Many people switch to freelancing with the impression that it’s the answer to their financial freedom dreams - and yes, it can be the answer to that dream.
However, before you achieve financial freedom & stability, just like any freelancer, you must first deal with the challenges of unstable income. I don’t think I’ve ever met a freelancer who has perfected this. I don’t know anyone who was able to build a successful freelance business and not struggle with unstable income.
I guess it’s safe to stay, unstable income is inevitable.
Question now is, how can freelancers deal with this? Two things:
I've gotta tell you, building a sustainable freelance business is easier said than done. Unlike traditional businesses, there’s no template, no guide for this one.
Sure, there are videos and all the tips and advice you can get. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to your skills, your courage to take risks, and your level of confidence. The latter I struggle with, until now.
But these tips have worked for me:
Build a solid portfolio
A solid portfolio includes only two things—past experiences and testimonials. Your portfolio is probably one of the first things your potential client would see, even before the actual samples of your work. This means your folio should be, well, awesome. It needs to showcase your skills, your personality, and what people have to say about you. While I’m proud of my accomplishments, my portfolio looks a thousand times better when I started putting client testimonials there.
Find clients that pay well
Of course, financial stability means finding clients that pay well. Another easier said than done advice, I know... One way I’m able to do this is by finding the brands I admire on social media, checking out similar brands and even their competitors, and then reaching out to them directly. Cold email for the win! Seriously though, just reach out to brands you admire directly. Don’t make a big deal about it. It’s going to be scary but just go and do it. You’ll likely be rejected more times than accepted but at the end of the day, it’s just business. Keep at it.
Invest time in building your personal brand on social media
This is something I missed—still missing—because frankly, I’m still terrible at social media. But I follow tons of amazing people and I can see how spending time on socials and building their personal brand is really helping them land awesome gigs! Potential clients are also on social media so it makes sense to be on it. Talk about what you do. Talk about the mistakes you’ve made, lessons learned, and things you’d love to do! Show them you understand your business inside and out. Show them you’re passionate about what you do.
Always explore opportunities
I always thought that since I’m a writer, I’ll always be a writer. It sounded okay back then but about 5 years in, I realized there’s more to freelancing than just writing. In fact, my business didn’t grow until I decided to explore outside my comfort zone.
It’s a scary world out there, but growth means discomfort. Go and check out other opportunities. Collaborate with fellow creatives. If you’re a writer, write about things you never thought you’d write about. Write ebooks and whitepapers, not just blog posts. If you’re used to pitching one story after another, collaborate with brands and do packages. Growth may mean discomfort but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it fun.
Hire people (you can’t do it alone)
Being a freelancer is one thing... Growing that business is a whole new story. To achieve a more stable income, you have to have more stable clients. To cater to all those stable clients (as in, doing the work) and to do the backend stuff for your business, you need to hire someone. I’ll just say it, folks—you can’t do it alone.
I’m currently in the process of hiring someone and while the process isn’t super fun, I know it’s necessary. And I’ve asked enough freelancers to know growing a business is almost impossible when you don’t delegate. Because delegating means being able to invest your own time in more important things that’ll actually help you and your business grow.
Thing is, if you don’t know how to manage $1,000, you’ll still struggle with $10,000. Having loads of cash is great, but it’s not the answer. Because it doesn’t matter if you have $1,000 or $10,000… If you keep mismanaging it, you’ll keep mismanaging it. You’ll still feel like a mess. At least that’s how I felt for so many years before I got my act together.
Jot down everything you need to pay for
I tried this with an app and with pen and paper. What worked for me was the classic pen and paper but of course, you can use an app if you want. The idea is to write down literally everything you need to pay for every month. All your expenses. From mortgage to monthly coffee shop budget. Seeing those numbers helped me realize how much exactly I’m spending every month. And whether or not I’m living above my means.
Confession: I was living above my means.
When I started with this self-check habit, I was able to organize my expenses for both business and personal. I saw where I was spending too much and which expenses I can cut down. Seeing financial responsibilities was a wake-up call for me. Now, I do this every few months just to make sure I’m on track.
Budget those monthly expenses well
This sounds like a no-brainer but make sure you have enough budget for all your personal and business expenses. As mentioned, I was living above my means. Which means I don’t have enough budget for some important things. Which means I was delusional with my finances.
No wonder I was always financially unstable.
Once you see all those monthly expenses, be honest with yourself. Are you happy with those numbers? Do you think it’s possible to cut down your budget on groceries, for instance? If not, what are your next steps to making sure you have enough money? Does this mean finding a part-time client? Does this mean hiring some help so you can cater bigger projects? Budgeting is not just cutting down costs. It’s also about figuring out how to bring in more money if your current income can’t cover all your responsibilities.
Check your lifestyle and live within your means
Until you become realistic with your monthly income and your lifestyle, you won’t really achieve financial stability. In other words, if you’re still starting out as a freelancer and not making much yet, don’t live a lavish lifestyle. If you cannot afford a new car just yet, don’t get one just for the sake of having a new car. Sky is the limit when it comes to income as a freelancer. You are in charge of your business growth. But if you’re not there yet, don’t pretend like you’re already there.
Practicing minimalism and simple living has really helped me reset my finances and lifestyle. I realized I was spending too much on things I can live without and things I didn’t really care about. I’m not saying go be a minimalist, but financial stability happens when you’re honest with yourself when it comes to the money coming in and the lifestyle you’re living.
Just like any aspect of freelancing, you need to find a system that works for you.
You need to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with yourself. Money is almost always a scary topic for all, but checking in with yourself will help you evaluable things.
More importantly, it’ll help you figure out the next best business step that fits your personality, your lifestyle, and steps that will help you achieve your goals.