There are a lot of people out there with a lot of advice about freelancing. Me included.
You can read scores of blog posts about how to drum up business, how to choose a niche (or not!), how to fight impostor syndrome and isolation and feast-or-famine and the urge to procrastinate by dressing your cat in adorable, Instagrammable costumes.
But amidst all those many, many pages of wisdom you can read in blog and books, I don’t remember ever seeing the most important thing about freelancing, the nugget of truth that — if truly understood — will free you up to take the freelance world by storm in your own special way.
It’s this: There are no gatekeepers.
There’s no committee to admit you or reject you. There’s no border guard to check your freelance visa. There’s no guru or expert whose techniques you have to perfect or attitudes you have to adopt before you can be let into the club.
There is no club.
No one will give you the stamp of “experienced” or “ready” or “valuable” or “skilled.” There’s no one to do such a thing. There’s only the question of whether there’s a client who will want to hire you.
So you need to give those stamps to yourself and proceed accordingly.
In freelancing, there’s really no hierarchy based on how much experience you have. Never has a potential client asked me, “So, how much experience do you have?” or “How long have you been doing this?” Instead they often ask something open-ended such as, “Tell me about your experience and how you work.”
Then I get to put my background and my skills into my own words to demonstrate why I’m qualified and worth being hired for the gig. If you’re just starting out, you can find your own way to do this that highlights your strengths and portrays to your potential clients that you’ll be great to work with.
And just like there are no gatekeepers to vet potential freelancers who want to hang a shingle, there are no official shot-callers who are telling clients how to hire freelancers and what’s the most important thing to care about in a freelancer.
So while you might be sitting there stressing about how you only have a year of experience and haven’t yet been admitted to join the Knights of the Round Freelance Table, the client might be stressing about the potential of hiring someone who’s going to make his life miserable by missing deadlines or being a terrible grouch. You’re thinking about experience levels while he’s thinking about day-to-day work experience.
Many clients care far more about whether you make their lives easier than whether you’re the best, most experienced person at what you do. If you exude confidence, competence, and a personable attitude, you’ll be far more likely to be hired by a lot of clients than someone with a decade of experience, a perma-scowl, and a pre-madonna personality.
Because there is no set of standards for what a freelancer should be or do, and no set of standards for what a client should want in a freelancer.
The freelancer and the client respectively, can decide for themselves.
The minute you start out freelancing, you become CEO of your own enterprise. Which means that you can think up your own way to conceive of and express your value. The more you design your own path by resisting the urge to think there’s any one right way to do things, the better off you’ll be.
Now where’d that cat go?