This post was written by Location Rebel Director of Content and Community, Liz Froment.
Money and clients.
That’s what you usually hear about most with freelancing. How to get each of them.
But another key part of freelancing success is having the right mindset and approach for your business.
Without that, you’re going to struggle eventually.
After doing a 30-day writing challenge, I collected 20 of my best tips for freelancers on mindset. Use these to help you get in the right space and move forward.
Tip 1). Stop ignoring your small victories
Name your last small win. It can be anything, work-related or not. Just think about it right now.
Ok, now ask yourself: Did I stop and celebrate this when it happened? Did I forget about it? Is this even a small win?
Most of us look at the big picture: hitting income goals, landing a big-name client, monitoring ‘engagement.’ But what about all the tiny actions we take every day that get us to this point?
Why aren’t we stopping to celebrate small victories? Instead, we blow past them. They ‘don’t count’ unless we can brag about them.
Don’t cut down your victories. Let them shine.
Waking up and deciding you’re going to try to be a freelancer is a win.
Clicking publish on a post is a win. Sending out one LOI is a win.
All of those actions matter, even if there is nothing measurable about them.
The act of doing is as important. It’s not always about the outcome.
Tip 2). Perfectionism is an excuse — drop it at the door
On a webinar, I heard Andy Crestodina say, “Digital ink doesn’t dry.”
I think about it as a way to tie creating something online with perfectionism — the scourge of many freelancers. We take it too literally.
Claiming perfectionism provides an excuse for lack of progress or failure.
It holds us back from starting. It stops us in our tracks and derails projects when momentum is what we need most.
Ever say something like this?
I didn’t get started because my [insert] isn’t perfect. I failed because [insert] wasn’t perfect. I never did [insert] because it wasn’t the right time.
Your perfectionism isn’t the reason something didn’t work; sometimes, it’s because you couldn’t let go of it enough to try.
So much of freelancing (and life) is about taking action. If your imperfect pitch failed once, send more. Eventually, it will be perfect for someone.
That’s all you need to start.
Tip 3). You can wear your sweats to work
Back at the start of the pandemic (remember that, lol), Twitter was flooded with advice on exactly what people should do now that they work from home.
Always get dressed in a real outfit. Never work from your bed or couch.
Get a standing desk…and the list goes on.
Here’s what I think: Do whatever works for you.
Last year, I made six-figures freelance writing. I made a lot of that money in sweatpants sitting on my couch.
I don’t even own a standing desk.
When it comes to freelancing, WFH, or any work, I dislike absolutisms and proclamations of what you must do to succeed.
I hope one outcome of our chaotic year is realizing that doing what works for you is ok, whatever it is.
Tip 4). Fellow freelancers are your friends — not your competition
When you start building a business, it’s easy to fall into the trap that everyone is your competition.
Why chat with other freelancers? I’m supposed to be competing against them for work, right?
Fellow freelance writers are way more than your competition; they are friends, they provide support (and referrals), and a great source of industry news and gossip.
Through other writers, I know which clients never pay on time, or have shitty contacts, or a nightmare editor. I also know the places that treat writers with respect, have wonderful editors, and pay every two weeks (direct deposit) like clockwork.
The freelancers I know through social media, other forums, and Slack channels have been some of the best sources of support and inspiration.
I learned that it is possible to make six-figures as a writer, how to fire a bad client, how to approach charging what I was worth — and more — through others.
That’s a priceless education I wouldn’t benefit from if I hadn’t dropped the outdated idea of sticking to myself.
Tip 5). Find your sweet spot
Niching feels like a controversial topic.
Some swear you must have a niche to see real success or level up your income. Others are proof that you can be a generalist and succeed.
I fall more into the ‘it’s a good idea to have a niche’ camp. But I also advocate for finding your niche sweet spot.
The sweet spot is where you take two or three niches and find the connective tissue between them.
Picture a Venn diagram. Your sweet spot is right in the middle of your skills and things that interest you.
