by Dana Sitar
For about my first year as a full-time freelance writer, I held onto dangerous habits without knowing it.
I was treating clients as bosses, focusing on building other businesses instead of my own, and taking work I hated because I thought I was “supposed” to.
I wasn’t properly discussing rates, regularly seeking better work, or any of what I should have done to advance my career.
Like many freelancers who come from service work or corporate day jobs, I was stuck in an “employee mentality.”
To become a successful freelancer, I had to shed my lethal habits and realize that I was totally in charge of my career path.
How does an employee mindset hold you back, and how can you overcome this mental block and work toward autonomy in your freelance career?
1. Employees work for bosses. You work for yourself.
This was the biggest roadblock for me to overcome.
When I was hired for my first gig, I followed the instructions of my client like she was aboss. Unlike a boss, however, she lacked the skills she hired me for, so how could she offer me proper guidance? As I became comfortable with the industry, though I became more confident in my expertise and realized how valuable my knowledge is.
If you find yourself treating a client like a boss — afraid to critique or make suggestions, waiting around for instructions and training — remind yourself who your real boss is: You. Remember you’re the expert in your field, so take charge, and approach your client like an equal, not a subordinate.
2. Employees work for one boss. You work for many.
For a while, I felt restricted to my first few clients and worked solely around their needs and schedules the way I would work as an employee for a single company.
I was unable to say “no” when they asked for more. I waited for them to offer me more work and never talked about money.
When I finally realized that I, alone, am responsible for my growth, I learned to say no, ask clients to work with my schedule, and make room for more work and personal projects. By reminding your clients that they are but one piece in your diverse income pie, you can not only start making more money, but also pursue personal projects that can be difficult to fit in when you’re bogged down by client work.
3. Employees wait for raises. You set your own rates.
Because I was stuck in the old-fashioned mindset of company loyalty, the idea of branching out or upping my rate used to seem treacherous. Realizing that I work for myself and am responsible for building my own “living wage”, helped me re-work my stupid strategy.
Freelancers don’t have built-in performance evaluations or annual raise rates. So if you’re working with a client for a long time, you may not be rewarded for your added skills and knowledge like you would working for a company.
You have to determine your worth, and ask for it. If you think you’re more valuable to a client than you were when you started, ask to re-negotiate your rate. If a client doesn’t have enough work for you to make a living, let them know your schedule may be changing to accommodate additional clients.
4. Employees are trained. You come with expertise.
When I started with my first client, I was green to the writing industry. I wasn’t confident in any of the skills I needed to be a successful copywriter, social media manager, or blogger. So I leaned on my client for direction and advice. Don’t. Do. That!
While you have to spend some time becoming acclimated to a company climate or getting to know how a client works, you cannot expect to be trained for your work in a new gig.
If your client knew how to do your job or had time to show you, they wouldn’t be paying you to do it for them. Come in not only well-prepared and ready to work, but confident in the fact that you are the best in the room at what you’re doing.
5. Employees offer time. You offer services.
Although I almost always negotiate a per-project rate, I know many freelancers charge by the hour for work. I avoid that because it reminds me too much of my fast-food days.
When I worked in fast food, guess what? I didn’t work as hard as I could have. As long as I was logging hours, I was getting paid. If I didn’t care about getting paid, I could stop working and go home early. If I needed to be paid more, I could slow down and hang around a few extra hours.
Whether you’re paid by the hour or the project, remember you’re hired to provide a service, not just put in time.
Sure, if you complete a quality project in a short amount of time, you might earn less — this time. But if you focus on providing quality services every minute you’re working, no matter how many or few they are, your client will be much more likely to have you back for future projects or refer you for additional work.
6. Employees follow a path. You forge your own way.
One of the most compelling reasons we become freelancers is the freedom it affords us. We can do whatever we want.
So why do so many of us get stuck doing the same ol’ thing as everyone else? An employee mindset will tell you to read books, consume blogs, take classes, and follow everything you learn to a T. But if you wanted to follow conventional steps, why aren’t you just climbing a corporate ladder somewhere?
You are free to forge your own path. The possibilities for making money writing are, in reality, as endless as your ability to scheme new ways to do it.
There is no single right path to follow in this industry. There’s also no right gauge for success, so don’t be discouraged when you learn someone else’s story and realize your bottom line falls far below theirs.
Is your mindset keeping you from a successful freelance career? Leave a comment and tell us about it.
Dana Sitar is a freelance journalist and indie author.