Ever wonder if you’ve got what it takes to achieve freelance success?
You know…by whatever standards you consider success. That might be:
- Enough freelance work to quit your day job
- Hitting the six-figure mark as a freelance writer
- Getting better clients so you quit content-mill work, or
- Landing your first paid freelance assignment
Just to be clear, income isn’t the only driver of freelance success. There’s other factors like being your own boss, working from home, and setting your own rates and schedule.
So how do you determine your path to freelance success?
And what if you don’t have a writing degree, lots of freelance experience, a massive portfolio, or some other so-called advantage? Should you just give up now?
Stop. Right. There.
If you want to achieve freelance success, you obviously need some basic writing skills. But after that, there’s four things you already have that can help you build your worth as a writer.
When you understand how these four resources work and how they grow, you’ll realize you have everything you need for freelance success.
Ready to move up, earn more, and determine your freelance success? Here’s what you need to know:
Meet freelance success specialist Damon Brown
Damon Brown is a veteran journalist, freelance writer, and entrepreneur.
He’s a also a best-selling author, founder of two startups, and a four-time TED speaker.
And he’s made it his life’s work to help side hustlers, solopreneurs, and other non-traditional creatives bloom.
His latest book (released in January 2021) is Build From Now: How to Know Your Power, See Your Abundance & Nourish the World.
We caught up with Damon on a recent Freelance Writers Den podcast.
Q: What do you need to be a successful freelance writer?
Brown: All of us have the same four resources. I call them the FATEs. We have:
The main difference that we have is that they’re all at different levels.
Someone who’s, say, middle schooler is going to have different levels than someone who’s a new retiree.
- Focus. With the period of time now I’m at my life, I’m extremely focused.
- Agility. I’m not quite as agile, because I know exactly what I want, and how I want to create things. So, my agility isn’t as high.
- Time is an extreme premium for me right now.
- Energy. And as the primary caretaker for two kids, I don’t have as much energy as the younger folks.
Because of all those different dimensions, it makes sense for me to build from now based on what I have the most, which is focus.
Q: How do you figure out where to start?
Damon: It’s not a matter of having like a superpower. That’s a different discussion. It’s more about knowing what resource you have the most of right now.
I have a quiz at BuildFromNowQuiz.com that listeners can go to and answer two or three really simple questions.
I want to help people realize we have all these four resources. And you need to embrace exactly where you are.
Being at where I’m at, it doesn’t make any sense for me to do all-nighters, because I don’t have a whole lot of energy. But sometimes we feel a sense of guilt or habit that we have to do things a certain way.
And I’m trying to shake that out of you. I want you to embrace exactly where you are and build from now.
Q: How do you get ahead as a freelancer when you keep running into roadblocks?
Damon: If there are systemic things happening within your environment, your focus is going to be different than say, someone who’s a homeless person who’s trying to get through the day.
Their ability to focus would be different that a writer, because they’re focused on different things.
If there are systemic things happening in regards to
- Who you are
- What your particular preference is
- How you’re viewed in the world
- What your status is…
Then you can have the same amount of focus, agility, time or energy as someone else, but you might not get as far, or you might be stretched for time.
Whatever your particular resource or strength is, that becomes your way of actually making your system better.
Q: How do you figure out how to thrive as a freelancer?
Damon: My niche is self-help, productivity, self-acceptance, with a touch of spirituality. That’s been my area of focus since I became an entrepreneur a good seven years ago.
I’m realizing that “I didn’t want to,”… as we said in journalism school, I didn’t want to contribute to the noise.
Enough people feel guilt or feel ashamed. I take Brené Brown’s definition of that, where guilt is, you feel like you should be doing something. Shame is being worried about how other people think about what you’re doing. So, guilt is like an inner process.
Shame is the outer process based on cultural norms. So, we’re feeling both of them.
Right now there’s so much pressure with things like, if…
- You don’t come out of this pandemic weighing 20 pounds less
- You’re not ready for the beach as soon as the beach is open
- You don’t have a book manuscript done
- Your kids aren’t getting straight A’s with their virtual schooling
- If you’re not really in love with your partner, and everything is great
- You haven’t paid off all your loans…
If you’re not doing all this stuff, then you’re wasting this pandemic.
And that’s just not true. There’s been so much hand wringing and so much judgment.
And then there’s the reverse, where people in the self-help, thoughtfulness, and mindfulness community are like:
- Hey, capitalism has jacked this up
- For the first time, in a very long time, not even since the bubonic plague, have we actually had society stopping for a second.
- Don’t do anything. In fact, you should rest.
- You shouldn’t work. Don’t worry about anything.
- If you’re not coming out of this thing fully rested, then you wasted your time.
