8 Top Freelancers and Influential Self-Starters to Inspire You

Written by Josh Hoffman on October 9, 2017

Thanks to this thing called the internet, we can get a look into the lives of some of the top freelancers around the world to learn from and be inspired by them. In case they’re not already on your radar, do yourself a favor and start following them ASAP.

1. Paul Jarvis

Paul Jarvis

Designer, author, teacher, software creator and podcaster, Paul Jarvis is all about the “intersection of creativity and commerce.” He teaches online courses about his craft and has penned four books, currently working on his fifth titled Company of One.

“I happened into freelancing by accident,” Jarvis says. “I had meant to get another agency job, but when I quit the creative director role I had, calls started to come in from clients asking where I was moving to next so they could take their business with me. After a few calls, I realized I could do this on my own, since I already had clients. This was nearly 20 years ago.”

2. Jo-Ná Williams

Jo-Na Williams

Legal issues are one of the most challenging aspects of freelancing. Jo-Ná Williams is a business and legal affairs advisor — and more. It all started some 15 years ago when, as a background vocalist for various musicians, she didn’t receive credit or compensation for her proverbial blood, sweat and tears. She then committed herself to educating and protecting creatives and entrepreneurs by becoming a lawyer, consultant, speaker, writer and business advisor.

“What inspired me to start freelancing was the fact that I could be in full control of the way I managed my time, how much I made and how I could serve the world,” Williams says. “The lifestyle I wanted to have and the impact I desired required me to work in my business full-time, and honestly, it was the best decision I ever made.”

3. Bryce Bladon

Bryce Bladon

“The catalyst that lead to my freelancing career was unusual and personal,” says Bryce Bladon, writer and consultant who manages the blog and podcast Clients From Hell. “After my parents divorced, they shared custody of me. Unfortunately, those parents lived on opposite sides of the city. Several times a week, I would be put into a car for at least an hour — several times more if it was rush hour, which it often was — with each parent. They hated it, and I hated it. And yet, every adult I knew ran a similar gauntlet to get to work each day. And every single one said they hated that daily drive with the same ‘but that’s life for you’ attitude. Every one — and these were adults! They were supposed to know everything, be able to do anything, and somehow, there was a universally terrible experience they all agreed to take part in because ‘that’s life for you.'”

“I saw that same logic applied to other aspects of careers. Adults who didn’t like their company, their boss or their career. But what are you going to do? That’s life for you. I decided that attitude was insane, compromising and, with the unabashed arrogance of a child, lazy. Looking back, the sentiment behind it always remained valid. Whatever I was going to spend the majority of my life doing, I was going to do it on my terms, in a way that worked for me.”

4. Natalie Zfat

Natalie Zfat

As a social media entrepreneur, Forbes contributor and on-camera host, Natalie Zfat’s professional mantra is: “Success means never doing the same thing twice (unless it was really fun the first time).” In addition to her half million social media followers, she shares her entrepreneurial thought leadership at conferences and universities, such as Carnegie Mellon, NYU Stern School of Business, Parsons: The New School, Internet of Things World, SXSW and The Harvard Club of New York.

“My parents are entrepreneurs and have spent the last 30 years working their own hours, traveling the world and never ‘missing a piano recital.’ The flexibility is incredibly inspiring,” Zfat says. “Plus, I find most offices to be freezing.”

5. Johnny Jen

Johnny FD

After quitting a well-paid corporate job in California nine years ago, Johnny Jen (better known as Johnny FD) moved to Thailand to work as a scuba instructor and professionally train as a Muay Thai fighter. Fast-forward to today: Jen travels the world as a digital nomad, building multiple streams of passive income.

“It was with freelancing that I was able to develop skills I could later use in my own business to make over $100,000 a year, while traveling full-time and enjoying the world,” Jen says. “I was smart enough to live cheaply in Chiang Mai while saving 75 percent of my income. Now that I’ve been taking a long break from work and my income has dipped, I still have dividends and portfolio growth keeping me afloat. It all started with that little spark of inspiration that, yes, maybe I could work from that coffee shop I love hanging out at on weekends — maybe that could be my office. And it was.”

6. Brennan Dunn

Brennan Dunn

Brennan Dunn’s bio reads like a hall-of-fame introduction: He has started and scaled a web agency; bootstrapped a Software as a Service platform (Planscope) that sold in 2016; created a community of 40,000-plus freelancers that brings in seven-figures worth of product profit annually (Double Your Freelancing); hosted a number of conferences (DYFConf US and Europe); and co-founded a software company that makes it easy to personalize your website (RightMessage.io).

“It wasn’t really that I was inspired to freelance — I had to,” Dunn says. “I left my cushy job at a creative agency in Miami to move to Virginia, a place I didn’t know and didn’t have much work opportunity for me. Switching from being a gun-for-hire freelancer to the owner of an independent consulting business was the single best career move I’ve made to date. It allowed me to grow my business into an agency, start (and later sell) a software company and, ultimately, get me to where I am today — running doubleyourfreelancing.com.”

7. Protima Tiwary

Protima Tiwary

With an Indian army upbringing, Protima Tiwary has lived throughout the country, but Pune is where she calls home. She created Dumbbells and Drama to promote her muse: “Stay healthy, and live life with a little bit of flair and exaggeration.”

“I hated working with rules. Not that I disregard them, I just can’t function creatively under so much pressure,” Tiwary says. “I love the challenge of writing — it’s not simply about putting information out there. It’s about connecting with people, sharing stories and positively affecting lives. It gives me a strange sort of power to know that I can get my message across and affect lives through my words. It’s helped me build a brand for myself, and there’s no way I’m ever going to stop writing. On days when I don’t have anything to write, I am a cranky, sad, annoyed little child. Just like those days when I miss a workout.”

8. Jenny Beres

Jenny Beres

Jenny Beres will tell you she wasn’t always a six-figure freelancer. Once upon a time, she dropped out of college (twice) and had $75 in her bank account, with the preconception that writing would only make her money if she sold a book or movie.

“Truthfully, there was no other choice,” Beres says of becoming a freelancer. “I’m completely, 100 percent un-hirable. I was sick of waitressing just because I was a creative writer. A lot of people will tell you, as a creative, that you have to wait until your ship comes in before you can give up the day job, and I just refused to believe that as truth. I’m a kick-ass playwright, but I wasn’t going to wait for Broadway to come knocking before I started making money. Also, I didn’t want anyone telling me there was a cap on what I could earn. But it was always about the freedom to live and create and earn the way I wanted. I’m a terrible employee, but an awesome business owner, and I think many of us are like that.”

Whether you’re determined to make the leap into freelancing or just need some inspiration to continue trailblazing down that path, these freelancers are the perfect role models. Stay motivated, and you’ll end up on a list like this one day!

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