If you’re venturing into the stressful-yet-rewarding world of freelancing for the first time, you’re going to realize right away that the internet is full of conflicting advice. “Freelance gurus” will be shouting at you from every direction, pushing their own philosophies down your throat as if their self-righteous blog posts are the only thing standing between you and Ultimate Success ™.
Sadly, their all-knowing walls of text won’t help you pay rent this month. Although many of these top-earners present strategies that are great for established, long-term freelancers, many of them seem to have an unrealistic idea of what newcomers are facing in today’s market.
I may not be a famous freelancer, and I may not have thousands of followers on Medium, but I know what it takes to rely on your own writing skills to make a living. And even though my work experience before taking the “freelancing plunge” was limited, I’m proud of my progress so far. However, I’ve had to sort through mountains of terrible advice from so these so-called “gurus” along the way. Here are the 4 most common myths I encountered my first year of freelance writing, and why they were completely useless to expanding my career.
Myth #1: Cold Emailing is the Only Way to Go
I’ve seen countless seasoned freelancers across Medium and other sites swearing up and down that cold emailing is the best thing that ever happened to them. They’ll go as far as saying that every new freelancer is wasting time by not targeting new businesses on a daily basis. However, they often leave out the fact that the average open rate for business emails is only 20.47%. That means that if you contact 100 businesses in a week, it’s unlikely that more than 20 of them will even bother clicking on your email.
The majority of businesses see unsolicited emails as exactly what they are: spam. The odds of finding new clients this way is quite low, no matter what these “freelancing gurus” on forums or in Medium articles will tell you.
Instead of wasting time slinging your words into the void like some broken spam bot, I suggest seeking out the countless clients on forums or work platforms that are actually looking for a writer. Cold emailing is a great strategy for growing your business on the side, and if you stick with it, you’ll undoubtedly hook some new clients along the way. But it shouldn’t be your main strategy for obtaining clients early on in the game–if you want to put food on the table, that is.
Myth #2: Bid Sites Like Upwork are a Worthless Race to the Bottom
Spoiler: Most people just don’t know how to use them.
I’ve seen Upwork and other bid sites get flamed on Medium quite regularly. The funny thing is, it’s usually seasoned, know-it-all freelancers with established client bases fueling the fire. Yes, Upwork might be useless to these guys at this advanced stage of their career. However, it’s important for new freelancers to realize that they can gain clients, portfolio pieces, and valuable experience from these sites if they learn how to use them properly.
The main argument I’ve seen against Upwork on Medium is that bid sites are a “race to the bottom” where you’re bidding against “freelancers from third world countries.” Personally, this hasn’t been an issue for me at all. When I’m not getting any bites from my direct network of clients, I shift my focus over to Upwork—and I’ve never been disappointed. I avoid jobs that have insultingly low budgets like the plague, and I only deal with clients who are clearly willing to pay what I’m worth from the beginning.
The quality I offer is something that cheap writers can’t match, and good Upwork clients know this. I’ve worked with many people on there that realize “you get what you pay for” is a cliché for a reason. For me, the convenience of having a willing, ready client pool at my fingertips is worth far more than the false prestige of being able to say that I’m too good for Upwork.
Myth #3: “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”
One of the worst pieces of advice I ever received in my first year of freelance writing was “don’t quit your day job.” Seasoned freelancers from every corner of the internet told me in a roundabout way that I should check myself into an asylum if I thought I had a chance of living off a freelance income without building a client base first. And if I listened to them, I’d probably be in an asylum now—but for a much different reason.
Some things in life are worth risking everything for. Quitting my day job to pursue writing full time was the best decision I ever made, and my passion allowed me to do things I never dreamed possible. If I listened to these naysayers and stuck with a job I hated for another year, I never would have had the motivation to become a successful freelance writer to begin with.
Cultivating a client base takes far more time and effort than most people are able to dedicate while working full-time. Sure, some people are able to nurture an ever-growing garden of clients while still managing to suffer through 40 hours of work every week—but they’re few and far between.
To find out whether or not you can actually make a living freelancing, you’re going to have to give it your all. And in my opinion, you can’t do that while working full-time for someone else (unless you’re superhuman). My advice? There’s a big difference between wanting some extra cash that month and needing to pay the bills—and you’ll never know if you’ll be able to make it as a full-time freelancer until you have the guts to try.
Myth #4: Connecting with Your Old Colleagues is the Master Key to Success
Another questionable piece of advice I see floating around on “expert freelancer” blogs is that you should hit up your old network for work as often as possible. Although this may be true if you worked at a fancy New York City agency like the people writing these articles, I’m willing to bet that this advice is useless for most budding freelancers.
If most new freelancers chase down their old boss for work, they probably aren’t going to get anything but a weird, awkward “then why did you leave?”–and that’s assuming they even worked the kind of professional office job that hires freelancers to begin with.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t try connecting with your old network if you think there’s a potential for work. It can certainly be a valuable tactic for scoring new contracts, if you’re at the point in your career where you have a well-established network. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t expect to rely on this tactic unless you have years of experience in a specific industry, as well as a bunch of long-standing business connections. I suspect that if you have this luxury, you wouldn’t be reading this article to begin with.
Follow Your Own Path
Is cold emailing worth it? Should I quit my job for this? There’s no right or wrong answer to these questions that have plagued freelancers since the dawn of the internet. And with an ocean of questionable advice threatening to drown you at every second, the world of freelancing can be quite intimidating indeed.
I’ve given you my genuine thoughts on these common freelancing myths, and I’ve shared what worked for me on my own journey as a self-employed writer. But in truth, being a freelancer is all about following your own path—and in the end, the only one who can tell you how to do that is you.