You can find cool stuff at the intersection of different ideas, and you can make the sweet spot a niche your own.
It’s easier to become an expert when you’ve invented your niche. You have a lot more flexibility to play around with.
Getting super narrow makes me feel stifled. I struggled with niches for a long time because I like a lot of stuff, I don’t have any single focus that drives my passion.
Playing around in the intersection of a couple of niches keeps my interest and helps fuel my creativity. And best of all, it’s the perfect way to keep growing and learning.
Tip 6). Get up, brush your teeth, and write
We don’t like to think of it that way, though. People like to say they are good writers or bad writers or not writers at all.
I look at writing like lifting weights. Not long before the pandemic hit, I got a 20 lb kettlebell. I was huffing and puffing as I carried it from my mailbox back into my apartment.
I bought an exercise guidebook and watched a bunch of YouTube videos to make sure I got the right posture and went at it.
And I sucked.
I could swing the kettlebell around, but not very well and for not very long. I threw my previous plans of doing some massive 20-minute kettlebell circuit every day away and went back to basics.
I needed to make this a habit.
In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, he writes, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
My goal was to be a cool kettlebell kid, that didn’t work off the jump, so I had to build a system. I put in my calendar that I’d get up, brush my teeth, and four days a week swing my kettlebell on three basic exercises.
Over time, it became a force of habit, and I got stronger. I went from struggling at ten swings to easily doing 20. My body wasn’t sore after using it.
Now, it’s automatic. I rarely miss a session.
It’s the same with writing. Start small and build a system that creates habits. You can be a writer, even a great writer. It’s as simple as getting up, brushing your teeth, and writing.
Tip 7). There’s no such thing as overnight success
I recently read Pappyland by Wright Thompson, a writer for ESPN. It’s about whiskey.
I don’t know much about whiskey. I know I like to drink it. Something I learned, according to Thompson, is when the new corporate owners bought the Stitzel-Weller distillery, saving and then making money was the priority.
So they switched yeast.
The old bourbon had a self-propagated yeast. The new had powdered. Powdered yeast is easier to work with, less prone to contamination, and always does its job.
But, it doesn’t have that special something the self-propagated yeast does, and that flavor is slowly getting lost to history. No artificial additive can re-create it.
“More and more today, we don’t want to do the work or take the chances required for greatness,” Thompson writes. “And we try to fix all those shortcuts on the back end with marketing and branding — modern, fancy words that mean lie.”
People like the shortcut.
I get asked a lot, ‘what’s the fastest way to do it?” “how can I make 10K next month?”
They usually don’t like the answer, sit your butt in a chair, practice writing, send out LOIs, and build long-term relationships.
We’re so conditioned to focus all our time on overnight success. I’ve been guilty of it too. We ignore the ten years of work boring and unsexy work it took for most of these success stories to appear on your radar.
Tip 8). Understand pay vs. prestige
In 2018, I decided I had to stop screwing around and get locked in with my business.
When 2019 rolled around, I hired a coach, one of the most thoughtful and interesting business people I knew online, Taylor Pearson.
I learned a ton from Taylor over those six months of coaching, and I’m still reaping the benefits. One of the biggest is understanding the difference between pay and prestige.
When you start as a freelancer, you’re going to find a lot of shitty jobs. Stuff that pays $10 a post for 1,000 words. The reality is that many big-name sites like to pay in “exposure” — you get less money but the benefit of a more prominent name on your portfolio.
Some freelancers fall into the trap of focusing on those big names, especially at the start.
I get it.
Having your name on a real site is alluring, even if you got paid nothing. Your family doesn’t get excited when you tell them you got a client they’ve never heard of, even if they pay you good money.
But, they end up struggling to make a living or burn out from the grind, understandably. And give up.
What I learned was to focus on a hybrid. List your current and potential clients and sort them into pay or prestige. Focus 80% of your time on clients that pay well and the remaining 20% on landing the prestige clients where the money doesn’t matter as much.
Take this approach, and you’re getting the best of both worlds.
