Picture this: You’ve just submitted your first project proposal to a client you’ve been dying to partner with for years. You worked extremely hard to put it together, and you’re pretty sure you nailed it. Then, the client gets back to you, saying they’ve chosen to go “in a different direction,” but “thanks for your interest.”
You’re gutted. You’re definitely not feeling like a successful freelancer right now. You’re physically exhausted and emotionally drained, and now you’ve also lost your potential income source for the next several months. How do you handle this situation? The key to working through it is to learn how to turn challenges into opportunities. Here’s an overview of how I adopted the mindset of a successful freelancer.
Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this situation?”
Even when things seem bleak, you can derive a positive outcome from a particular situation by searching for what you can learn from it and choosing to use that knowledge to move forward. Whether a particular challenge teaches you something specific, like how to hone your language to strengthen your pitch, or something more broad, like how to be more selective with the clients to whom you pitch, try to obtain the most value possible from that lesson.
And don’t be afraid to ask the people you’re working with for constructive feedback on how you can improve. Recently, I asked a client for feedback on my interviewing technique. Their response helped me write a solid first draft that needed fewer revisions before it was published. Getting feedback at any point — not just after a challenging setback, but on a regular basis — will help you learn from both good and bad scenarios.
Internalize the motto: “I will get through this.”
As a freelancer, you already know there are plenty of challenges on the way to success. One of the most important ways to overcome those challenges and bounce back faster from setbacks is to build up your psychological resilience.
Believe in yourself, and practice motivational techniques. I’ve done this myself by writing a motivational letter I can read over when things get tough. It reminds me of who I am at my best, what I’ve been able to achieve and all the unique strengths I possess to take me forward.
It sounds simple enough, but resilience and perseverance can only be built with patience and practice. Ongoing skill development should be central to any freelancer’s evolving career.
Realize: “I don’t have all the answers.”
Some of the best strengths many freelancers possess are confidence, independence and self-assurance. But sometimes these traits make us forget that we don’t always have all the answers.
Remember to always ask questions and seek advice from the people with whom you work. Start out with: “Are you happy with how things have been going so far?” and, “Is there anything you think we could improve on?” You may come across new information that could help you improve your latest project or resolve a particular problem. Plus, asking questions now can save you time and headaches further down the line.
Stay forward-thinking: “How can I shape the future for the better?”
As a freelancer, one of the qualities you already have is the willingness to challenge the norm of the salaried 9-to-5 office job to pursue your own path. Successful freelancers never settle for the status quo; they’re always pushing the limits in their field.
Remember to keep pushing, and don’t be afraid to go against the grain or pioneer a new approach. When I’ve suggested new content formats or alternative topics to clients, I’ve received positive feedback and commendation for taking initiative — which leaves a good impression and makes clients more likely to consider me for future work.
Build on your abilities: “How can I refocus my attention?”
Even when you put your best foot forward, things don’t always go according to plan. You need to be ready to adapt your time, approach and expectations as necessary.
One of the best skills I’m continually developing — and it’s not at all easy — is the ability to switch from one client to another or go from one topic to a wildly different one, all within a short period of time. A good way to simplify this is to make it physical. If my attention needs to be diverted to something else to handle a crisis or meet a deadline, I often try to go for a quick walk or run to clear my thoughts, or even move my work space to another location entirely. For example, moving from your office to your living room or from a coffee shop to the park can help you reorient to the new work. The better you become at adapting to new requirements, the more efficient you’ll be — allowing you to save valuable time.
Care for yourself: “Do I always put my mental and physical health first?”
Self-love is important for everyone, but particularly for freelancers. We spend more time facing uncertainty, and we tend to do more of it alone. So make it a priority to take time for yourself and your family. That way, you’ll avoid the ugly stages of burnout. And most importantly, you’ll keep yourself from feeling constantly overwhelmed by your work.
Learn to recognize the difference between drive and obsession, and remember that your mental and physical health are fundamental to the success of your business. When you take care of yourself and manage your workload effectively, your business — and your clients — will benefit greatly.
Being a successful freelancer often comes down to the attitude with which you approach the ever-changing world of self-employment. But when you incorporate the above mindsets into your daily routine, you can approach your work more positively — which will only serve to attract more potential clients.