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A letter to my younger freelancer self

A letter to my younger freelancer self

I am going to talk to my younger self about being a full-time freelancer and some of the things I might do differently.

I think, for many of us, there is always this burning in our hearts, that if we could go back and change something, we would do so. Look, I know that our experiences forge our character and, if we have an appreciation where we are, we find with our history.

Nevertheless, we look back at our freelance career and wonder, “what if.” What if I go back and tell my younger self to do this differently?

What if I did this instead of that? Would things have been different?

Our own mistakes usually cause us to spend our time mentoring and helping newer freelancers.

Time travel is one of the most intriguing science fiction (or is it?) phenomenon. The existence of the possibility of time travel has led to a number of movies and books about the protagonist going forwards or backward in time.

Time travel’s been one of man’s wildest fantasies for centuries. It’s long been a popular trend in movies and fiction, inspiring everything from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine to the Charlton Heston shrine that is The Planet of the Apes. Gizmodo  

So, today, we are going to pretend that we have a time machine. You’ve always wanted to do that, right?

We are going to climb into our time machine and go back to 2013 to talk to my younger self about freelancing. I want to give him some advice, and I am allowing you the chance to come along.

I am going to talk to my younger self about being a full-time freelancer and some of the things I might do differently.


So, climb into the DeLorean with me, and let’s go see younger Todd.


Hey Todd, I thought I would come back from the future to talk about some things I think you need to know. I hope this isn’t too weird, you know, to have your future self talking to you about freelancing. Nevertheless, if you will let me, I want to give you some advice.

Positioning your business

When you first met Darrell, he told me you should have a niche. I don’t disagree at all. When having a niche, you can charge more and, strangely, get more work.

There are two areas that you need to niche, your skillset and your target audience.

I am not an expert at niching, honestly. Some consultants help entrepreneurs to find their niche. There is a lot of advice about finding your niche, and much of that advice is free on the internet.

It comes down to finding an industry you are comfortable with and know something about. Once you do that, you seek those folks and learn about their problems. Over time, you will begin to find solutions for their problems. Frankly, it’s not rocket science.

Niching your skillset is a little bit more complicated. I think you need to find what you do well and go deeper. That being said, I think that first, it is extremely valuable to learn as many skills as you can within reason.

It is good for you to know, all of this takes time. Once you make your decision to niche, it just may not happen the next day. It might take you a few years. Be patient.

Get some Sales

I wish I had known a few things when I started and one of those things was to get sales and generate revenue early.

One of the first mistakes I made was not hustling for my first customers. Honestly, this is a little more complicated. You see, you live in a rural area and the potential customer base is smaller. Fortunately for those of us in the online industry, our market is global.

The drawback of that is if you don’t have a niche (see above), it is hard to narrow that market.

When you start, you need to generate revenue. The exception is if you have a year or more of savings. Otherwise, you have to get going. This means, sometimes, that you may have to do some work that might not be your focus for the long term.

I bought into the whole inbound marketing thing. My perspective was skewed. I still like inbound marketing, but it has its limits. The forces that make inbound marketing work doesn’t always apply to a brand new freelancer. Therefore, it is necessary to do networking, warm, and cold calls. I will say this; the best leads come from networking. Learn to contact new people.

Look, there is a problem with using high-level marketing efforts when you aren’t getting clients,

It makes complex marketing strategies like SEO, blogging, and viral marketing appear both easy and discrete, when in reality they’re often an excuse for you to avoid the hard work of finding actual people who will pay you for your services.2

You have to have a base of clients. Don’t avoid the hard work.

The other thing that I missed on is just basic copywriting principles. You have to learn to sell the benefits. Features are nice, to be sure, but benefits are what people need to hear.

Are you selling a WordPress website or are you selling a website that easier to update and generates leads for your target audience. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for the sale.

Invest in yourself

To my younger self, I need to tell you that you need to invest in yourself. No one else will do it for you.

Investing in yourself means a lot of different things including tools and conferences. Let me add to that courses and other learning experiences. If WordPress is your schtick, then go to your local WordPress meetup and the nearest WordCamp.

WordCamp London

You will need tools. You will need tools to deploy your WordPress environment quicker and to solve various problems. Invest in a toolset. Don’t be afraid to use a tool to speed your development. After all, clients pay for the end result. Obviously, if you are going to update client websites regularly, a tool like MainWP is a must have.

24 Must Have WordPress Plugins for Business Websites in 2017 – WP Beginner

39 Must-Have WordPress Development Tools – WPMU Dev

You will need tools to keep track of clients and to promote your content. You will need tools to create invoices and proposals.

Don’t spend too much of your time doing things that can be done quicker using a well-built tool.

Find a milk check

Unless you are sitting a pile of money and you can spend the time building your business, find a steady income source. I have talked about the milk check idea before. Find your milk check.

After you have created some stability with a steady income source, then begin building other revenue channels. Move towards diversifying your revenue sources. Don’t count on just one income source in the long run.

One of the things you can do that would be helpful is to decide on a product you can build. It might be a simple course, but it can help fill in the gaps during the lean times.


So, my younger freelancer, I have more to say, but for today, I am going to wrap this up. These four things will help you kick start your business. You will need to find a way to position your business, hustle to get your first clients, invest in yourself, and find a source of revenue which will give you some stability.

If you could go back in a time machine, what advice would you give your younger freelancer self? Share in the comments below or in the Facebook Group.

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Todd Jones
Along with being the resident writer for MainWP and content hacker at Copyflight, I specialize in writing about startups, entrepreneurs, social media, WordPress and inbound marketing topics.

1 thought on “A letter to my younger freelancer self

  1. I complete agree with you Todd, investing in yourself and some tools in a must. There are many people offering to build websites cheaply on places like Fiverr and many business owners willing to go there to get a website, so in order position your freelance business in a higher bracket you must have something of value you can provide for your potential clients, something they will be willing to pay extra for such as the ability to keep their lead generation website secure and up-to-date and the ability to capture and nurture leads from their websites.

    Having the right tools and automating as much as possible gives you the ability to set yourself up as a marketing consultant rather than a web designer and allow you attract higher paying client which means you can charge more for your services.

    There isn’t a single business person out there that want a website, the main thing they are interested in is getting more leads, a website is just a means to that end – that is the message I pitch to potential clients on my website – – it is really important to understand this before you go knocking on doors otherwise most of your efforts will be wasted. Once you can give clients good quality leads they will keep coming back for more month after month and you will never be short of work.


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