That’s a line from an email I sent to a client (who was also a good friend) in the fall of 2011. I had been doing this freelance thing for about a year at that point, still stumbling – still unsure of how to really succeed. Nearly 5 years later, I’ve accepted the fact that I was an absolute failure as a freelancer.
Coming to terms with that has been pivotal in my career. Sharing the revelation with the world was a difficult decision, but one thing has been consistent in my personal and professional life: complete transparency. You could say it’s been a cornerstone of my personal brand, which is also bleeding into my professional brand.
Before diving into why I am a failure, I should go back to the beginning of this crazy journey.
Warning: This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written, but I promise it’s worth it. So buckle up.
It began on a hot June day in 2010.
I sat in the back of the taxicab in shock. For the first time since I was 16, I was unemployed. Even worse, I was fired. That ugly word hovered over me like a black cloud but I was determined to make the most of this. The firing was inevitable. I was unhappy at my job after my mentor left, and HR was very kind about it. They knew I couldn’t quit because I couldn’t afford to but they didn’t want to hinder my future employment.
They gave me two options:
- Voluntarily resign with the option to have a positive reference but no unemployment.
- Be fired, no references, but I could file for unemployment.
I took the latter option. Even when I had no idea I would be going down this path, something in me knew I wouldn’t return to a traditional workplace. I didn’t know what that meant.
So, there I sat on my couch: A 20-something fired from her job, no college degree, and no logical plan for the next step.
Leveraging my personal brand was key.
At this point in my life, I had a very active presence on social media. I’d been blogging for about 7 years, and my Twitter presence was pretty solid. So, when I found myself completely lost, I did the only thing that made sense. I blogged about it.
Within the hour, I had two phone interviews lined up. I had worlds of support because I put myself out there in my worst moment.
The interesting thing to note at this point is that my social media presence was all under a pen name. At this point in my career, I couldn’t even fathom blogging and digital as a solid career path. I had two LinkedIn profiles (one under my real name and one under my pen name). I was still writing articles using a pen name.
So, at the beginning of my freelance journey, it didn’t even seem real.
Regardless, I had built a solid reputation, and decided to take a chance on myself. I was using social media for my personal brand. Could I actually make a career out of it? After all, the reason I butted heads with my former employer was because I was trying to get our company caught up in the digital age, and my communications director refused.
How do you start from scratch? For free.
Fun fact: My original Elance profile listed me as a Virtual Assistant. I was going to build an entire career out of doing that so that I could do writing on the side while going to school.
With the help of my unemployment benefits and my boyfriend at the time, I had some flexibility. So I threw up a website overnight, printed some business cards at FedEx, and went to my first networking event.
Pro-tip: The first time you drink after you lose your job should not be at a networking event. You will drink too much (free sympathy drinks anyone?), be way too emotional, and potentially ruin your career before it even begins.
Eventually, though, I landed my first couple of pro-bono projects doing social media. I was still trying to nail down my expertise. Was I a social media manager? Was I a writer? Was I good at customer relations? Should I be working on websites? Wait, did I need to learn SEO?
During all this, I was still trying to take classes to finish my Bachelor’s Degree, managing my emotional turmoil (not well), and trying to figure out how I was going to pay my rent down the line.
It wasn’t until Ryan Paugh hired me to be a Community Management Assistant at Brazen Careerist that things began to make sense.
That was the holy grail. That was the answer I’d been searching for. It made complete sense.
To this day, I still credit Ryan as the person who helped me pivot my career into what it is now. He took me under his wing and patiently gave me a chance as I flailed around like a chicken with her head cut off.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good was I now had a direction. An idea of what I wanted my career to look like. A vertical I could master and focus my energy on.
The bad was the reality I still had absolutely no idea what I was doing with this freelance business. I had finally come out and began using my real name, but was it enough?
The ugly reality was that I was an emotional mess, had absolutely no idea what to charge clients, stretched myself way too thin, and constantly let down the clients I was able to secure.
I absolutely failed as a freelancer.
There was catastrophe after catastrophe. Deadlines missed. Opportunities squandered. Bridges burned.
There’s no happy ending to my story…because there’s no ending.
Yes, for all intents and purposes, I failed as a freelancer. But I’m just beginning my journey as a business owner. If you’re ready to join me in the adventure, stay tuned to this blog.
It should be a fun ride.
[Editor’s note: This post originally had the 6 Lessons for Freelancer Success as a part of it. That’s now its own post over here.]
February 28, 2017: For an update on my journey as an entrepreneur, you can read about how I’m setting fire to my safety net here.
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*All photos are from Death to the Stock Photo