I’ve been freelancing for a bit over 20 years now. Most of my work has been in the publishing industry in either design or editing. In more recent years, I’ve taken on a lot of freelance writing.

I have never regretted leaving the traditional working world behind and embracing the freelance lifestyle. There were some challenges, to be sure, and once or twice I’ve had to supplement my income by stocking store shelves around the holidays.

That said, I can say with a lot of confidence that freelancing can be a perfectly sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle.

Here are some things I’ve learned over the years that may help.

Resist the urge to hoard work

I get it. Freelancing can be a feast-or-famine sort of life, and you never know where your next job is coming from.

Reality check. You should always have an idea where your next job is coming from. But, admittedly, that takes practice and experience. It will come along as you get better at pitching jobs and tracking down work.

Early in your freelance career, you’re going to be tempted to take in every job that comes along. The problem with that is if you take on too much at once, you won’t be able to give each task the attention it deserves, and you run the risk of being so overworked you miss deadlines and end up hurting your working reputation.

Take on what you are certain you can handle, and no more. Doing a quality job will help you get that next job. Have a little faith in yourself.

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Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

Listen to your gut

Every now and then, you’re going to run across a client who raises some red flags. Maybe they’re inconsistent communicators. Maybe they are always trying to expand the scope of a project without expanding the compensation. Maybe they talk a lot about waiting for their money to come in — which suggests that’s going to be the excuse for not paying you on time, or at all.

Maybe they’re just a creep.

If you’re feeling unsure about a client, listen to your gut. Cut them loose at the first opportunity. You’re going to save yourself a lot of wasted time and grief working with a client you don’t feel right about or who is simply a wrong fit for you.

Meet your deadlines

If there is any such thing as a holy writ for freelancing, it’s to keep the deadline sacred. Or at least as much as you can. There are two main reasons for this. Well, three…

First, meeting deadlines is professional and signals to a client that you’re reliable, worth giving more work to, and worth recommending to others.

Second, it keeps you on schedule. One sliding deadline quickly leads to two, then three, then your entire schedule is turned upside down.

Third, you’ll feel better about yourself as a professional freelancer.

Plan your time carefully and accept jobs with deadlines you’re confident you can manage. It’ll be worth it.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Be patient and persevere

There will be hard times. There will be scarce times — especially when just starting out. If you persevere in the face of difficult times, you’ll eventually find the wait was worth it.

No one starts out freelancing at the top of the game. All of those five or six-figure freelancers you hear about on Instagram all started out struggling just as you did. The trick is how long you keep trying and building before deciding that maybe it isn’t for you.

And hey, maybe it isn’t. Some people find they’re much happier not dealing with the stress and uncertainty associated with freelancing’s early stages. That’s fine.

But if you really think that freelancing is the best career path for you, you need to be patient and keep at it.

Your time will come.

You will outgrow some clients

Every now and then, you’ll find a client you’ve worked with for a while just isn’t growing the same as you. Say you’ve been freelancing for a few years, and you’ve raised your rates to match your skill and ability. Your old client may not want to pay you what you’re now worth.

It’s understandable, in its way. They’ve gotten used to you at a certain rate, and even though your work has improved, and they’ve reaped the benefits of your skill, some folks see rates as immutable.

It’s okay to let them go and move on to greener pastures.

Loyalty is fine, but being paid what you’re worth is important as well. And it makes better use of your time.

People grow — or they should, at least. When you feel you’ve outgrown your client, it’s okay to move on. They’ll find someone else, as will you.

If you go by what you see on Instagram or some of those “get rich being your own boss” videos on YouTube, freelancing seems like a pretty sweet deal.

The reality is that it can take years before you start showing anything for it or even are in a position to live solely on a freelance income. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. It just means you should enter the freelance world knowing what’s in store.

Manage your expectations. Be professional. Be patient.

It’ll all come together in the end.