Productivity Isn't the Ultimate Answer to Freelance Success. THIS Is.

Tammy Danan
May 16, 2022

I poured myself a glass of Johnny Walker (on the rocks), sat on the couch, and spent the next hour with Lynsey Addario’s It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War. I don’t remember how long I spent reading or how much time I pondered about my career, but I ended up folding a dog ear and closing the book. Lynsey is one of the photographers I deeply admire.

Now, she’s also one of the writers I deeply admire, which led me to think of how far I’ve come and how much has changed.

Just because you’re productive doesn’t mean you’re successful

When I started freelancing, I was writing for content mills and small clients that pay almost nothing. It’s that bad. So in order to make ends meet, I thought I had to be more “productive” meaning work more, write more, to earn more. Makes sense, right? Especially if you’re new in the field. It’s natural that all you’d want to do is work more hours to make more money and then you’d be successful.

After five years, I learned that wasn’t the case. First, I learned that being productive doesn’t mean working more hours. It means working on something of quality. What I was doing back then was definitely of zero quality. I was unhappy and my writings were crap.

Second, I learned success is not just about the kind of work I do, how many hours I put in, and how much money I have in the bank.

Success means not forgetting yourself—what brings you joy and what brings you peace

While our definitions of success differ, it all boils down to one thing—balancing life and work. By life I mean, the kind of life you’re happy about. The kind you’re proud of. The kind you actually want for yourself.

So ask yourself, do you really want a life where you’re working 40+ hours a week? If your answer is no, then it doesn’t matter if you’re bringing in $3k or $30k per month. If you’re a slave to your job and hate every minute of it, you think you can consider that success?

Probably not.

Bottom line is, it’s all about balance. Do the kind of work you love, sure. But also, build the kind of life where your hobbies, passions, and self-care routine are not forgotten.

THIS is how you achieve true success as a freelancer

Work with premium clients. Increase your rates. Negotiate. Charge more. Learn more. Update your skills and knowledge so you could charge more.

I was over the moon when I asked $350 for a blog post and Shutterstock actually said yes. I love photography and I love the rates we agreed on. But when I tried to upscale a bit and asked another brand for $500, for a moment it felt like I was just asking for more. That I have zero contentment. I actually asked myself, “so what’s next, I’ll ask for $1,000 for pretty much the same kind of blog post that I can write in my sleep? When does this stop? When do I stop?”

Folks, you have to understand, increasing your rates doesn’t mean you’re ripping off your clients. If you’ve improved your skills, if you’ve learned a lot through years of experience, increasing your rates is right and just.

So, go out there and look for premium clients to work with. The ones that are in the industry you’re interested in. Charge more and do kickass work for them so you can work less + make your clients happy (and so you can have time for yourself without worrying about anything).

I used to brag that I could sleep less and work more and my body was just fine. Maybe my body was just fine. 

But my heart and my mental state? My creative soul? They weren’t. 

So how can I call myself successful then?

Succeeding in the freelance world isn’t just about being productive. In fact, I’d say it’s less about being productive. It’s more about being kickass in what you do that you get to charge a good rate and work with clients who’d see the value you bring to the table. 

Stop hustling to put in more hours. That’s not where happiness lies.

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