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Lessons Learned from One Year of Freelance

awardApril 1st marked one full year of supporting myself on nothing but freelance content strategy work. It has been a year of huge changes, and I am incredibly grateful for all that I have learned. I consider it a hugely successful year on every level. For anyone considering a freelance career, particularly in content strategy, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and I’m happy to pass along:

  1. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. With that in mind, as a one-woman company, networking is far more important than refining a resume.
  2. Networking is really about making friends. This may not be the case for extroverts, but for introverts like myself sales became much more enjoyable when I stopped trying to sell, and started talking with people whose ideas excited me.
  3. Always keep learning. The biggest thing I miss about working in an office is hearing news of the UX and content strategy community, and receiving articles and new ideas from co-workers. I’ve replaced that office banter with an hour a day of reading a number of blogs and websites (many of which are on my content strategy resource list), including a good deal of time on Twitter.
  4. Not every networking opportunity is valuable. Therefore, it’s essential to pick and choose, and keep networking to an average of 5hrs/week.
  5. Double checking is a vital skill. As the CEO, sales department, and workforce of my one-woman company, there’s no one else around to double check my work. One typo can mean the difference between a new client relationship and a fledgling reputation for sloppiness.
  6. Identify your hourly value. The biggest mistake I made in my first few months was to accept work that was below my pay grade, or just uninteresting. As a result, when more exciting projects came along I was unavailable. It’s scary to say no to a project, but with a little faith I finally began waiting for the good ones to come along. Now I’m spending my time on the projects I care about.
  7. Don’t ever compare free time to the hourly value. The same day I stopped taking on projects that paid too low or required work I didn’t enjoy, I stopped having a social life. I knew the price of an hour not working, and so I replaced dinners out or going to the movies with more work hours, which really takes all the fun out of working freelance! My hourly value is significant for my projects, but my personal time is invaluable.
  8. Set goals. The number one reason I didn’t go freelance any sooner was fear, and I believe that’s true for many people. It’s my belief that the best antidote to fear is data. When I set goals, I don’t need to worry about being successful or sustainable. Instead, I can evaluate my goals monthly and change what I’m doing based on whether or not I’m meeting my goals.

I’m sure I have a lot more to learn, and I may update this list as I think of other big lessons from this past year. I’d also like to publicly thank the many people who have shared their stories, their time, and their knowledge. The content strategy community is a warm and welcoming one, and I wouldn’t be here today without them.

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

2 Comments

  1. Your comment about time/free time is probably the biggest issue I had freelancing. I would always tell myself that my time was more valuable, but then I would take a job and my time would just be gone!

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