My Top 3 Lessons from One Year of Freelancing

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This summer marks my one year freelancing anniversary.

Yup, that's right! Just like every other millennial you see on Instagram, I, too, have a story about "quitting my 9-5" and "doing what makes me happy". (Kudos to my ego for the sometimes unrealistic faith in myself.)

I've always had a side hustle or two, and portfolio careers are all the rage right now. So when I found myself utterly miserable working a 9-5, I kept thinking: how hard could it be to turn my side grind into my main source of income?

Well, very fucking hard, it turns out.

May marked one year of freelancing to pay (and sometimes not pay) the bills, so that I can spend more time running CFFP. As of last month, I’m able to pay myself a small salary with CFFP, but I still juggle a handful of design and website projects to fill the financial gap, which to be frank leaves me feeling stretched thin almost 24/7. In the past year I feel like I’ve aged a lifetime, however, I’ve never felt more business savvy and more authentically me. But oh, the road to get here. I’m compiling the biggest lessons I’ve learned about freelancing in the past year, in hopes that it can help you avoid the minefields I found myself in.

  1. Say “let me mull that over” more often.

    I’m your classic people pleaser, conflict-avoidant and all. I have a very nasty habit of caving on things I don’t really want to cave on just so I can avoid an awkward conversation. And this is a deeply gendered issue. When I reflect back on the kinds of lessons I was taught as a “young lady” I see glaring patterns of what I like to call toxic femininity. The most obvious of all is that I must be Polite. Capital-fucking-P. Because of these internalized behaviors, I am often indirect in conversations with colleagues or clients for fear of being seen as difficult or hurting someone’s feelings. In parallel to this, I often place a lot of pressure on myself to “have all the answers” and therefore respond to questions immediately, often in a way that’s favorable to whomever I’m talking to. I now have a rule of thumb to say “let me mull that over” to just about any question fielded my way so I can have a bit of breathing room to listen to my gut and make decisions about what’s best for me - which sometimes means saying no.

  2. Know your target audience - but don’t be blind to opportunities.

    There’s a saying in the freelance community: “know your niche.” Or to turn it into an action: “niche-down.” I bloody hate the word niche. It’s used by trendy Instagram influencers who already have the financial comfort to be picky with their projects. For the rest of us desperately trying to spread the word about our work so we can make rent next month, sometimes “niching-down” isn’t a fucking option. Sometimes you take the weird copywriting job blogging about the history of 420 for “cannabis aficionados.” Now, I have an idea of who my ideal client is (fellow feminist go-getters), and I’ve been lucky enough to work with them occasionally. And way I market Marissa Conway Creative is directly with them in mind. But only working on projects you 100% love is a luxury that takes time to build, and I definitely haven’t hit that point yet.

  3. Social media is your space, so make it a good one.

    I went through a phase of feeling so pressured to be on social all the time. Swirls of FOMO, a desire to tell my own story on my own terms, and a need to get my name out there for work meant that Instagram was s t r e s s f u l. Only recently have I realized that I was doing too much “for the gram” and playing the comparison game with other women. In another attempt to undo a patriarchy-infused game of female competition, I have been working so hard to celebrate rather than judge other women’s successes. But I’ve found that I still ended up comparing myself to the thin white women with all the followers and asking: why aren’t I like them? Cue drowning in feelings of inferiority and jealousy. There was a strong period of time where my Instagram feed made me want to lose weight, to sleep less and work more, to present a version of myself online that wasn’t authentic. So I could keep up. But that all takes ENERGY. Energy that I’d rather be spending on other things. So PSA: it’s actually very ok to unfollow anyone who makes you feel less than. Oh and, make space to undo that internalized female competition.

I don’t see myself freelancing forever. There’s a very clear end date to this, in which CFFP will become my one and only. But until then, despite the stress, I am very grateful for the wild ride I’m on, and though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, kicking that 9-5 to the curb was just about the best decision I ever made.

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I’m Marissa, a feminist, entrepreneur, and creative dedicated to making feminist foreign policy a reality. Learn more →