I’ve successfully been a freelance writer for two years now, and here’s the thing, freelancing is just as cool as you’ve heard. I get to make my own hours, choose my clients, and take meetings in my PJs. But freelancing is also just as hard as you’ve heard.
I often call myself a “forever job seeker,” constantly looking for work while managing my current workload. Finding a job opening that sounds like the perfect fit is rare and getting hired is even more rare. Imagine doing that every single week. Welcome to my life!
The good news is, just like with any job, over time, I’ve gotten better at it.
About 20% of my work week is spent job hunting. That means I’ve spent a casual 800-plus hours job hunting in just two years. You better believe I’ve become an expert. Here are my top six lessons for any job seeker:
1. You won’t hear back from most companies
You just won’t. Learning not to take it personally is a valuable skill that will keep you from getting discouraged in your job search. For reference, if I apply for ten jobs one week, I know from experience that I can only expect to hear back from one or two.
2. Your productivity is up to you
Hands down, the most difficult part of any freelancer’s day is staying focused. Sure, I can take a random Tuesday off, but I’d better be prepared to work Saturday if I’m going to bill the same number of hours that week.
In your job search, you don’t have a manager or weekly goals to keep motivated. Set your own goals and hold yourself accountable. If you miss a day of applications, be prepared to make that day up later in the week.
3. Accepting the not-quite-perfect job is not always settling
Freelancing is often humbling. One day I’ll get an email announcing my article was picked up by a major online publication. Those are the days that I dreamed of as a writing student, and they feel just as good as I imagined they would. But most days aren’t the perfect job days. Most days are spent editing, taking calls from potential clients, and getting plenty of articles rejected.
But it’s the days full of editing, networking, and rejection when I learn the most. Maybe a job has some solid potential to give you that perfect, dreamy feeling every so often, but not daily. If it also has the potential to help you learn and grow, it’s worth it. The more you grow, the more dreamy days will lie ahead.
4. You are an expert, so act like it.
When I first started meeting with potential clients, I felt like I was a little kid dressing up in my mom’s work clothes. How could anyone want me to produce and control all of their company’s content? My third client meeting ever was with a hotshot CEO at a fancy building in Chicago. The second he sat down he said, “I’m an expert at what I do, but I know nothing about content. You’re the content expert.” I think I sat up straighter immediately.
Whether you feel like it or not, you are an expert in what you do, and you have specific, valuable skills that most other people don’t. Go into interviews with corporate recruiters knowing that you are an expert.
5. Know your worth
I compete with writers who accept only 20% of what I charge my clients. How can I get away with charging more? I constantly research the salaries of writers in my area with my credentials. Plus, I know the quality of my work is worth the cost.
Research average salaries in your area and get comfortable respectfully countering salary offers and other benefits. But remember, never talk about salary until the job is actually being offered to you.
6. Never burn a bridge
It can be hard to bite your tongue when a hiring manager calls to tell you they are going in another direction, but it’s important that you do. As a freelancer, much of my work comes from the referrals of other clients, even clients for whom I only did one small project. The point is, you never know where your next job could come from, so it’s important to leave all of your connections with a positive opinion of you.
One common thread throughout each of these lessons is to remain confident but humble. Know your worth, but accept that there is always room for growth in your career. Get started with an open mind, and let my 800 hours of job searching make your search as efficient as possible.