Starting Over and Paying Your Dues
I mentioned in the prior chapter the need to make a significant investment of time, money and effort when you begin freelancing. I feel the need to emphasize this again, because I’ve seen far too many professionals who enter the world of online freelancing with what I call the “ta-da!” attitude, and this always leads to disappointment. (I know from personal experience: I made this mistake myself when I started out.)
What is the “ta-da!” attitude? It’s the belief held by some people that just by their showing up on a freelancing site, they are going to make a big splash, like a celebrity arriving at a movie premiere. They become enamored of their own accomplishments, and think everyone’s going to stand up and take notice of their arrival. Many new freelancers are indeed very qualified professionals, with impressive skills and nice resumes; they have reason to be proud of their accomplishments. But some feel like they can just sign up to a marketplace site, apply to a few jobs, and the clients will read their profiles and then swoon and fall at their feet, tossing rose petals and hundred dollar bills.
The unfortunate truth is that there are very few people who are truly so exceptional that they can revolutionize a freelancing marketplace. Most newcomers who start out with unrealistic expectations get a rude awakening when they don’t achieve the instantaneous success they expected:
Even if you have 10, 20 or 30 years of experience in a particular field, when you start your freelancing adventure you are a “newbie” to a certain extent—you are new to online freelancing, new to the site, and especially, new to the clients. That means that despite being a very qualified and competent professional, you have to work hard to establish yourself.
To understand why, recognize that the three primary methods by which employers judge applications for jobs are the provider’s profile/portfolio, project proposal, and work history. But contractors can put pretty much whatever they want in their profiles and in their proposals, and many clients have been burned in the past by grandiose promises that were never fulfilled. And even if they think a provider is being honest, the smart clients know that it’s not always the case that real-world experience translates well into freelancing project success.
That leaves work history, and the majority of buyers rely heavily on track record and feedback from past clients to judge the competency and ethics of those they consider hiring. In online freelancing, this is essentially the referral system by which smart clients can learn from the experiences of others in the past. If you have no feedback history, to many service buyers you are an unknown, no matter what you’ve done in the “real world”.
Some professionals just cannot adjust to this situation very well; I’ve seen comments from some that indicate their outright exasperation that they cannot win lots of projects solely on the basis of their resumes. But smart new freelancers realize that their real-world work history does matter, just not as much as they’d like. They use their experience to win projects over other newcomers with less experience. They put in their time, earn a track record, and quickly find their success increasing over time.
Paying your dues is not always easy, and it often requires that you suppress certain emotions to do what is in your long-term interest. A pro who’s used to working for $50 an hour might chafe at the idea of working for $10 an hour. The irrational way to view this is to get insulted that buyers “aren’t valuing your expertise” and so forth. The smart approach is to recognize that this is just part of the investment needed to get going as a provider. By building a track record—even if it’s at a lower hourly rate—you can combine your positive feedback on past projects with your skills and experience to get higher-paying gigs in the future.
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Last Site Update: October 21, 2011
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