Event Recap: Seeing the Bright Side During Challenging Times

As temperatures soared in August, Freelance Austin members met virtually to share their coolest tips for thriving during challenging times, the resources they find most helpful, and what they’d like to change about their freelance lives.

Three breakout groups featured two questions each, for a total of six questions:

#1: Are you happy with where you are in your freelance life? What do you want to change?
One member shared that she was struggling with whether to keep a client that wasn’t an ideal fit, especially because her volume of work in the summer is less stable than the rest of the year, and she wasn’t comfortable letting the client go. Another member said that she was happier than she had been in her longtime corporate career, but she still struggles with “Impostor Syndrome,” the feeling that she isn’t a genuine professional, even after five years of self-employment. Another said that marketing herself was a constant challenge because her services were all over the map and did not fit neatly into any category.

 Suggested solutions:

  • Blog to work out challenges and consolidate ideas about what you want to do.
  • Play to strengths and focus on the areas where you do your best work.
  • Read Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s book, The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to learn how to transfer skills.
  • Develop a spreadsheet to track potential clients to send letters of introduction during downtimes.

#2: What’s a challenge you’re currently experiencing and need help with?
Unsurprisingly, many members expressed worries related to money and time. Specific concerns included how to price appropriately without losing clients; managing time; and navigating the “feast or famine” cycle (having too much or too little work) that is so common among freelancers.

Suggested solutions:

  • Understand that if you push for higher rates, you may lose the project. If you come back to the client to offer a lower rate, you risk losing integrity in how you value your work.
  • To price a project, think about your hourly rate and how long it will take, then convert that to a project fee.
  • To weed out prospects that don’t have the budget, add pricing to your website. Example: Editing packages start at $___.
  • Remember that even if you don’t win the project, you haven’t wasted your time. Putting together the proposal could be useful for future ones. You’re practicing for the client you do want. Plus, that contact may pay off down the line.
  • For time management, spend time creating a routine you can stick to, or block time on your calendar for specific tasks. One member plans her week in blocks of time and is careful not to allow email or phone calls to disrupt her. She also organizes her days by theme: for example, client work on Monday/Tuesday/Thursday, administrative/organization on Friday, prospecting on Wednesday.
  • Regarding the “feast or famine cycle,” one member suggests creating a list of your parameters and refusing work that doesn’t fit. Another says that when she is deciding whether to take a job, she considers if it meets one of her main goals: portfolio, profit, or professional development.
  • For general anxieties, check out Freelance Austin member Barbara Rodriguez’s blog, “Everyday Ways to Settle Your Energy.”

#3: What’s an unexpected positive that’s come out of these challenging times?
#4: Have you learned any new skills during the past year and a half and expanded your offerings?
The pandemic has affected freelancers in different ways: one member lost a major client that comprised the bulk of her revenue and had to start marketing herself for the first time in years while another struggled to fill downtime and summon the energy needed for work. Despite the many hurdles, the pandemic offered some members a rare opportunity for self-reflection, values examination, identification of most enjoyable tasks, and gaining new skills.

Unexpected positives:

  • Learning new skills. One member watched webinars and took classes from all over the world via Zoom. Some skills people gained include line editing, copywriting, digital marketing, and WordPress. One member also started learning Spanish.
  • Pivoting services: One member pivoted from family photography to product photography and tapped into her former career as a graphic designer, discovering that her new focus was more promising.
  • Less reliance on one client: For the member who relied too heavily on one client, she started to brainstorm new ways to make money when that work went away.
  • Gaining confidence in spite of discomfort: One member who faced the discomfort of new situations gained confidence through recognizing her ability to work through difficult things.

#5: What is the most helpful resource, besides colleagues, for getting new clients?
Most freelancers who sign on to work for themselves love the freedom of self-employment, but it comes with a price tag for many: marketing oneself well and often. Members shared their top tips for finding new clients:

  • Join every Facebook group related to your area of interest/expertise. Look for leads in the posts or comments.
  • Send an email blast to everyone you know, which can bring in work from unexpected places.
  • Check in on a client whose project fell through and ask if the project is on again and if you can be helpful.
  • Join organizations related to what you do. You might turn them into clients.

Suggested resources for freelance jobs:

Suggested resources for full-time jobs:

  • Indeed (also has contract jobs)
  • City of Austin job portal (the City provides this service, but these are not just job listings with the City of Austin)
  • Freelance Austin member Catherine Jewell’s Career Passion Coach (resource to get clear on your unique value, get your resume in great shape, update your LinkedIn profile, and get help with cover letters and interviewing.)
  • Austin L. Church (advice and a plan for people who are new to freelancing)

#6: How do you communicate your unique value to potential clients?
Talking about ourselves, for some, is uncomfortable because we don’t want to come off as if we’re bragging. But as freelancers, we have to be able to talk about our value and the results we can help our clients achieve. If we don’t, who will?

Suggested solutions:

  • Create a postcard mailer that succinctly describes what you do and who you are.
  • If you’re struggling to write about yourself, hire someone to interview you and write your story.
  • Write a resume using value statements and the return on investment you have provided to clients.
  • Ask former and current clients for testimonials.

The most important thing to remember as a freelancer: when you struggle, you are not alone. The August session illuminated that many of us go through similar ups and downs, and Freelance Austin was created to support and learn from one another. My last suggestion: reach out to Freelance Austin member – and not just when you are struggling. Ask her how she is doing and if you can help support her career in any way. Better yet: make it a habit, and I bet your your freelance woes will diminish significantly.

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