10 things I learned about freelancing in ten years (with ten days to go) – Part 2

This is part 2. The next five things. I got it written and wanted to post it. There will be a part three! And yes, there will be more than ten. If you want to understand why, see thing number 7.

If you didn’t already: read part 1

6. Invest in tools (but only those you actually need)

In a job like mine you spend may hours at a desk, working at a computer, using a mouse and keyboard, looking at a screen.

This is not a hobby.

So in the same way that a builder or decorator will spend good money buying decent power tools, I learned to see the things on my desk as my tools. And that they were worth spending extra on so that they were reliable, fast, powerful, and long-lasting.

BUT… you don’t need to go over the top. I see so much “desk/setup porn” and it frustrates me because I’m sure so much of this is not actually what many peoples’ desks look like when they work.

I reckon that only people with really tidy, fancy, expensive setups will share them. You don’t see the less-fancy desks of many, many people who are busy and who are tucked away in the corner of ordinary bedrooms.

So yes, invest in good tools, but don’t go overboard just because of what you see on Instagram or what the person who made that expensive video course had. You can waste an awful lot of money on things you don’t need too.

7. Estimating isn’t THAT hard. Managing scope creep is.

I got pretty good at estimating how long it would take to do things I’d been asked to do.

It was the things I hadn’t been asked to do that were tricky.

8. Freelancers help each other

You’d think people running similar businesses would compete heavily against each other. And I’m sure there are places where this happens. But in general I’ve found freelancers and agency owners to be incredibly helpful and collaborative and supportive of each other.

I guess if you run a business you know what it’s like to run a business. If you’re a web developer, you know what it’s like to be a web developer. You understand the struggles. And any reasonable person is going to have empathy and be supportive.

Even so, I was amazed at how much cheering on there was, and I like to think I did my bit sharing, mentoring, encouraging and cheering others on.

9. Niching is helpful (at least, it was for me!)

There’s debate about operating your business in a niche, be it in an industry sector or geographic location.

But I, personally, found it very helpful to have a sector that I worked in.

I got referrals within that sector. I built up an understanding of the needs of the sector. I attended sector-specific events and joined sector-specific Slack and Facebook groups. I built up a personal profile and contacts in that sector. It meant I could focus a bit, and be especially interested in what my clients were doing, AND be extra helpful when work did come in.

10. People are EVERYTHING

Ultimately, you will work FOR people.

You will work WITH people.

People may work for you.

People will use the things you make (or, if you get it wrong, they may choose not to).

People will send you work.

People will review your work.

You have to be good at people stuff. You have to have empathy. You have to be good at communication. You have to be able to listen. And sometimes lead or take charge of a situation (even when it doesn’t feel like your job to).

You can’t just be a tech freelancer. People are always at the heart of every project.

In part three…

This got really out of hand didn’t it?

I’m still gonna write more. Here are some teasers:

  • Business vs Personal branding
  • You get freedom – you lose freedom
  • It’s not for everyone
  • Curiosity is the superpower
  • Be a jack of all trades, but a master of one

You can go and read that now!