I didn’t always know I wanted to be a small business owner. In fact, 10 years ago I never would have thought that this is where I’d be today.
It’s been an amazing and wonderful experience, and I’ve learned SO MUCH along the way. If you’ve
been reading this blog since the beginning, then you’ll know some of the story… but since I highly doubt that most of you have actually read every single blog post since I first started blogging in February 2008 ;), I thought today I’d share the scoop on how I became a freelancer!
My first freelance writing projects began in 2008, when I started writing a weekly health column for our university paper while I was a student. That project actually came out of my health blog! (It also helped that I knew the editor and she was best friends with the sistertraveller.) Over the next couple years, I also took on jobs with the paper to critique theatre and art shows—and, because the managing editor knew that at the time I wanted to become a professional editor, she graciously offered me the volunteer gig of proofreading the entire paper before it went to print each week.
This was an incredibly cool opportunity for me. It wasn’t a job that had even existed before.
But soon those evenings were one of my favorite parts of the week (and the lovely lady who did the design and layout of the paper, and who was therefore in the office each week with me, became my website person for several years before she became too busy with other clients). I learned a lot, and I knew Canadian Press style inside-out!
I graduated from university with my degree in Rhetoric, Writing & Communication in 2010, and I hustled hard that summer, trying to look for work. I really wanted to work as a proofreader in a publishing house, but since I didn’t have a degree in publishing, and since all the publishing companies in our city were tiny little operations (think 1—3 people running them), there weren’t any positions for me. There were a few interesting assistant-type jobs I managed to get interviews for, but even though the interviews went well, I simply didn’t have the experience level to get the jobs.
Finally I applied for a job with a public relations firm. I didn’t expect much to come of it (after all, I didn’t exactly have a public relations background), but then—would you believe it—I was hired for the position. What?! The job was working in a new communications position for a local health centre… and my new boss told me the day he hired me that I got the job primarily because of my experience writing about health on my blog and for the university paper.
Looking back, it was a pretty big risk for him to take, hiring me on when when at the time I didn’t even know how to write a media release. But we got along great, I learned quickly, and our clients were delighted with our work right from the start.
This was a turning point for me—that job as a communications specialist was a large enough contract that it enabled me to become a full-time freelancer.
It was around this time that I was also hired as an editor for children’s books (for a client I still work with a couple times each year to this day), a writer for a local real estate blog (a project I worked on for the next four years), and a writer for a local creative agency. An interesting note: these three clients were all people who had been recommended to hire me through people we mutually knew (and I was connected with those people via the mother dear, in fact).
Over the next couple years, I continued to get more writing and editing projects as my clients recommended me to more people—and as I put myself out there to find more work. However, all of these projects were smaller and/or short-term contracts. My bigger contracts were wrapping up, and I panicked.
I didn’t know if I could keep finding more clients to really make my business work. I didn’t have a business plan or a marketing strategy; to be honest, when it came to the business side of things, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was terrified of not being able to pay the bills, especially since I now had a mortgage to pay.
So what did I do? I took the first 9—5 job I could get and worked at a local charity full-time from 2011—2014, while I continued to do freelance work on the side.
I became more and more unhappy and frustrated with working my 9—5 job, so I finally decided it was time to become a full-time freelancer once again. But this time I wanted it to really work. I didn’t want to work in an office anymore. I didn’t want to have a boss anymore. I wanted to work on my schedule, taking on projects that I loved.
It took about a year of this simmering under the surface before there came a point when I realized my boss and I would never see eye to eye—although she was very nice, we had a different idea of the way things should go. I felt underappreciated and I didn’t want to have someone looking over my shoulder all the time. It wasn’t the right fit anymore. I had been dreading going to work for months: it was past time to get out of there.
So I came up with a plan that very weekend. I knew my contract ended five months later, so instead of renewing it, I decided that would be the ideal time for me to simply complete my contract and start working from home full-time. And since I was in charge of several major events at my 9–5 job, a solid five months seemed like the perfect amount of time to get my full-time freelancing business set up.
For the next five months, I hustled hard! I put together a business plan, a marketing strategy, and I set up a number of systems and strategies into place to ensure that I knew exactly what I was doing and how I would go about building my freelancing business successfully.
I also spent those five months reconnecting with past clients, building my portfolio, and taking on new projects. I had a strong client base and a great portfolio—now I needed to get enough work to pay the bills (and luckily, since I had been making pennies when working at the little charity, I was excellent at budgeting and living frugally). And I invested in my business—the first time I really invested in my business—by enrolling in Ruth Soukup’s Elite Blog Academy.
That was the moment I realized I could actually make my blog a major part of my business.
I announced that I was leaving my 9—5 job with a month’s notice and in April 2014, I launched my full-time freelancing business. I took on all kinds of different work so that I could see what I was interested in doing, and what I wasn’t interested in doing. I worked with awesome clients and some not-so-great clients. I took on several long-term social media management projects, which were perfect for providing me with a strong foundational base income for my business.
My business flourished. I was so happy to work from home full-time, and because I’d set the right systems and strategies in place, I was able to grow my business to be very successful!
At this point, two things in particular about my story might jump out at you:
a) that my blog was pivotal for getting freelance work, and
b) that I got many of these freelance projects as a result of various connections.
It’s not that you need to have a blog, or that you need to be well-connected (which I certainly wouldn’t call myself), in order to get freelancing gigs. But when people can see your work and *get to know you* (in this example, via a blog), and when they know of you through someone else or if they get to know you through one community or another, this will drastically increase the likelihood that they will hire you.
Creating a successful and profitable freelancing business directly correlates to building positive relationships.
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Freelancers are in high demand right now, and more and more people are starting to take on freelance work. This is fantastic!
The unfortunate part is that many freelancers are doing what I did when I first started freelancing, and jumping into it without strategizing or coming up with a concrete plan to outline their vision and goals. Most freelancers don’t know how to price their services or even market their business to potential clients.
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