There’s been so much argument on both sides. And you know what? Neither one is healthy.
Q: What can you do to improve freelance success during the pandemic?
Damon: Well, I would start with knowing exactly what your strengths are. If you know that you can concentrate super hard right now, but only for a short period of time, then use something like the Pomodoro method.
The Pomodoro Method. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. It’s based on the old-school tomato timers.
People used to have these round timers that were shaped like tomatoes. They were plastic. They would have them in the kitchen. They use a timer to go and see how long they need to bake the bread or cook their pasta. You set the timer for 15 minutes.
You can use to this help you focus when you’re trying to do freelance work.
- “I’m going to write for 15 minutes.”
That’s it. When the timer goes off, you stop.
For me, I just keep going as I think a lot of us do. Because by then, you’re on a streak. But then you stop and set the timer for say, five minutes. You focus on something else. Timer goes off, and you come back to it. And then you do that as long as you need to.
The power of focus
This is something people in Silicon Valley call a streak. And it’s a smart way to work as a freelance writer or entrepreneur.
Why? You’re not constantly working, which means you’re not on the verge of burnout. Instead, you’re doing these really intense, impactful bursts of work.
So, if your main thing is focus and that’s what I recommend. It’s allowing yourself to focus, but not be mad at yourself if you can only focus for a certain period of time. You want to focus on intensity versus quantity. I think that’s something that we get mixed up with during this period of time.
Q: What if agility is your current strength as a freelance writer?
Damon: If your main thing is agility as far as adapting to things, you might want to take the opposite approach, and multitask or do a lot of different things.
Some people get energy when they do different things. What I recommend if you’re agile, and you’re trying to be productive during the pandemic, allow yourself to be agile.
Allow yourself to drift a little bit. Avoiding the internet might be a good idea, because that’s more of a rabbit hole than it’s ever been.
You know…so you avoid doom-scrolling, where you’re looking at whatever dramatic thing is happening in the world.
And then suddenly, you’re reading conspiracy theories and 50,000-word think pieces when you really should be focused on your writing. But I think it’s okay to allow yourself to drift a little bit, if drifting gives you energy.
Q: What should you do if you’re feeling stuck and can’t seem to get your freelance business moving?
Damon: So, many people that I work with say, “Damon, I don’t know why I’m not getting started, I have all the time in the world.” They don’t understand that that’s actually the problem. We need to have barriers, deadlines, timelines. Then our human mind naturally works backwards from there.
It’s how I wrote my book. I set a deadline for writing it. I didn’t start writing and then say, “Well, when’s the book going to come out?” Otherwise, we won’t be having this conversation. I’d be like, “Well, I did a paragraph and I’m sure it’ll work out fine.”
If you have too much time, then it’s easy to fall into that trap.
Q: How do you prioritize your freelance work and projects when you have a lot of energy?
Damon: If you have a lot of energy, then find ways to do the things that are going to give you the maximum returns.
The thing with energy is that when you have an abundance of it, you don’t realize when it’s leaking, right?
So, it’s that thing where you’ve been sick with a cold or whatever. Suddenly, you start prioritizing everything on your to-do list.
Then you realize, “Wait, no, I’m really tired. So, I’m not going to do that part.” And then everything’s fine. You realize it wasn’t essential.
- Why don’t we apply that to normal stuff?
- Why do we have to get sick or have something come up that suddenly our energy is at a premium?
- How about we just cut out the middleman and just have our priorities set instead of spending energy on frivolous things?
Try the index-card method
I’m really big on index cards. When I wake up in the morning. I write down my one intention that day.
What ended up happening when I woke up in the morning and made that one intention done.
I could look at that card and say: “Okay, if I accomplish this one thing, then I use my energy wisely. Everything else is gravy.”
Q: Can you really achieve freelance success in the current climate?
Damon: As creators and writers, we have more power than we’ve ever had probably in the history of America, like leveraging technology and influence.
After we get off the call today, I could go and start a podcast. Just start it and say whatever I want on there, bring whoever I want on there, and impact the world.
Here’s another example:
I wanted to pitch a particular article or an essay on a controversial subject. I searched my contacts to find an editor. It didn’t take long to find a home for that piece. And it was up within a couple of weeks after I wrote it.
That’s the type of power all of us as writers and creators have.
You have the power to achieve freelance success
If you want be a successful freelance writer, take a closer look at your strengths…The FATEs (Focus, Agility, Time, and Energy). Then build your freelance business, habits, and workday around your strengths. And NOW is always the best time to get started.
Need help figuring out your path to freelance success? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Evan Jensen is a freelance copywriter for health and fitness businesses. He’s also the blog editor for Make a Living Writing.