The Most Valuable Lesson from My First Year of Freelancing

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Written By Colin Graves

One of my clients messaged me the other night, asking if I was free for an 8 AM Zoom call the next morning.

On the call, he explained that his website traffic and, subsequently, his business revenue had fallen significantly over the past several months. As a result, he would have to cut expenses until revenues improved.

His biggest expense? Me! 🙋🏻‍♂️

For now, he decided that the best move, financially speaking, would be to reduce my workload by cutting the number of weekly articles I produce by 50%.

He asked me if I would be okay with the cut to my income. (I could tell he felt bad about the situation). I’ve worked with this client for several years; this is the first time my workload has been reduced.

Thankfully, I was able to reassure him I would be fine, thanks to a MAJOR lesson I learned in my first year as a full-time freelancer.

I learned it the hard way.

When I left my 9-5 and went full-time in October 2022, I had six regular clients (seven different websites).

And I felt pretty comfortable about my situation. I even had experienced freelancers telling me, “Hey, you’ve got it made. Your clients are like a list of the biggest names in personal finance!”

Why worry about building my network or prospecting for new clients? I was too busy writing and editing.

Things change.

In mid-March, I got an email out of the blue from one of my highest-paying clients.

It went something like this:

“Hey Colin, Unfortunately, I need to eliminate your role, effective immediately. I’m sorry to do this, but revenues are dropping, and I need to pause and figure things out.”

Ultimately, he axed his entire content team of writers, editors, etc.

Eventually, I was able to land an even better client, but not until the middle of May, two months later.

How much income did I lose in those two months? Around $6000.

As I mentioned in my newsletter a couple of weeks ago, I was in New Orleans for FinCon (a conference for personal finance content creators) in October.

And even though I went there with a full slate of clients, I had learned my lesson earlier in the year.

⬇️

That is:

  1. Never think that you have enough work. (Don’t get comfortable)
  2. Always be building a network of prospective clients.
  3. Think long and hard before you turn down work (unless the pay sucks or it seems like a crappy client/gig – being picky is a good thing!)

I was determined to spend time at FinCon meeting new people and building my network, and I managed to secure two new clients and between $7,000 and $9,000/month of new work!

I had NO clue how I would fit it into my schedule. I just said “yes” and decided to figure it out later. : )

Back to this week...

Because I learned my lesson, I could absorb the unexpected blow to my income this week. In fact, I should come out ahead.

I’m likely losing around $1500/month, but adding between $7,000-$9,000 for a net gain of $5500-$7500/month.

Remember, nothing is guaranteed, which is why I’ll continue building my network.

Final thoughts…

If you’re still reading, you may think that freelancing/self-employment seems too unstable. And clients can indeed cut back or walk away without any notice. There are certainly no guarantees.

But even though I’ve had these experiences, I think the opposite is true.

Is it more stable if your only income is a 9-5?

Right now, I have seven clients, which is seven different income streams. If I lose one, two, or even three of those clients, I still have 4 or 5, which is enough to pay the bills as I look for more clients.

I also have an emergency fund of approximately ten month’s worth of income. This reduces my overall risk significantly and is very important if you plan to quit your job and start a business. (See Step 5 of my Roadmap for Escaping the 9-5).

What are your thoughts? Is life as a freelancer too risky? Or maybe it excites you?

I won’t say that there haven’t been some anxious moments over the past year – there have been – but when it comes to leaving my 9-5, I wouldn’t change a thing. I still pinch myself every day.

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