Now more than ever, people are looking to quit the 9-5 and start a freelance gig. And after this turbulent year, it’s easy to see why. Freelancing gives you flexibility, control and choice over the work you do (and who you do it for!) But of course, freelancing has its drawbacks, such as a less stable income or working alone. But it also removes the success indicators we’ve become accustomed to as a society.
Our first step on the corporate career ladder brings with it clear milestones for success: performance reviews, promotions and even a ‘well done’ email from your line manager. These are all little boosts we come to expect in our day-to-day lives. However, these clear stepping stones of success are removed when you go it alone.
But, that does not mean your career growth is over. But it does mean you’ll need to look at things a little differently from now on.
Thinking differently about career growth
The biggest challenge to overcome when considering your career trajectory as a freelancer is your mindset and the mindsets of those around you.
Changing your own mindset
Changing your own mindset might seem easy. You want to be a freelancer and you’re proud that you’ve taken the leap. Mindset changed, right? Wrong. You’ll miss the little things about the corporate world. There’s nobody to give you a pat on the back or a gold star any more. As a freelancer praise is often less explicitly clear and you’ll have to look a little harder to find it.
For example, you have a client who never praises you verbally, but continually comes back to you time and time again. That repeat business is your gold star. That repeat business is your feedback in itself. As a freelancer you need to learn to look between the lines and find your own little wins.
Challenging the mindset of those around you
Your family and friends might not understand why you want to go freelance. They may not consider it a ‘real’ career path for you. They may even be more worried than you are about the instability of income and so on. But as hard as it is, you need to ignore these people.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to convince any doubter that going freelance is a good idea, without tangible proof. So push their doubts to the back of your mind. You’ll win them around when they see how successful you are as a freelancer.
But equally as important as blocking out the doubters, is building a network that supports and helps you through this journey. Sometimes you need a sounding board for your next business decision, or someone to help you brainstorm your next big idea. These people are critical to both your sanity and success when going freelance – so make sure you have a good network around you.
Taking control of your own career
Without the stability of corporate hierarchy and working your way up the career ladder, you are solely responsible for your own career and its growth. You define what success or failure is. You, and you alone, identify if you’re moving forward with your career, or if you’re just treading water. But how do you define these metrics?
Focus on your own aspirations
The truth of the matter is, freelance career growth varies from person to person. What you consider growth somebody else might not – and that is the first challenge you need to overcome.
In the corporate world it’s easy to compare and compete with your colleagues and friends. But in the freelance world you’re in competition with an unknown number of other freelancers. And the best way to beat the competition in this circumstance is to ignore them. Focus on yourself and your self-motivation.
Setting yourself goals, both short and long term, is critical to your career growth as a freelancer. These goals can be as small as gaining one new client a quarter, to as big as turning your freelance gig into a business in the next five years. But the critical point is they must be aligned to your personal wants and desires. If they aren’t – finding the self-motivation to complete them will be a struggle.
In the corporate world we’re often told when we need to develop new skills. Whereas in the freelance world, it’s really easy to become hyper-focused, block out the outside world and forget about refreshing our skills or learning new ones. Aside from training courses, there are a number of other ways to upskill while you’re freelancing, including:
- Asking clients for feedback
- Finding a freelance buddy to help you with self-assessments
- Identifying gaps in your offering by listening to what potential clients are asking for (that you might not yet provide)
Though each of these may seem daunting, they’re a great way to ensure career growth, and take control of your own success.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, there’s no magic answer to measuring success when it comes to freelancing. Truthfully, self-reflection and realising how far you’ve come is the best way to measure your success. But of course, you can always get tangible results to help with your understanding, such as:
- Increase revenue (year-on-year or month-on-month, whatever works!)
- Increase in the number of clients
- Increase in repeat business
- Increase in number of recommendations
But we can’t tell you how much revenue you need to make to be successful, or the number of clients, repeat business or recommendations. Freelance career growth is personal. You may want more money; others may want more free time to spend with their family and friends. What you consider success is completely your own choice. But what we do suggest is setting yourself goals, hitting them, then setting yourself a new one. You may feel a world away from the corporate performance reviews, but giving yourself an appraisal every now and then can’t be a bad thing.
Here at Jam Pan, we only work with the world’s best freelancers – and we specialise in the world of learning. Our job is simple: connect this incredible talent to businesses who need them most. So if you’re ready to take the leap into a freelance career, create your free Jam Pan profile today.