As a Career Transformation Coach for young women in their 20s and 30s, I have worked with many female freelancers. They usually come to me burnt-out, resentful, and with very few clients, or a lot of customers, but very little money and appreciation to show for their hard work and all their emotional giving. I have compiled a list of 5 biggest mistakes they make and how to fix them. I’ve seen wonderful results in my own clients applying the advice I will give you.
1. Not fully committing
Most female freelancers I know never fully commit to building a sustainable business and think of their freelancing as a hobby that will never truly pay the bills. So they keep that crappy job, telling themselves that they need it. And, what happens year after year is that they are still working at that crappy job. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where not enough money is ever made and freelancers stay stuck. The antidote is super scary, but it is this: Commit to getting rid of that day job. Create a deadline by which you will have to quit your day job and stick to it (perhaps 1 year from now). I’ve seen that deadline do magical things. Experience has taught me that the Universe sends very different opportunities to people who commit fully in that do-or-die kind of way. You should also seek role models, teachers, and coaches to help you. It is OK to admit that you need support.
2. Not being visible enough
Most of my freelancing clients are really artists, who fear stepping into the spotlight. When I work with my female clients on helping them create their unique careers, it is hardly ever the lack of resources, but pretty much always their visibility issues that stop them. To be successful, we have to be willing to step out into the world and make a name for ourselves. Most freelancers I know hide behind their portfolios and online profiles, only showing their work, but never really step out as people behind the porfolio. Yes, others may hire you based on your portfolio, but that’s not where the big money (and other rewards) are. Ultimately, the big bucks go to people who are not afraid to be seen. This is something that can be done pretty easily, in baby steps. Whatever your comfort zone is now, start doing little things outside of it. Make sure you have someone to be accountable to, otherwise you may not challenge yourself enough.
3. Not creating their own opportunities
Freelancers often depend on freelancing websites to find work. Those websites are fantastic and can bring you some work. However, these websites tend to want to keep your business on their site and thus discourage off-site contact with customers. I have personally bought beautiful graphics, wanted to ask for custom work, but couldn’t contact the person who created the graphic. My advice would be to stay away from such restricting sites and publish your work only on the ones where you are permitted to contact and be contacted by customers, and where you are permitted to exchange email addresses. Freelancers really need to learn to cultivate the relationships that they have with clients. If someone buys your work, you need to keep that relationship going. Get to know your clients and keep asking them how you can be of greater service to them. This will bring in more work and more clients of your own. Pretty soon, you will not even need the freelancing websites. At this point you will have a sustainable business.
4. Not collecting an email list
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of building your own email list, full of customers and even more potential customers. Never spam anyone though; always ask for permission. More people than you may think may want to join your list. The more people you have on your list, the easier it is to stay in touch, announce new projects, and ask for ideas. This is also a way for you to open up about who you are and why you love your art. People love being inspired and they pay good money for inspiration. Every female freelancer I have worked with has been an incredibly creative person with tons of inspiring personal stories they never share with their clients. Build an email list and create that personal connection with your subscribers.
5. Not packaging services properly
Most female freelancers I have worked with got trapped in being paid only for the work that’s available. I usually have to teach them how to create their own projects and how to structure the projects in ways that would bring them the most money. For example, packages always pay more (in money and glory) than selling your work per item or per hour. They also did not charge enough for their work, and this is particularly common for anyone who is struggling financially. To add to this injury, young women tend to undercharge in particular. I can tell you from experience that clients will pay you what you think you are worth (hint: you’ll have to change who you market to). It’s time to recognize your value and start practicing charging more and to do it on your own terms.