Freelancing seem impenetrable? That’s an invitation to call the shots

For those just starting out, freelancing can seem impenetrable.

You ask questions that seem like they should have straightforward answers: How can I find clients? How much should I charge? Do I need contracts? Should I start an LLC?

Then you find that there are no reliable answers to most of your “simple” questions. The response to many of them turns out to be “depends.”

And not only do you find yourself on shifting ground, you may be disconcerted when people respond with snide “advice” like “Where do you find clients? Well, wherever you can!” Or “What do you charge? Why, whatever the client is willing to pay you!

While such answers feel unhelpful if not downright hostile, they are actually a reflection of the true nature of freelancing, which is, as I often say, like the Wild West. The reason you can’t glean hard-and-fast rules is because there are none (or at least few — the tax man, as they say, always cometh).

So those snide replies actually provide you a huge service, even if it feels like a disservice at the time you hear them. The people who respond this way are trying to tell you something very important: Figure it out for yourself!

While this isn’t helpful to those who want a play-by-play guide for how to freelance, it is very useful to those who have the temperament and determination to succeed at freelancing. Many of us become freelancers, after all, because we are tired of being told what to do and how to do it. Hearing that there are no definite answers to all our questions can be as liberating as it is nerve-wracking.

We don’t have to be stuck charging some set “industry standard rate” that some people (probably men) in a backroom somewhere cooked up. We don’t have to bother with contracts if the client doesn’t insist on it and we trust them enough not to care. Or we can have firm policies that contracts are always required. We don’t have to create an LLC if we don’t want to. Or we can if we want. Or we could split our business in two — or three, or four — parts and make an LLC for each, just for good measure. Wheeee!

I don’t know why anyone would split a freelance business into four parts, but the point is, you could. No one except the law makers and the tax collectors can set constraints on your business. You get to run it how you want.

Of course reality sets constraints, and those will probably be the forces that shape your business the most. For example, if you charge $1,000/hour for services the vast majority of others in your field would do for $100/hour or less, you’ll end up with zero clients. Or… maybe you’ll find a very rich client who likes you immensely and agrees to pay you your rate. Win!

I’ll say it again for the people in the back: There are almost no hard-and-fast rules in this Wild West world.

The reason is that as a freelancer you’re running a business. You’re the CEO. You get to decide how to do it.

You’re no longer (or maybe never were) an employee who has to adopt others’ goals and procedures as her own. You won’t stand for being told the right way to do your job and you refuse to get in trouble with the higher-ups if you don’t follow through on ill-conceived tasks.

You’re in charge now. And while that’s a great thing, it’s also an intimidating thing. It means that the only one who can really answer most of the questions you have is you.

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