Before social media marketing existed, I was a teacher. Being a teacher is low risk, but low reward—financially speaking.
As I eased into working in digital strategy, it was exciting to have the opportunity to grow my income as quickly as I could add clients. It was a hustle, but theoretically the sky was the limit on my earning.
In reality, though, freelancers carry financial risk too, and these two 100% real experiences of mine might sound familiar to some of you:
- I was asked to do a rush-job content plan, due on Thanksgiving Day no less, and had my services discontinued after I handed it in.
- I had a client who would phone me to tell me I was doing a great job and then later withheld payment, claiming they were unhappy with the work. (Making sure their praise was not in writing — which was convenient.)
While freelancers experience financial challenges it’s also true that even full-time employee roles are not a sure thing. After the above experiences, I went the full-time route and experienced the following, again 100% real, experiences:
- I had a “dream role” with a startup that had raised over $10MM in investor funding and had big budgets and a big team to match. The dream, however, was a mirage. They burnt through their cash and filed for bankruptcy.
- A company hired me to work on a project that was fully-funded for 18 months, but created a literal paper trail of how they squandered their investor money with luxury shopping sprees in stores like Louis Vouitton and Fendi.
Whether ethically slippery, criminally negligent, or just plain bad at business, working for someone else is not automatically the “safe” option. I had always wanted to work for myself but told myself I could only do so after I amassed a certain amount of financial cushion. With my perspective shifted by my lived experience, I decided to pursue self-employment and not look back. Here are some lessons learned that have helped me pursue this path more productively and prosperously:
1. Dedicate your energy: Do your best work for yourself
I poured my heart, soul, and sleeping hours into doing incredible work for employers that failed me. What if I poured that same dedication into my own projects? Why am I not doing my best work for myself?
2. Invest your time: Schedule time every week on personal projects
Stop telling yourself “some day.” After my most recent employment disappointment, I teamed up with a colleague, and we wrote and edited an entire book about DIY business strategy in 6 weeks. Then we created a workbook and an eCourse to support it. After years of wistful “some day” thinking, we completed projects that deliver multiple revenue streams and set us up for both consulting and speaking gigs. So, what is the dream project you have always wanted to be hired to do? What if you just started doing it instead?
3. Apply your learnings: Be your own best boss
You can learn (what not to do) from bosses that haven’t served you. Triggers for me were when I felt that someone disrespected my time, diminished creative solutions to legitimate problems, or often went off course, asking me to support random, non-strategic vanity projects rather than the job I was hired to do. I realized that instead of waiting to work for a mentor who would nurture and develop me,I can do those things for myself.
Similar to re-parenting my inner child, I am working on being an amazing boss to myself, treating my time, energy, and creativity with respect and recognizing that my ideas are worth investing in right now.
Before clients, before employers, before anyone or anything else, I now work for myself.