Updated: Apr 28, 2022
Many freelancers start out being busy and broke for many reasons, but the main reason many new freelancers find themselves in this situation is because they feel they must accept free or low-paying jobs to get their feet in the door.
The problem with accepting free or low-paying jobs is that one must accept several low-paying jobs to stay afloat, creating a cycle of being busy/overworked and broke. I know this because I was once that freelancer. From the outside, it looked like I had it going on. After all, we often equate being busy with financial stability and success. The truth is that I was hardly contributing anything to our household income, and it was killing my self-worth. I decided to do something about it. I took a short break from freelancing, and when I was ready to come back, I had a clearer "written" vision of the amount I needed to earn in order to avoid being overworked and broke. Below are seven (7) changes I made that have helped me break the cycle of being busy and broke:
1. Say no: Every freelancer must learn this early in their career because it's an expensive lesson to learn later. Learn it early so you can attract better-paying clients sooner. You will often find that the most demanding clients are the ones unwilling to pay you what you're worth, so save your time and effort for the right clients. It's not worth your time and energy. Saying yes to every available project will leave you churning with several small paying jobs and no money in the bank.
2. Be confident in your skills and expertise: This is difficult to do when you're just starting your freelancing business, but I would encourage you to practice being confident in your skills and expertise. There comes a time, in everyone's career, when we question whether we really know what we're doing. EVERYBODY goes through it! So, feel the moment when it comes, then get right back out there, doing what only you can do because you're uniquely you! When you're confident in your skills and expertise, you attract quality clients.
3. Invest in your business: You will get out of your business what you put into it. And as a freelancer, you are a business; you are your business; invest in yourself. Go for a run, take a break, take a walk, go to the gym, read, socialize, take a course, join a business group, network. Do what you need to do in order to show up ready to deliver your best work to your clients. It'll pay off!
4. Audit Your Calendar Activities: That pesky calendar. Have you ever looked at your calendar with all the reds and blues and greens and no white spaces, and felt proud of yourself? I have. It means you're busy. You have no free time. If your bank account reflects your full calendar, then good for you. But if it doesn't, then it's time to do a calendar audit. See what can come off and what stays. Then make way for income-generating activities and time spent with your loved ones.
5. Get better-paying clients: When you're just starting, this might seem a little intimidating, but you must know your worth and demand it accordingly. The first time I sent a potential client an estimate and they didn't come back with "you're so expensive," "can I get a discount?" comments, I nearly cried. I had been editing for over 5 years at the time, and I was not used to "negotiating" my worth with potential clients. All it took was one time, one client, for me to realize that I don't need to negotiate my rates. I have never looked back. Get better-paying clients, they know your value and will help you know your value too.
6. Focus on quality instead of quantity: Everything I have said up to this point points to this: quality over quantity. Which would you rather have, two projects a month amounting to $5,000+ or 10 small projects crammed into a month amounting to $5,000? Look for and accept quality projects that will help you to relax and enjoy what you do while still meeting your monthly income goals.
7. Adjust your pricing as often as you wish: I raise my rates yearly. Some raise their prices quarterly, some semi-annually. There is no rule for when you can raise your prices. Do it when you feel like it but be sure that your quality-of-service matches what you're charging. Clients have every right to expect expert-level service for expert-level rates. Give them entry-level service for expert-level rates and your reputation will take a hit.
The bottom line is this, being busy doesn't make you more efficient and profitable. It doesn't even mean you've accomplished more. In fact, it makes you burned-out, inefficient and causes you to accomplish less. The good news is that you are in control and you're the only one who gets to decide whether you will stay busy and broke or busy and paid, or even better, relaxed and paid. The decision to change is up to you!