Tip 9). Make strategies for when you’re struggling
We all have days where we’re hit with the struggle bug.
It’s just hard to focus, do work, get anything done. But when you’re on a deadline, you’ve got to find ways to overcome and push through it.
It sucks. I used to claim I was a night owl, someone who just worked better late at night. Then I realized I was just disorganized.
For the most part, I’ve worked to fix that problem, and I’m usually done for the day by 4 pm, if not earlier. But somedays, I fall back into my old ways.
So how did I push through? Here are a couple of strategies that work for me:
- Put something super easy on your to-do list and do it. Checking off something little can help get me going.
- Try the Pomodoro method. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work. Once it dings, you get a 5 minute break. Repeat as necessary. That timed period usually helps me focus.
- Move around. As much as I am pro-working from my couch, it helps move around when I’ve hit the wall. Go for a walk around the block, and you’ll feel more energy.
It’s simple stuff, but it works. And that might be all you need.
Tip 10). Consistent action matters
I get dozens of emails each week. A lot of them are bad pitches.
But with the Location Rebel stuff, we get a lot of people asking for help. They are stuck and want to get out of the rut they’re in and feel like writing or creating a blog is one way to do it.
I was answering a couple of these emails, and I wrote the same words a few times: Action and Consistency.
People get stuck when they focus on the big scary goal in the future because it seems impossibly far away. But breaking that big thing down into a lot of little steps, baby steps, makes it seem more doable.
I take a big yearly goal and break it down:
- Quarterly goals
- Monthly goals for each quarter
- Weekly goals for each month
- 1-3 things to do every day
Writing a book seems a lot less daunting when your goal is writing 500 words a day. All those 500 words eventually add up to something.
But, you’re not going to hit those baby step goals without consistently taking action. It’s far better to give 30 minutes a day to all in focus on taking action than 2 hours a week.
With it, your momentum and confidence grow.
So if you’re stuck, start small. Set aside 30 minutes, today, and work on your project.
Then do it again tomorrow.
Tip 11). Learn to live with the suck
Like half of America, I watched the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and decided it was time to learn chess. It’s one of those things I’ve thought about for a while but never did.
I signed up on chess.com, watched a few lessons, played a computer, and was ready to rumble…and then I lost 9 straight games.
I’ve only won once. And that’s because the other guy ran out of time.
My blitz score now looks like a bad credit report, and I’ve come to the harsh realization that for the time being, I suck at this game.
And that’s ok.
I once heard Gary V talk about not worrying about competing with other people at things they are better at than you. It’s a surefire way to feel like you suck all the time.
Freelancers fall into this trap. I did too. I looked at the “overnight success” writers making money with a golden client roster and immediately compared myself to them. And when I wasn’t suddenly successful after 2 weeks I was pissed.
With that mindset, I set myself up for disaster. Thankfully, I got out of it.
While it’s great to look at people 50 steps ahead of you as sources of inspiration, that’s where they need to stay. You can’t compete on their field because you won’t win.
Instead, put your head down and do the work. Take consistent action.
Find people right around your level and work together to push each other, not compete. Learn to live with the fact that you’re going to suck at this for a little while.
But every day you try, you’ll get better and stronger and see you can do it.
Tip 12). Momentum drives your energy bank
I’ve never been a work smarter, not harder sort of person. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m more of a keep running into a brick wall until it eventually crumbles type.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that ramming yourself into a metaphorical wall all day takes a toll in the form of mental energy.
Maybe I’m getting old, or, gasp, smarter(?), but I’ve realized how I manage my power block sets my whole day.
Instead of using up crucial power blocks on stupid shit first thing in the morning, I should be devoting it to banging something on my to-do list.
Momentum seems to give me a free recharge.
Without fail, knocking something quick off my list first thing in the morning is a sign I’ll use my energy bank efficiently the rest of the day.
Tip 13). Not every client is a fit
I have a policy on firing clients.
My policy is pretty simple. It’s ok to fire clients.
