6 Lessons I Wish I Knew When I Started Online Freelancing


Experience may be the best teacher, but there are some things that I wish others told me before I started web working. Right now, there are so many resources for web workers, but this wasn’t always the case, and even if more resources existed I didn’t always know where to find them. Although I didn’t have any regrets, I know that there are somelessons that would’ve spared me a lot of headaches if I didn’t wait for experience to be my teacher.

Start as close as possible to the work you want to do. If you want to become a business blogger, there’s hardly any sense in writing $5 articles on dating. It’s not going to help with your folio, since it’s far from the niche you want to work in. I spent so many hours on those types of articles during my first year, but looking back I think those hours could have been better spent applying for jobs I really wanted, and building a folio in a niche I was passionate about.

Organization is just as important as the work itself. While the quality of your work is important, it’s almost useless if you aren’t organized. I didn’t have a written or digital calendar until last year, and my invoices, contracts, and other important documents were either nonexistent or scattered all over my hard drive. This led to missed deadlines, long turnover times, and, eventually, annoyed clients. Even if you’re the greatest designer in the world or a bestselling author, the quality of your work matters very little if you can’t deliver on time or properly.

It’s okay to be firm with difficult clients. Some clients give you so much stress that you just want to let them go. They eat up your time needlessly, leaving you less time for actual clients or the work you have to do. Before, I would just be there for a client the second they needed me, regardless of what time it was or what I was supposed to be doing. This year, I started setting a maximum of 3 hours a week of real-time client support and an assistant arranges the queue based on urgency. Some overly demanding clients weren’t happy with this setup, but they understood that this would help me get work done faster.

Keep your goals in check. Keeping your goals written in an accessible place, whether digital or on paper, will make decision-making easier – especially if you’re choosing between two different opportunities. What career choices will bring you closer to your goals? What are merely distractions? I’ve always found it handy to refer to them once in a while, even if it’s just for inspiration.

Reinvest in yourself and your career. Honestly, I only realized it this year. For a long time I sat in the same old uncomfortable chair, worked in a corner in the dining room, and didn’t even invest time or money in new ventures. Apart from setting up a special space for your web work, you should also take care of your equipment, and, when you can afford it, make upgrades that will help you become more productive.

Your work is worth more than you think. Knowing this would’ve made me aim higher than what I thought I could reach. Earlier, I mentioned that I wrote $5 articles. I stayed in that price range for a very long time. If not for my partner constantly telling me that my work was worth so much more than that, I wouldn’t have thought about asking for a better price. It’s not true that potential clients always run to the cheapest bargain they could get. Many of them are willing to pay a good price for quality work.

Do I really believe that if I knew these things when I started out, I’d be better off today? I think so. In fact, I’d send this blog post to myself four years ago, if I could. There were a lot of things I unnecessarily stressed about, hours I wasted, and opportunities I missed out on, just because I didn’t believe any of the six things I mentioned above.

How about you? What things do you wish you knew when you started out?



Reinvest in yourself and your career.

I was reluctant to spend money in buying furniture for my workspace but heck, the new chair I’m sitting now worth every penny of it and I regret that I didn’t do this one year earlier.


Learning how to screen prospective clients and knowing when to “fire” difficult ones is an important skill. I try to work only with people I like, or at least find reasonable. Anyone who starts out difficult will most likely stay that way or get worse.


I tried it once and I did enjoy it. The price hardly covered running costs, but the client was so great, that I did enjoy it and I did learn a lot, be it algorithms for entity matching or core technology like ferret.

Celine Roque

@ Sean. I found my first clients via online forums (namely Sitepoint.com) and online classifieds. If I was interested in a job, I would just send my application in.


One of my biggest problems is finding clients. When I did freelance work, I couldn’t find a lead to save my life. For a new company, it’s incredibly difficult to find your first contract. I still wish I knew how other people do it.


Ah.. be firm with difficult clients. To add to that, the ones that take up the most time often pay the least. And vice versa. Know where to draw a line. Some clients simply aren’t worth having as they end up costing you money.

Dan Perry

I think the first comment is the best. In the beginning, mos twill take on anything they can get, but in the end, it’s often more detrimental. Doing work you don’t want to do just to put food on the table is no way to go through life son. :)


@ Start as close as possible to the work you want to do…

… I think it can make sense to get published in something, anything first and then move into what you really want to write about. Having “published” behind your name can open more doors than being totally unpublished.

Andrei Potorac

Hi – you bring a very valid point with your latest item. I too was working for as low as 12$/h a year ago. Comparing my work with some other guys work, I changed my rate, and better clients came. :)

Now I’m earning 6 times more, and I still can increase if I get overwhelmed (which I usually do).

One thing I wish I knew was to switch to MACs faster. It’s incredible how smooth things work now and the speed I have when I do my work.

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