What to do when your freelance career sucks

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This article is a guest post by freelance writer Kaleigh Moore.

Kaleigh works with clients like AT&T, Campaign Monitor, and SumoMe, has been featured on sites like CopyHackers and ConversionXL, and writes for publications like Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur.

This article is her perspective on why freelancers often need to re-focus their businesses.

Here’s Kaleigh:

Here’s what happens much of the time when someone enters the freelance workforce:

  • They start out offering lot of different services and anyone who will hire them.
  • They go to low-pay job boards to try to find new work.
  • They get frustrated by the lack of sustainability.

I’ve seen it happen a thousand times.

The problem with this approach is that it takes a Master of None approach (not the Netflix show, but sidebar: isn’t Aziz Ansari so great?)

Back to the topic. Sorry.

If you’re trying to be everything you everyone, you’re not THE BEST at anything. You’re just mediocre (or worse) at a lot of different things.

Take it from me: I made the same mistake. When I started freelancing four years ago, I was offering many different services--ranging from social media management, to copywriting, to content marketing strategy. I was targeting small to-mid sized businesses in any and all industries.

The net was cast wide...but I struggled to get new clients.

The problem was: I was offering too many services to too many people. There was no opportunity to showcase a specific skillset or subject matter expertise. I couldn’t speak to a target demographic because I was trying to speak to, well, everyone.

So I shifted my focus. I started offering only freelance writing services--specifically blog content--for the industry I knew best, e-commerce and software. I got a new website. I started guest posting in new places to get in front of this much more specific audience. When an opportunity came my way that didn’t fit those parameters, I passed it along to someone else. I started saying “no” more often.

As a result, I built up my expertise within this niche. People came to know me for my knowledge within the industry and for the specific type of work I did. I became a go-to source for insights.

And my earnings reflected the change too: My annual revenue grew 40% the first year and then 60% the next year. I went from less than 10 clients the first year to more than 50 over the following two years, many of which hired me for multiple gigs.

That’s what happens when you re-focus your freelance career. By niching down and finding a way to specialize, you give yourself more opportunities to succeed.

Now, there’s no real guidebook to freelancing. Universities aren’t teaching courses on how to build a sustainable freelance career. There’s a lot of information on the internet, but it can be overwhelming to dig through it all. The good news is: There are courses like the Creative Class that help make it more simple.

For so many freelancers, success is really just a matter of finding the right direction. Of correcting the course. Of getting more specific and saying NO rather than YESYESYES to every potential piece of work that comes your way.

Was it scary to turn away work when I could’ve used the money? Terrifying. But drawing a hard line and sticking to my niche was the best move I ever made for my freelance career.

  • It helped me find more work I truly enjoyed within the industry I kewn the most about.
  • It made me a connector of people by passing opportunities along.
  • It helped me build authority and subject matter expertise in one area.

Freelancing can be a sustainable career--but you have to set yourself up for success to make that happen.