There are many reasons you might want to move from a client, and they aren’t all bad.
Sometimes, you mutually agree to move on. Sometimes it becomes not a fit. Sometimes they are jerks to you.
A big one is money. I move on from clients and replace them with higher-paying ones all the time.
New freelancers get stuck on this. They get a client (yay) and then hang on to them for dear life, even if they don’t pay well or the freelancer has moved into a new niche.
The problem is a circular thing.
They are afraid to get rid of the low-paying client because they need the money. But they don’t have time to find a higher-paying client because they can’t afford to drop any work from the current client.
See how it gets into a death spiral?
You’re worth more than $10 an article. Sure, it may be fine to hit that mark to get your foot in the door, but that’s it.
Don’t let yourself get stuck in this cycle because it’s tough to get out of it once you’re there.
If a client isn’t willing to pay you more, fire them and find one who does.
They are out there.
Tip 14). You need to develop a marketing mix
One of my favorite freelance gurus is Ed Gandia. His site and podcast, both named B2B Launcher, offer advice for budding freelancers.
There, I learned about a fundamental concept: Creating a marketing mix.
At the time, I wasn’t struggling, I was making a living, but I was stagnant. Freelancing felt harder than I thought it should be.
I was doing everything I thought I should do except the most important thing, marketing. I wasn’t creating a system of consistent outreach to help me get clients.
Seems like a super simple concept, right? Developing a marketing mix was a game-changer for me.
Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Get a list of marketing activities together.
Include LOIs, pitches, attending conferences, networking, social media, creating content, going on podcasts, and so on.
Ed calls this an Attraction Marketing Strategy. It puts you out there and, hopefully, gets people to come to you.
Step 2: Pick a collection of these.
You don’t have to do everything all the time. I usually pick 2-3 monthly.
It’s ok some of these are more long-term.
The idea is you want to get different lines out that will give you a good ROI.
Step 3: Get to work
Right now, I’m pushing out content (you’re reading it), smart networking in new Slack groups, and sending out pitches to current clients.
Now you’ve got a system for getting clients. Repeat that consistently, and you’re golden.
Tip 15). Don’t be afraid to ask for more
I recently got into a situation where a client asked me to do more work outside the project’s scope, and I asked for more money.
It seems small. A no-brainer? Of course, you should ask for more money; the client wanted more work.
But it’s not always that simple. When you start freelancing, you spend so much time trapped in your head.
It’s a dangerous place in there.
Inside your head will tell you that you have to say yes to low-paying work because nothing will ever come again.
It says you shouldn’t click publish on anything because it’s not 100% perfect.
It wants you to think and think about all the ways you’re going to mess this up so you never even start.
That’s a lot of shit you have to wade through to get to the other side. It’s hard, and, honestly, it can take a while.
But what is true is that no one is going to do it for you. Remember, this is a business.
A client wants to get the best they can for the value. That’s true for clients who pay you $10 a post and for those who pay you $500 a post.
They aren’t going to magically come to you and tell you to ask for more money. It’s on you to ignore the voices in your head telling you this is scary to stop.
You can do it.
All you have to do is push those voices aside and ask.
Tip 16). It’s ok to write bad first drafts
“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
One of my favorite books on writing is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
It permitted me to stop torturing myself over not needing to come up with perfect content every time I sat down to write.
No writer does. Not even rich and famous. But, somehow, we expect, no demand, that what flows out of us is perfect the second we sit down.
That never happens.
What you have to do is expect that most of what you’re writing is crap.
And that’s ok!
Realize it’s crap before it comes out of you and when it hits the page.
But here’s the important part. Instead of beating yourself up, understand that this is the process. You have to get all the crap out and then wade through what you’ve got.
So much of a writer’s success comes in the edit. Cut bad lines. Pull the strings of amazing ideas. Take out that paragraph. Move this one to the top. Shorten 47% of your sentences.
Do all that, and you’ve got something.
But you can’t get there if you won’t put anything down because it’s not perfect.
