“Finally, what took you so long?” This was one of the most common reactions among my close work friends when I told them I’m venturing into the freelancer world back in 2019.
To be frank, it took me a really long time to even start thinking about freelancing. I always thought it would be overwhelming and scary.
Turns out I was right.
Freelance work is no walk in the park. It’s full of unpredictable moments, hard conversations, stressful deadlines, and new challenges. But over time I came to realize that some of these are self-induced rather than an objective necessity. Here are a few of the ones that most often keep me up at night.
“I’m not getting a new project ever again”
Freelancers often live in a “feast or famine” limbo. We either have too much on our hands or there’s no way we’ll make enough to cover expenses next month. I’ve rarely been in a situation where I need to rake in a loss – but that doesn’t stop me from experiencing the fear of it.
It seems like three weeks is the time it takes for me. If I don’t get a new project request in that amount of time, no matter what it is, I start believing I’m done. No one will ever ask for my services again.
What you can do
- Understand your industry’s seasonality – if you’re working in e-commerce, it’s very unlikely you’ll receive new project requests at the end of the year, because November and December are a busy time for marketers. So don’t sweat it.
- Be visible – make sure you’re participating in industry events, be active in online communities, talk to people. It’s the best form of marketing your services and you being active will also make you feel in control.
“I’m not qualified for this job”
This one comes up even when clients come straight to me. Impostor syndrome rarely is logical. But it comes up again and again.
I’ve been close to turning down work or not applying for a project because I didn’t have experience with the industry. I’m really good at making up excuses why I’m not the best person for the job. But at the end of the day, no two projects are alike. Marketing is messy like that.
What you can do
- Remind yourself about similar situations – it might be a similar type of project, a client with a similar size or business maturity level. It might just be another project you felt underqualified for. It doesn’t really matter as long as you can draw a parallel and say “Hey, I succeeded here, so I can do it again!”
- Keep learning – investing time in upgrading your skills is important. It makes you a better professional. It also serves as a reminder that you’re a good professional to begin with. I’d often read an expert article only to think “Hm, I already know this.” And although that doesn’t help me improve on the spot, it builds my confidence.
“Clients aren’t happy”
A few months back, a client of mine sent me an email saying “Can we jump on a quick call tomorrow?” I immediately started spiraling and thought she wanted to say she was unhappy with my performance. The project was actually going great but that didn’t stop my brain from stressing out.
Turned out she wanted to expand our partnership and send more marketing work my way. Boy, did I feel silly! Of course, that didn’t stop me from stressing out the same way with different clients.
As freelancers, we’re often far removed from our clients’ day-to-day. The less we see of that, the harder it is to gauge their true feelings. But you can build in ways to hear from your clients long before an issue comes up.
What you can do
- Have regular process check-ins – most client meetings are all about discussing campaign results or splitting project responsibilities. They don’t leave a lot of room for you to get a good feel of things. So I usually set up check-ins with my clients that are focused on process discussions only. This is time when I can really hear what they want to improve in our partnership and what they are happy with.
- Do exit interviews – if your work is more about short-term projects, then conduct short discussions with your clients at the end of your work together. Learn what they liked or didn’t like, and if there are any expectations that you didn’t quite meet. This is a great way to improve your process but also hear once and for all that people like working with you.
“If I’m not working on a client project, then I’m not working at all”
This is not so much of a fear, but a nefarious mindset you need to kick. As a freelancer, you need to work on promoting yourself and your business. This may not be billable work and is less structured – but that doesn’t mean it’s not work.
You need to learn early on that everything you do to expand your work – be it networking or learning new skills – is important and should not be neglected. It’s the reason why new project requests will come or why clients will hire you over competitors. It’s the reason why you’ll be able to charge more. So you’d better do it.
What you can do
- Change the story – I used to keep blog-related tasks under the “Blog” project in my to-do app. At one point, I changed the name to “Platform” – with my writing I’m building my professional platform. It’s a small but important reframing of the time I invest here. And it has helped me dedicate the time to write extended content pieces that started bringing new clients in.
- Reserve “client hours” for your own business – I didn’t track the time I spent writing for my blog, doing event talks, networking, and so on. It’s fun, so it can’t be real work. But this is actually how I feed my client funnel. So I started reserving a few hours each week to work on my business. Even if it’s fun.
“They won’t pay that much for my work”
Ironically, the first person who nickel-and-dimes a freelancer is often the freelancer themself. I’d often look at an offer right before sending it in a trance of disbelief. “Am I really going to ask that?! They’d be mad to pay that much for me!”
The truth is, more than 70% of the offers I sent to prospective clients get accepted. This is not a good way to conduct business – good salespeople will tell you that if you hear yes more than 1 in 5 times, you’re charging too little. However, I can’t shake it.
What you can do
- Keep up with industry standards – I read every survey out there about marketing expert salaries and freelance rates. Of course, this data is more readily available for some markets than others. But you need to be aware what’s going on in the professional world around you.
- Create your own project calculator – looking at standard hourly rates is not the only way to set a project price. Think about what’s important to you and add modifiers to your fee calculator. For example, there are some industries I enjoy working with more – they will get a 5% “shadow discount”, as would projects with long-term potential. On the other hand, if I get a feeling that a client will require a lot more regular meetings, I will up the offer with a set amount. This gives me the power to price according to my priorities.
“They won’t hire an [insert self-limiting belief here] for this job”
They won’t hire a woman. They won’t hire a nobody from Eastern Europe. They won’t book a speaker with a name that’s hard to pronounce. At one point or another, I’ve said each of these things. At one point or another, I actually saw these things didn’t matter.
In the end, most freelancer fears are rooted in self-limiting beliefs. The solution for each one of these will be different, but it usually comes down to taking a breath and being mindful.
I’ve gotten better at this with time. When I start feeling overly anxious, I ask “Is this a real-life problem or something in my head?” More often than not, it’s the latter.
Beat the fear monster by helping it grow
I already listed some of the ways I cope with fear but by far the most far-reaching strategy is something Tim Ferris calls “Fear Setting”. It’s a way to push yourself to action and a way to actually see that your fears are keeping you away from growth opportunities.
The exercise consists of a few different questions.
First, say you go for it and do what you’re currently afraid of. What’s the worst that can happen? List all the bad things that may happen and write down for each one of them what steps you can take to prevent the issue and what you can do to repair the damage if it comes to it? This will give you a sense of control and will really help you see the bad things are not as big as you make them.
Then, think about the issues that stem out from not doing the thing you’re afraid of. What will be the consequences in six months, one year, or three years? This will show you the true cost of inaction.
More often than not, you’ll learn fear is a bad advisor. It’s keeping you from growing and reaching your full potential. So don’t give into it!