8 minute read

The one mistake that all first time freelancers make

Choosing a niche is good advice for anyone in business, but for freelancers it’s a crucial step you need to take.

When you first go freelance, there’s a lot to think about. You’re now the frontline for all things in your business- everything requires your attention, and it can be an overwhelming experience for most people. Here’s how to avoid it tipping over into chaos… Pick a lane.

Freelancers and other service businesses face something that most other business types don’t. We’ll refer to it as ‘Extreme Variability of Work’. It goes like this…

Meet Vanessa:

Vanessa is a graphic designer, and decides she’d like to take on some clients on a freelance basis.

Vanessa, a graphic designer

She loves design, and is very ‘flexible’ in terms of what she works on. Every engagement is different, because there are different people involved.

Clients come to the table with unique personalities, and unique situations.

Vanessa, with four potential clients

Add to these their different requirements, projects and expectations, and we start to see things growing more complicated… but just for her.

Suddenly, Vanessa is kind of doing 4 jobs at once, and she’s just one person.

Vanessa, overwhelmed with the range of work these new clients expect

Each project overlaps with the other, and scheduling check-in calls and status updates with each client becomes a real pain. On top of that, two of these clients decide to change their deliverables half-way through, and another stops replying to emails.

Vanessa starts to realise that there is a lot of extra work involved in being ‘flexible’, especially when you are the only person accountable for all tasks. She’s just one person, often having to do the work of an entire team.

Being new to freelancing, she’s also likely to struggle with asserting herself, and quite likely uncomfortable with negotiating more budget on these projects.

She’s unable to draft in help from ‘another department’ because she’s a freelancer… there is no ‘other department’. It’s just her- up to their neck in work.

Worst of all? The work is all totally different, and each requires its own approach.

Remember, this ‘Extreme Variability of Work’ is coming at a time when Vanessa is taking on more roles than ever before. She has to handle finding clients, corresponding with them, invoicing, tax planning, etc.

She now has multiple roles within her tiny one-person business, and is taking on very different projects at once. That’s a lot of spinning plates… 😐

So here’s what she comes to realize…

Variability = Drag

Variability is to freelancing what drag is to a vehicle. It’s a factor that mostly serves to slow us down. Constant context-switching is becoming a major source of exhaustion.

Vanessa’s story has a happy ending though, because she realizes she’s going too many directions at once, and looks instead to minimize ‘variability’ wherever possible… She makes the tough decisions, focuses on a niche, and says ‘NO’ to jobs that don’t fit this picture.

First, she realizes that she loves working on wellness brands, and personal fitness brands in general. So she decides to specialize in this area, offering packages that are tailored to health and wellness entrepreneurs.

Vanessa focuses on one type of client

She adjusts to build her freelance services around her ideal type of project first. This simplified approach means that she can create templates, re-use certain project files, and truly become an expert in one very specific field.

By focusing, she can line up other jobs in a similar vein

It also makes it much easier for clients to find her, and gives her work a coherent, definite feeling of someone who knows what they want.

Remember, what you take on is up to you now.

Before we go too far down this road, it’s worth saying that a little variability is not lethal. Early on, you may not know what projects you prefer to work on just yet, or what demand is like in the marketplace for different types of projects.

The key here is to create the time and space required to handle these new responsibilities together. Prioritize stability and seek to discourage variability by default. The rest is up to your discretion.

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