When I started out as a freelancer, I was studying at a world-renowned business university in Canada. There were countless opportunities for entrepreneurs like myself to learn the ropes of starting a business. However, there was one thing that kept those business lessons from activating the freelancer mindset in me: I wasn't there to study business. I was studying fine art!
I eventually switched schools, but the truth is that business knowledge isn't what makes a successful freelancer. If you're struggling with low finances, bossy clients, or annoyance at your work itself, business know-how isn't going to solve those problems for you. Regardless of industry insight, there will come a day where you just aren't sure what you're doing (or what you're doing wrong). These are the struggles that make us question our career, our skills, even ourselves!
The only way we can change our struggles to successes – for good – is to develop a positive, problem-solving mentality towards our work. Staying in an open-minded headspace has helped so many freelancers face the issues blocking their success that it's been dubbed the "freelancer mindset."
For me, there are four important aspects of the freelancer mindset: staying open to learning, using your community as a resource, knowing yourself and knowing your goals.
Every freelancer attributes their success to different things. Some say to be successful you need to be relentless, others say the focus should be on staying organized as a freelancer. There are lots of qualities that will help you succeed at freelancing, but in truth: the freelancer mindset can help you succeed at anything, not just freelancing.
Staying open to learning, your community, and yourself are all pieces of a strategy that prioritizes growth instead of perfection.
A freelancer's life is a busy one. We get stuck in the state of doing things: find a client, pitch the client, do the work, repeat. With a repetitive cycle like that, we often forget to make time to learn things.
The minute we close ourselves off to learning, we trap ourselves in lots of ways. We stagnate our growth, which can cause anxiety, self-doubt, desperation, and an overall lack of satisfaction with the career we're building. We feel frustrated because we're visualizing the level of freelancing we want to be doing, but can't reach that level.
I was feeling that exact brand of frustration right after starting my design studies. When I started design school, I was the worst person there. I didn't have confidence or niche words in my presentations. I was picked last for student groups. The production value of what other people made – no matter what medium – was so much better than anything I was doing. I just felt like there was a chasm between where I was and where I wanted to be.
I wanted to give up! All I could see was the frustrating difference between the work I was producing and the work I wanted to produce. I called my mom to say I was thinking about giving up. She listened to me and said that I could give up, but that I should give design school more time.
"Just try to be a little better than you were last month," she'd say on the phone. She said this to me every month until I graduated.
While it seems like simple advice, learning is great motivation for freelancers. I started to burn out because I was focused on the fact that my skills weren't where I wanted them to be. When I switched my focus to what I had to learn to make those skills better, I was not only motivated but empowered to learn more!
Growing as a freelancer isn't about putting your nose down and working hard. To truly grow, we have to keep our eyes peeled for every opportunity to learn more. We have to take classes, ask questions, and seek out advice from people who can help us.
Once I focused on learning, I spent all of my free time online looking up concepts, reading articles and watching videos. I was taking in a lot of new information but I didn't have a path to use it on. I had a destination but I still wasn't sure exactly how to reach it. I couldn't fill the gap between the advice and the application of it.
Continuous learning will only help our careers if we can put our new knowledge into motion. However, it isn't always clear how to apply vague advice like "be more open," or "pitch to more clients." We need to activate the second aspect of the freelancer mindset to make that advice actionable. We need to turn to our community!
I wish I knew that before I started freelancing. In the beginning, I thought of myself as a lone wolf. I didn't tell anyone what I was working on and kept my struggles hidden; I didn't want to be criticized or be seen as a bad freelancer. I saw my community as my enemy instead of a network of support.
Once I opened up about my work, it was almost like a community formed around me. I had cheerleaders who believed in me, freelancers who dealt with the same problems as me, and mentors who wanted to help me.
In the digital nomad community, we can find mentors, partners, colleagues and collaborators with the click of a finger. However, we can only access the community if we let our guard down and share our struggles. If we aren't open about what we're doing, no one can help us find what we're doing wrong.
The next time you encounter a problem in your work, turn that freelancer mindset on. Reach out to your fellow freelancers. Let them see your process so they can help you improve it. Not only will you benefit from their experience, but staying in touch with your community is a great way to combat the psychological effects of working alone.
At the risk of giving the type of vague advice I complained about earlier, getting to know and love yourself is important for maintaining freelancer mindset. It's great motivation for freelancers, but it also makes us resilient enough to withstand the low-points and dry spells of freelancing.
