How to Survive Your First Year as a Freelancer

Photo by carolyn christine on Unsplash

Yesterday marked one whole year since I first began my freelancing journey.

And what a year it’s been.

Last year, I was a complete beginner. I had zero clue what I was doing — and I had no idea I’d be where I am today. Not least because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s another story.

But the main thing?

I’ve lived to tell the tale. And even better — I’m still smiling.

So, what words of wisdom can I pass onto those just dipping their toes in the water?

This time last year, I had just bought my laptop, was purchasing all the legal contracts and insurances I needed, and mainly just praying that somewhere along the road it would all work out.

Hurray — it totally did.

But I was also pretty naive.

After working in office environments for the most part of seven-years, I was so ready to work from home.

I wanted freedom. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. And I definitely thought I’d be lounging around in my pyjamas every day of the week.

Note: the latter part did happen for a short period of time (and still happens sometimes) but sadly isn’t always conducive to a productive working day.

One year on, I’ve learnt a lot of lessons.

It’s been mentally challenging. And it’s also been hugely rewarding.

Some days I’ve wanted to go back to bed. Other days I’ve wanted to work until morning because I’m on that much of a motivation trip.

But, through it all, I’ve survived.

The big question — how?

Get organised from the start

As a virtual assistant, organisation is my middle name — for my clients at least. But make sure you extend the same courtesy to yourself. Keep that email inbox manageable and filed, keep your receipts in monthly folders, and make sure you have a safe place for all things relating to your business. There will come a time when that tax return deadline gets so close you can no longer ignore it, and having things ordered will make that yearly process SO much easier.

Have a back-up plan

In the form of a savings pot at least. The first year (or even any year) of freelancing can be volatile. You could be drowning in piles of work, or you could be on your seventh Netflix series wondering when you’re going to put your brain to good use. Having a cushion, in terms of some valuable funds, means that when you go through periods of famine, you can relax and keep focusing on generating new business without totally freaking out.

It’s all about multiple income streams

My first client came from an agency, who asked me what other work I was doing. My answer? None. It wasn’t through lack of trying, but when I stumbled across the agency, I figured I was sorted — at least for now. The agency would source clients and I would either say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But then it hit me — what if the agency couldn’t find me another client for months? What if that client quit? What if the agency went under? And so began my search for clients from a whole range of sources — Upwork, LinkedIn, Facebook, recommendations — until I had enough on my books to really make a living.

Set boundaries — always

I didn’t. Not one single one. Clients could message me any hour of the day by WhatsApp or phone call. Not a problem. Except it became a huge problem once I had more than two clients. I was replying to WhatsApps late at night or over the weekend and soon enough I was working extra hours to try and keep everyone happy. But the one person I should have been keeping happy was myself. Having a healthy work-life balance was the precise reason I chose to become a freelancer. Don’t ever lose sight of that and set boundaries from the get-go. Your future self will thank you for it. Big time.

Know your worth

Setting your own rates is scary. No matter how much research you do into the industry standards and what those in your area are charging, it still doesn’t feel right to charge what you absolutely should be. My advice? Talk to those in your industry. It was actually only a couple of months ago I realised I was massively undercharging — but after speaking to fellow VA’s and writers, I realised I had been holding myself back. Equally, it’s not always about the money. Some clients will suck the living soul out of you — and no amount of money will ever be worth that.

Time will always be worth more than money

Which leads me onto my next point. One of the biggest takeaways from the last year has been that having time and flexibility to do the things I want to do, is absolutely vital. Some months I’ve been earning way more than my previous employed roles — but I’ve had zero time to do anything other than eat, work, and sleep. But the days where I’ve been able to really adapt to my own schedule, see the people I love, and spend time on my personal projects, have been the best of the best.

And that’s what makes this all worthwhile.

Freelance writer, procrastinator, and lover of cats. Avid traveller pre-lockdown. Future best-selling novelist post-lockdown🤞 Find me at

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