Tip 17). Playing the long game matters more than you think
Freelancing is not a get-rich-quick scene.
Most of the ‘big name’ freelance writers or bloggers you’ve heard of only became overnight successes after years of work.
It took me six months to land my first client. I got $10 a post for 500 words.
I worked at my 9-5 and then returned to my apartment and typed — usually two hours every night and a few more on the weekends.
Topics ranged, but I spent a lot of time writing about soffits and fascia. I had to Google what they were before I started.
After a while, I got another client, a limo company. I wrote 43 articles using the keyword San Jose Limos.
I nabbed another client. This was a bigger-name SEO guy, so the topics varied. I covered prom dresses (finally something I had at least a little bit of experience in!) speakers, software, tennis balls?
Eventually, I jumped up the client chain, but I never stopped learning or writing.
It took me six years to fall just short of the impossible dream income I set when I started. And seven years before I hit it.
Just another story of overnight success.
Tip 18). It’s time to start thinking like a business
Are you a freelance writer? Blogger? A writer of any sort?
You’re a business owner.
Start acting like one.
Writing feels personal. When a client sends back edits, or they don’t like what you’ve written, ouch.
But that’s just one part of doing business. It’s not an indictment of your skills or ability. It’s an opportunity to get better.
That’s a part of the business.
I see a lot of new freelancers get hyped up about this. And they let the emotions of it all cloud the fact that they are budding business owners.
They stress over not getting rid of a super low-paying client. They undervalue what they are creating and fall into the trap of dropping their rates.
Sure, that’s a business model too, but for most of us, it’s not sustainable.
When you think like a business owner, you understand your time’s value, set baseline rates and benchmarks for growth. You get organized, hit deadlines, and take things seriously.
You’re a business owner now.
The sooner you start running your output like a business, the better off you’ll be in the long-run.
Tip 19). Create a system that pushes you toward success
George RR Martin and Stephen King are two of the most well-known writers on the planet.
One is prolific, consistently churning out dozens of books over his career. The other created one of the most popular ‘worlds’ in tv history, but we’ve been waiting on him to finish the story for going on ten years.
The difference in output has no bearing on their talent or storytelling abilities. Both are at the top of the heap when it comes to that.
Where it does matter is with the systems they’ve built around themselves.
Martin is famously a gardener, as he likes to put it, writing and re-writing. Coming up with ideas and tinker and tend to them along the way. Sometimes he writes daily; sometimes, he doesn’t.
King has built a system where he writes consistently every day. In his book On Writing, he says he goes into his office, closes off all distractions, and writes about 2,000 words a day.
Sometimes that takes him an hour. Sometimes it takes him 9. Sometimes the flow is there, and it’s great. Sometimes he throws 97% of it away. But doing that consistently day after day adds up.
The system that King has created propels him forward. Even on his worst days, he’s getting something out of it. He’s building toward a finished product.
A lot of people focus on the goal, the outcome, the great book at the end.
But what you need to create a system, usually very boring, that you repeat day after day, and that’s what stacks up to success.
Tip 20). Be a goldfish
I’ve been watching Ted
It’s the perfect balm after a wild and crazy year. Ted is earnest and utterly baffles most of the British people around him.
I perked up when I heard Ted ask one of his players what he thought the happiest animal in the world was. The player didn’t know.
“It’s a goldfish,” Ted said. “It’s got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.
Obviously, this applies to any part of life, but I love it for freelancers.
Spend any time freelancing, and you’ll know that there are plenty of ups and downs. You’ll get rejected hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. It will sting.
I remember reading rejections and getting embarrassed through my laptop, my cheeks turning pink like the person was sitting in front of me.
What I wish I had realized then was I needed to be a goldfish.
When rejection or missed client or heavy edit comes in, you sit with it for 10 seconds, forget about it and move on.
Don’t let rejection be an anchor weighing you down.
Just keep swimming.
Get your mindset right — the rest will follow
There are a lot of difficult things about being a freelancer but having the right mindset and approach to your business can make all the difference.