentality and start thinking like an entrepreneur.
Most of us began our careers as someone’s employee. And average freelancers bring that mentality into freelancing...to their detriment. Having an employee mentality means they:
- See themselves as reliant on someone else for their paycheck (like waiting on clients to find them instead of taking control by actively marketing their services)
- Think of their income as a salary (believing they only need to earn a rate equal to the salary of a comparable job and forgetting to include the overhead and risk they take on as freelancers)
- Interact with clients by acting subservient as an employee would (instead of positioning themselves as a partner or expert)
The employee mentality gives freelancers a desperate yet passive air that encourages most clients to take advantage of them. Trust me—these relationships never last long or end well. Thinking like an entrepreneur means looking for ways to deliver better results in all areas of your business, not just the end deliverable. And not just better results for the client, but also for you.
You're a jack-of-all-trades.
Average freelancers are generalists. They believe specializing will limit their market and thus their earning potential, so they tell clients they’re great at everything (which clients don’t believe).
The fact is while specializing does theoretically limit the clients you could work with, it actually increases your earning potential. Clients place more value on someone who focuses on delivering specific services or serving specific markets.
Specializing also sets you apart from generalists and discourages clients from seeing you as a commodity. Generalists lose out because they don’t have a way to differentiate themselves. When they can't differentiate themselves, they end up competing on price. And when they compete on price, they aren't able to earn higher rates over time. This is one of the top reasons freelancing becomes unsustainable for many freelancers.
You rely on freelance job sites to find clients.
Average freelancers don’t take control of their marketing. Instead, they create profiles on freelance job sites and wait for clients to come to them. The problem is that these job sites are weighted heavily toward the client and—again—commoditize the freelancer. (Because, hey, If you won't take that ridiculously low-paying gig, someone else will. So, do you want it or not?) Pair that with generalizing, and average freelancers become the equivalent to store brand canned beans in clients' eyes.
It’s true you can find successful freelancers on these job sites as well. But you can be sure that they are actively marketing themselves outside of it, instead of relying on it as their sole source of incoming gigs.
You think your passion is enough to make you successful.
Average freelancers often point to their passion for their craft as the reason they should be bringing down a six-figure income. And while it’s important that you enjoy your work, passion isn’t the secret sauce for freelance success. The secret is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and pushing yourself to grow in ways that help your business. The more you do that, the more you’ll see your income increase and more sustainable freelancing will become for you.
The point is not to throw in the towel because you may do one (or a few) of these things. Instead, the idea is to see how these things are limiting your success and rise above them. Commit to giving your freelance business the fodder it needs to deliver you bigger and more satisfying returns.
Remember, averageness isn't fate, it's a choice. So, will you be average? Or will you be exceptional?