Skip to navigationSkip to content

How to survive the insane first three weeks of freelancer life

Vic/Flickr via CC BY 2.0
Who are you going to listen to?
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

When you’re just starting out as a freelancer and/or starting a new business, like I am, your life may resemble the following scenarios. Do not be alarmed, offended or confused by the use of second-person point of view. I am definitely talking about myself here, but hope that maybe I’m talking about some of you, too.

Week 1

First you learn! You learn so much your face hurts. You buy 12 industry-specific books on Amazon and purchase packs of flash cards or Post-its, and you underline, highlight, bookmark, Pocket, Evernote, screenshot, categorize, tag and promise yourself you’ll come back to “savory millet recipes from Eastern Asia” or “biodegradable food packaging design” on Sunday (because brunch is for basics).

You send a mass email out to your entire list of 1,342 Google Contacts. You give everyone your elevator pitch, which you’ve by now pitched in actual elevators. You ask for email intros and you try not to watch your inbox like TV.

You download to-do apps by the dozen and test your schedule until your app knows when you’ll have to pee before you do.

Productivity hacks, you guys! You download to-do apps by the dozen and test your schedule until your app knows when you’ll have to pee before you do. Life is amazing. Technology is life.

You buy Adobe Creative Cloud and Google Apps for Work and you fire up a Squarespace page and spend 12 hours researching tetrade colors schemes because hashtag brand hashtag design. You create an “about page” and convince yourself that soooooo many people are going to click on it and become engrossed in it and read the footnote quote and think you are so clever it hurts.

You sign up for 6am spin classes and 7:45am Tabata classes because momentum. Your triceps and calves aren’t going to carve themselves. And when you sweat you feel SO alive and you also have time to take a proper shower back at your apartment instead of elbowing all the naked people accidentally. Because you don’t have to go to an office after your workout, you can sit with wet hair and watch your inbox.

Emails! Answered. You’re a machine! (Seriously, though, a machine could never come up with such a pithy email signature since “cheers” and “best” no longer actually mean anything and plus, hashtag branding).

Week 2

After a week or two of this, you get a lead who might want to hire you. And you remember you need an accountant! And an LLC! And a lawyer. And Official Documents and maybe even a heavy pen with your initials on it. So you spend a few hours in Quora researching (face hurts!) before going with your original plan to email your dad and ask what to do. He always knows. Dads know.

Time for a pedicure (but you’re reading a business book during the pedicure so it’s ok! You totally don’t feel guilty.)

Maybe some additional minor edits to your Squarespace page. Check email. Yoga. Snack. Maybe a 4pm pedicure (but you’re reading a business book during the pedicure so it’s ok! You totally don’t feel guilty. This is your life and you are part of the gig economy. You are DOING THINGS.) You maybe fall asleep a little bit. It’s ok.

Attend some industry events. Link-in with people and whatnot. (Invent verbs). “Catch up” with all kinds of people, from those whose brains and skills you deeply admire to those who are maybe 4 degrees removed from people you actually want to meet. The world is a universe of possibility! Your non-spam, non-news, non-promotional inbox? Maybe not an entire universe; maybe only a planet.

Commit to not eating dark chocolate until 4pm. You respect yourself.

Week 3

Your elevator pitch has been elevated to all elevator riders.

You are entertaining three different ideas or projects or business concepts and they all begin to overwhelm you. Your elevator pitch has been elevated to all elevator riders. You wake up thinking about successful businesses or brands or people and wonder why everyone else’s hashtag brand seem to be hashtag killing it and yours is like this little seed still at the very bottom of the ground and the water hasn’t even reached it yet, and no one knows it exists and they walk on it and don’t even realize it and sometimes you walk on it and don’t even realize it.

Along with your sanity, it’s clear you’ve lost any ability to form coherent extended metaphors.

You think maybe this swirling of ideas and emotions and concepts and inklings and hunches are just way too much for you to handle. You need structure. You thrive when you’re given certain constraints and right now the world feels massive and endless and unlimited. How are you supposed to mold clay into a masterpiece when you feel like the clay is everywhere you look? Should you just take a nap or go to yoga? Should you quit?

Epiphany! Light Bulbs! Breakthroughs! Etc.

No, please don’t quit. Here’s what you do, right now, no app needed: sit down, and do something productive. Stop checking your email. Stop checking Twitter. Stop scrolling through Instagram or you will feel worthless and slow and tasteless and placeless and boring. You craft your pitch, you resist rabbit holes, and define what you want to get out of your research. And if the going is slow and people aren’t responding to your emails, you go to McNally Jackson or another local magazine shop and pick up weird magazines and get inspired.

Read about interesting people and take notes and look up the people who inspire them. Create a universe of inspiration for yourself and live in that universe instead of the one with Instagram sunsets and self-doubt. Talk to people in line at the coffee shop or bookstore and peek into another life or mind. Do some cold outreach to people who are “hashtag killing it” at what you want to do. Tell them they inspire you. They might respond and they might also be too cool—and that’s okay, too.

Get sleep. Exercise. Check emails at a normal interval. Limit yourself to one to-do list. Set real deadlines for yourself and do them. Inspire yourself. Learn. Read. Follow-up with potential clients and cold outreaches and friends. And when you feel like you’re going to cry ploppy tears or punch walls or shut down, write a Medium post about being a freelancer, or email me, and we can talk.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.