Dear struggling freelancer: the #1 thing you should know about building a business
Recently I put a Facebook-update on my timeline. It was a picture of me working in my favourite coffee shop, strategizing for the next few months in my business. Planning our growth. And it’s true. My business has been doing very well, it’s growing at a rapid rate, and I have great big plans for the future. I’m proud of that.
I instantly got messages from a few of my freelancing friends who were struggling to get paying work and to pay the bills. They were frustrated things didn’t seem to be moving for them. And I get it. It sucks. It’s super f*cking painful when you can’t pay your bills. I know, because I’ve been there. I’m sorry that you’re currently going trough that. But in the four years I’ve been running my business I’ve learned one important thing:
It takes time.
Most of the people who come to me asking why they aren’t making money in their business have only been doing it for a few months or a year. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but guess what: building a business and a client base takes time. If you start a business you WILL struggle the first year. You’ll barely be able to pay the bills, and maybe need to pick up some side work. It will hurt. It will kill your self confidence. You will cry. The second year, you’ll most likely still go hungry. You’re starting to wonder why it’s taking so long. You’ll still cry. Building a business is hustlin’, man. It’s a long term game. By year three you should start seeing some momentum. You’ll be able to pay rent, but not much more. You’ll still feel like a failure, because you’re not a millionaire yet. You’ll probably cry a little bit more, because you compare your humble beginnings to the most successful people you know (who, by the way, have been at this game for ten years plus). By year four, you’ll be fine. You can live. You can breathe. You’re only crying at Grey’s Anatomy’s episodes. (If you’re still struggling after three or four years, you may need to reconsider your course.)
THIS ADVICE SUCKS
Yeah, I know. You need a haircut. You have a boiler that needs to be fixed. You don’t know if you can afford rent two months from now. What good is my advice for you? Well… f*ck all. It’s not a quick fix. They don’t exist, like unicorns.
All I’m saying is: those two years are going to pass anyway, and what you do during them matters. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. Every hour you put into your business makes you more skilled, every negotiation you lead and lose teaches you something. Every networking event you walk away from, you’ve met new people. And eventually all those stars are going to align and you’ll get your big ‘break’. But don’t forget: you put those starts there. Every goddamn star, with sweat and tears and grinding. Your stars can’t align when they aren’t there.
It’s going to happen. Trust me, it will. If you have a skill that people want, and you keep hustlin’ and put yourself out there, then I promise you: it will happen.
But you need time (and this comes from the world’s #1 most impatient person). To hone your craft, to meet new people, to learn how to run a business. Which roads to pursue, and which to drop. I’ve been running a business for four years now. It’s been hit and miss. And I know some of my friends look at me and see someone who does well: who makes plenty revenue, employs three people and knows how to market herself and negotiate deals with big name clients. But guess what: I’ve learned all of that from experience. I’m not joking when I say I think I’ve probably written WAY over 10.000 articles in my life. I could barely afford rent the first two years of my business. I didn’t have money for the dentist, to get a haircut, to go shopping or see my family.
…I’ve probably failed more than you even tried.
And no, I’m not a millionaire. Nor do I run a Fortune 500-company. But I’ve been where you are, and I’ve gotten out of that phase. I can pay my London rent AND go shopping. I’ve managed to score some big name clients.
So if you’re struggling and you haven’t even been at it for two years: keep the faith. Keep grinding, meeting people, reading about your industry, honing your craft. Keep experimenting and keep pitching. Find a side job so you can afford rent and utilities. And grow from there. Your struggle is part of your path. It makes you stronger and wiser. Keep putting in the energy. Keep fighting.
Eventually you will win.