My first year as a freelancer has come to a close. It’s pretty amazing to look back and see how lucky I’ve been to have steady work kicking off from about a month after I lost my full-time job, and continuing on today. I’ve had long-term and short-term clients, a variety of projects, and am constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to ensure I always have work to do. It’s a never-ending process of completing assignments while trying to get a foot in the door to start on something else, but each project, each client, has led me to the exact type of work I always wanted to do — creating content.

My experiences so far have given me some insight into what may be helpful for others looking to begin a freelance career. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Begin networking right away

My biggest tip for those shifting into a freelance career, even if you’re trying to take time off between what you used to do and freelancing, is begin working your connections right away. It can take time to meet people through your existing network and get in front of the individuals actually looking to hire someone. There is then typically even more time spent having preliminary meetings to talk about the work and yourself. I’ve even done one-off assignments to show off my abilities, and there’s usually a lull between when that happens and when more work was given to me. By starting things off right away, I was ready to sit down and work when the work started to flow.

Don’t devalue the importance of a personal brand

I’m not a millennial, so the whole concept of having a brand was totally foreign to me, yet it kept coming up. When I worked on my resume, when I started building my own website - questions went beyond, “what’s your objective” and it wasn’t easy to figure out exactly how to present myself. I utilized outside resources for help, crafting a new resume, so vastly different from my first one out of college, with the help of an advisor. I took a webinar on how to build a website that promotes yourself. Then, I went to work developing the tools I’d need to put myself out there. I used what I gleaned about myself through my new resume to update my LinkedIn page, aligning it more to my new freelance career. I spent more than a few hours figuring out what I wanted on my website, how much I’d talk about myself and how much about my work experience. I created a content calendar for this very blog in order to keep myself relevant and ensure I had content to share through social media to drive people to my site.

Freelancing means you’re the product and you have to market yourself. Knowing who you are professionally, what skills and experience you bring to the table, and how you can effectively help any client with their work is essential as you begin to make professional connections.

Nurture client relationships continuously

Never assume that once a project is finished with a client, you’re done working together. Take a proactive approach in order to remind them you’re still out there and available to work. This can be accomplished by simply sending an email follow-up letting them know you’ve got time to take on more work if anything is available, or reminding them you helped with content last year at this time and do they need you again, or even checking in on something that was only mentioned in passing to see if that project requires outside help. Showing you’re interested in more work often leads to just that.

I also try to take the time to appreciate my clients as a way to stay connected to them. I did this most recently by sending a holiday eCard in December. It went to clients I was actively working with, and those who I hadn’t done work for recently. I thanked them all for the opportunity to work with them and left it at that. I sent the card to every individual I worked with rather than just one person per organization. I got many good wishes back and a few emails mentioning work to touch base about after the first of the year. It’s amazing how a simple gesture can support your own career as a freelancer.

Never stop looking for new opportunities

A year out, and I can honestly say that things have slowed down a bit for me from where they were in the beginning. One bigger client of mine hasn’t needed me in a while and as the summer approaches, work can taper off a bit. In anticipation, I’ve been actively reaching out to people who I don’t necessarily have an existing relationship with to look for more work. I’m still relying on my network to help refer me and vouch for my abilities, but I’m also letting my skills speak for themselves when I find postings for projects where I don’t have an existing connection. Be fearless when it comes to looking for work, and don’t forget to promote yourself appropriately for the opportunity you’re going after.

It has been a whole year working my dream job, and I’m so thankful to have an amazing network to rely on for support and wonderful clients to work with doing the thing I love most - creating content.

Header photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash