Growing My Freelance Business: Top 5 Lessons I Learned in 2023 (So Far)

Growing My Freelance Business: Top 5 Lessons I Learned in 2023 (So Far)

In 2022, I left a full-time contract role to embark on a full-time freelance business. While I’ve been freelancing since 2015, last year was my first year leaving the security of a contract role. I navigate the year by the seat of my pants, not really focusing on the business aspect of freelancing. This year, I was determined to change that.

My mission in 2023 was to open myself up to learning. I wanted to take each experience and use it to grow, learn more about my work as a content writer, and figure out what I ultimately wanted the future of my business to look like. With the first half of the year behind me, I wanted to share the 5 lessons I’ve learned so far.

The Benefits of Time-Tracking

Time tracking is a practice I first utilized in a contract role I held starting in 2017. At the start of this year, I had one client paying hourly, so I used a time-tracking tool for invoicing. Last year, I didn’t use any time tracking for my freelance client, save for my hourly client. But this year, I knew it would be beneficial to my freelance business to start tracking my time.

I wanted to get an idea of how efficiently I was working because I found myself struggling with certain projects. I wanted to know whether the effort (time) I was putting in made sense compared with the rate I was earning. So, I started time tracking for all of my clients. The results have been eye-opening.

Seeing where my time is going has been hugely beneficial to my productivity and how I tackle assignments. I can determine how long tasks for specific clients will take me, which gives me a more realistic outlook on planning my days. I often used to stress about starting a project because I was under the impression it would take too long. Now I know exactly how to guesstimate projects to set more realistic expectations. 

I’m also starting to see a trend in how much work I’m putting in and that may be the most fun. On average, I work 3 hours daily, 15 hours weekly, and 68 hours monthly. What’s fun about that? I’m making a full-time income working significantly fewer hours. Some people are working 68 hours a week and I logged that in a month. It’s pretty satisfying!

zen business llc

Strategically Evaluating Income

Another metric I was determined to better track and evaluate was my income. After all, freelancing is a business and I needed to start treating it as such. I created an income tracker in Google Sheets that mapped out my monthly income from each client, an auto-deduction amount for taxes, and any business-related expenses. Seeing my income at a glance has been perfect for helping me evaluate my total income needs. 

This information is beneficial in using in conjunction with time-tracking. What I love to see is what each client’s average hourly rate comes to. Of course, this is solely for clients where pay is per article. I love seeing this information because it tells me whether this client is profitable or not. It also shows me how one client’s workload stacks up to the other.

Having this information is essential as I continue to grow my freelance business. I need to know all the ins and outs of what’s working, what’s not, and the opportunity for improvements. 

AI Is Not The Future

There is a lot of fear in the freelance writing community right now about the use of AI. I completely understand that and have felt some of that fear, too. However, I’m optimistic that AI is not the future and won’t erase the need for talented writers. 

When ChatGPT was blowing up, three of my clients sent out communication around using AI tools for writing. They were clear that they valued their team of writers and understood our unique skills and benefits. This made me incredibly happy and quelled my fears. While some companies were letting writers go to dive into AI, I worked with people who valued real writers.

My biggest argument against AI is that it cannot infuse personality and emotions into writing. This is an essential way to connect with a target audience. In the next year, we’re going to see more companies ditching AI in favor of real writers because an inorganic connection has proven time and time again to kill a brand’s reputation. This gives me hope that my freelance business will continue to thrive when that time comes.

Trust My Instincts

Trusting my instincts has been something I’ve struggled with for years. I often questioned my initial instincts only to discover I was right, even though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what felt off. I learned this lesson pretty aggressively this year. 

Toward the beginning of the year, I had an interview with a potential client. Alarm bells went off for me and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but chalked it up to the overall demeanor of this potential client. I excused it, figuring perhaps this was just their personality and nothing to be concerned by. Looking back, I should have trusted my instincts and ran. 

This individual was a nightmare to work for. They questioned every single invoice I sent over, questioned the work I was doing, and were generally unclear about tasks. Now, I’m huge on communication and when we would talk, I understood what they wanted. It wasn’t until afterward they told me I was wrong and should ask more questions if I didn’t understand, essentially gaslighting me.

After completing work one week, I sent my invoice (which was called into question). At that point, I knew I was going to quit, and that questioning was the final straw. I should have waited until my invoice was paid before resigning, but I resent my invoice with the requested changes and let them know I was done. 

This person blew up my email and phone almost immediately. Before having a chance to respond, they sent two emails and called. They insisted on getting on a call with me to talk things over and I refused. The hostility proved to me I needed to have some proof of communication. 

I remained completely professional throughout the exchange, while they did not. Because I wouldn’t get on a call with this person, they refused to pay my invoice. This is the one and only time I have not been paid for my services in my 8 years of having a freelance business. 

I certainly learned my lesson on this one and am going to keep my senses more alert when interviewing potential clients. I didn’t let this experience get me down and rather embraced the learning experience. This is something that happens to the best of freelancers, so I’m glad it’s behind me and grateful to have learned a valuable lesson. 

Gratitude for Community

As I grow in my freelance career, I want to become more involved in freelance communities. From Facebook Groups to Slack channels, I’ve loved engaging with other freelancers. It’s so essential to have this support system and there was one time this year where that gratitude was evident.

In a Facebook Group, someone shared an experience with a full-time job they were working. The company was making changes and let them go but offered to take them on as a freelance editor, which they were considering. They posted a screenshot of rates (which were rather low) and asked for the opinion of the group.

I recognized this screenshot, specifically the font and format of the writing, as a client I worked with. I made such a comment without naming the company and they later confirmed it. We talked and I confided in them about my experience and a few suspicions of changes I’d noticed, which they confirmed. They mentioned how the company was going through a ton of changes and was sort of a mess.

This experience would later come in handy for me with this company. It had been weeks since I had heard from them. There were no assignments and no request for availability, which the company previously sent on a monthly basis. I reached out to ask my contact and was told they didn’t need me anymore. 

Had I not known what was going on internally, I would have been quite upset. I would have wondered if it was me and my skills. I would have been offended that they didn’t communicate with me or even try to keep me in another department. Instead, I knew exactly what was happening and that made me feel much more confident in who I was rather than getting down on myself. 

Looking Forward

Going into the second half of 2023, I’m feeling incredibly optimistic and proud of what I’ve accomplished in my freelance business so far. I can’t wait to reflect on the year as a whole and figure out what other lessons these next six months will uncover. 

✨ Did you enjoy this content? Say thank you by sharing with others or buying me a coffee!

Growing My Freelance Business: Top 5 Lessons I Learned in 2023 (So Far)