In traditional jobs, we get lots of affirmations and rewards that motivate our work. Our boss congratulates us on a job well done, we get a paycheck, and our progress is discussed daily. Even during tough projects, we're assured that we'll find a way through.
As a freelancer in a dry period without external rewards to motivate us, it's hard to power through. When the going gets tough, we start to doubt ourselves, our skills, and our career choice. We lose motivation when we stop trusting in ourselves and our work. If we don't trust our work, we can't convince our clients to trust it, either. We can't reach our freelancing goals because we don't feel confident enough to reach for them. We get so scared of failing that we stop trying.
That's why it's vital to incorporate self-love and awareness into our freelancer mindset. These two concepts can help us see our strengths, know our weaknesses, and love ourselves through the rocky process of becoming a better freelancer.
When I first started freelancing, I focused on two things: finding new clients and getting their (usually short-term) project done. I didn't take the time to get to know myself, my values, my interests, or my strengths. I simply pitched to clients, did the work, then repeated those two steps. I didn't take on any work even slightly outside of my scope and I didn't land a repeat client for four years.
At the time, I thought I was trying my best. I was doing what I thought I could do. In reality, I didn't know, love, or trust myself enough to find out what my best actually was.
Learning to be honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses gave me a clear vision of how to grow. I could examine the limits I'd imposed on myself and then reach beyond them. My new self-insight allowed me to be honest with clients, as well – which finally landed me a repeat client.
Learning to love myself made all the bumps and errors of my growth easier. I started believing in myself and my skills, and no amount of bad feedback or external judgment could change my mind. Self-love and awareness gave me bulletproof armor for my freelance journey!
When you aren't sure of what's important to you, making decisions is extremely hard. If we don't know where we want to go, we can't make the choices that will take us there. Dedicating yourself to the freelancer mindset to become a better freelancer will only work if you know why you want to better yourself at all.
I knew I wanted to be a better freelancer before I discovered my values. I worked on my skills and took in new information about everything related to my work. I was even taking on projects and doing work I had just learned about. I was challenging myself!
Even though I knew I was growing, I still felt stressed when taking on new tasks. I took projects that didn't appeal to me for a chance to practice different skills. I often felt anxious and as my frustration grew, my motivation sank. I was stuck but couldn't understand why.
I knew I wanted to become a better freelancer, but I didn't know why.
While it's good to take advice from other freelancers, taking advice without considering which bits of advice serve your values or goals will lead you on a wild goose chase. If you don't know why you're trying to improve or what you hope to eventually become, your growth won't be linear.
My zig-zagging growth prompted me to start defining my values to understand why I was doing what I was doing. I did lots of value mining exercises (which you can find in the FTN Course) to sort out what I liked doing and what I didn't feel was important.
Once you do the work to discover your values, you can accept that the work you do every day is bigger than the deliverable. Every day, your work is helping manifesting what is truly important to you. That's why it's vital to the freelancer mindset: values make the path to freelance success a clear one.
When you understand why you’re doing something, the tension disappears from your days. When you’re trying to choose between doing one thing and another, it’s easier to make a choice. Which one aligns with your values? There you go!
The only time I feel tension and anxiety now is when my actions are not aligned with my values. Once I knew what was important to me, it was easy to create goals. My productivity soared. I stopped guessing and started taking specific steps to create my dream life.
A few years ago, in Montreal, I would never have thought it possible to create something like the Freelance Travel Network. It was through learning and exploring – externally and within myself – that I developed a freelancer mindset to help me create goals and stick to them. Once I started thinking with the freelancer mindset, I realized I had the potential to do something bigger than I ever thought.
The freelancer mindset makes our personal definition of success real and attainable through our versatility. Most successful freelancers are in a mindset of being hungry to deliver, hungry to improve. When you pair that hunger with humility and learning, that's when the freelancer mindset really pays off.
– Create a network of fellow freelancers to find mentors, get advice and share struggles.
– Speak about your work and interests! You never know who can help your mission.
– Build a self-love shield to stop being hard on yourself.
– Brainstorm on your values, goals, and dreams to create a roadmap for your career.
– Keep a journal of affirmations or gratitude to help keep your head up through hard times.
– Make a list of all the things you're interested in learning and create challenges for yourself.
What is the freelancer mindset to you? Feel free to share tips on staying motivated, confident, and driven below.