Building A Successful Freelancer Mindset

If you want to be a successful freelancer, you need to change the way you think.

Whenever I do an event I talk about a lot about mindset. I never used to, I would just jumped and showed them the tactical things they needed to do.

But with age and experience comes wisdom, and I’ve come to learn something very important…

You can give people the best strategies, you can literally hand them the blueprints for success on a silver platter, but if they don’t have the right mindset it’s a waste of time.

If YOU don’t have the right mindset in this land of freelancing, you will not succeed.

There’s an age-old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This saying couldn’t ring truer when it comes to freelancing. And I can prove it.

Creating the Right Mindset

Since I’ve started the Freelancer Alliance, I get a message from someone every day that basically says: “Hey, can you send me clients?”

Ummm, no. And here’s why...

I want to teach you how to fish. If I just give you clients, I’m just handing you the fish. But without the right skills to manage that client, you’re probably going to ruin the relationship. And furthermore, once you’re done with that client, you won’t know how to go out and get more.

If I give you clients, if I simply hand over the fish, then I haven’t taught you how to get the clients for yourself; I’m only feeding you for a day instead of teaching you how to feed yourself for life.

Because here’s the honest truth - if you are not willing to learn, then no one can help you. If you want a short cut, if you’re not willing to take the time and energy to learn what I’m teaching you, then I can’t help you. No one can help you. 

You have to invest in yourself, and you have to take the time to learn all the other skills you need to be a well-rounded freelancer.

It all starts with mindset. And to create the proper mindset, you need to change the way you think about:

  1. Failure
  2. Rejection
  3. Self-awareness
  4. Patience

The Reality of Failing

Let’s start with failure. The first thing you need to know is this – you will try things and you will fail. It’s just the reality.

I’m a big fan of mountain biking and it’s a sport I love to do with my teenage son. Anyone familiar with mountain biking knows that when you’re learning you fall.  A lot.  So we have a mantra on the trail…

“If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.”

This is the same mindset that you need to adopt as a freelancer. You need to understand that when you fail, you have a choice. You can either let your failure demoralize you and give up, or you can choose to see each failure as a lesson that brings you one step closer to success.

If you choose the first option, you’re not going to get very far. If you let failure overwhelm you, if you choose to focus on failure as a negative thing, then you will quit before you’ve really given yourself a chance to succeed.

You need to realize that with any new endeavor, like freelancing, that you’re going to try things and that sometimes they’re not going to work out. And that’s OK, because when you try something and it doesn’t work out, you now have the opportunity to change direction.

So instead of seeing failure as a giant wall preventing you from achieving your goals, think of it as a wall that is now stopping you from continuing down a path that isn’t working. Maybe you tried out a freelance website and you got nowhere. Great! Now you know that website isn’t for you.

Failure is now redirecting to try something else, not preventing you from trying again. Every single time you fail you are one step closer to the time that will work, if you’re willing to learn from it.

Remember, to be a freelancer, you have to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, and entrepreneurs know that failure is par for the course. In fact, there are very few, if any, successful entrepreneurs that have not failed at least once during their careers. But entrepreneurs know that each failure is an opportunity to learn. 

Facing Rejection

Now let’s talk about rejection.

Like failure, you will face rejection. You will never close 100% of the jobs you go after. But rejection is tough. In fact, I think rejection is one of the hardest things for the average person to face.

Whenever I do a live conference, I ask the audience: “who here loves to sell?”  And in a room of 500 people, maybe ten will put up their hands. Why? Because no one likes to be rejected.  Everybody has this innate fear of rejection. 

But the fact is, as a freelancer, you need to be okay with rejection. You actually need to embrace rejection, because with experience, you’ll come to realize that it’s actually just a numbers game.

I have a sales floor in one of my businesses. Every day they are on the phone calling people and selling products. They don’t fear rejection because they know that it’s a numbers game. They know that if they call ten people, (for example) only one person is going to say yes.

This means that they will be rejected nine times. So, by the time they get to that ninth rejection, they actually get excited because they know that a yes is coming soon.

It’s the same with freelancing. With time and experience, you will learn how many jobs you need to apply to before you get a yes. Every time you are rejected, you come one step closer to the client that is going to say yes. You’ll begin to see a pattern. When you apply for x number of jobs, then you’ll get x number of yesses. For example, maybe you’ll see that you need to apply for fifty jobs before you get one, but then you’ll know that your number is ‘one in fifty’.

This means that you will need to face 49 rejections before you land that one yes. But, when you shift your mindset, and start to view rejection as a positive thing, as something that is bringing you closer to the client that will say yes, then rejection becomes something that will propel, not repel.

I was very fortunate early in life because I was forced to face rejection right out of high school. During that time, I had a job as a door-to-door vacuum salesman. I was 18 years old, trying to sell people a $2,000 vacuum cleaner, which is an obscenely expensive for a vacuum cleaner not just for the early 90s, but even for today. Needless to say, I faced a lot of rejection. I had so many doors slammed in my face, I’m surprised my face wasn’t permanently flattened. But, through that experience, I learned early on that it really is a numbers game.

As a freelancer, you will knock on a lot of doors and have a lot of doors slammed in your face. But keep knocking, there is a client waiting for you behind one of them!

Developing Self-Awareness

Along with your mindset about failure and rejection, self-awareness is very important as a freelancer.

Lawrence Bossidy says: “Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.”

One of the most important things you need to be successful as a solopreneur is self-awareness.  You need to learn how to see situations through a different lens; you need to don your ‘self-aware’ glasses.

For example, when you have a conversation with a potential client and it doesn’t go well, you can’t just toss your arms up in the air and say, “well that guy’s a jerk” and walk away. You need to assess the situation and ask yourself:

“Where did I go wrong?”

“What could I have done differently or better?”

“What can I learn from this?”

All too often, when we don’t get the outcome we want we blame the other person. We convince ourselves that that person was a jerk and that we didn’t want to work with that person anyway. But this is not helpful, and this can prevent you from getting future clients.

When something goes wrong, you need to have a candid talk with yourself. You need to ask yourself ‘why didn’t that go well?’ And when you have a client relationship that goes sideways, you need to ask yourself how that happened.

Was there something you could have done, within your sphere of control, that would have changed the outcome?

These are not easy conversations to have, but freelancers need overcome ego and develop self-awareness, because it’s how they learn and grow. In fact, self-awareness is not just important in freelancing, it’s important in life. We all make mistakes, but if we can’t take responsibility for those mistakes, if we can’t learn from them, then we are destined to keep making the same mistakes over and over.

And if you’re making a mistake that’s harming your client relationships, or preventing you from getting clients, then you need to get over yourself and fix that mistake. 

Self-awareness is monumental, and your mindset needs to reflect this.

Patience, young grasshopper...

And last but not least…patience. 

Patience, my freelancing friends, is paramount.

“Patience is not about doing nothing. Patience is about constantly doing everything you can, but being patient about the results.”

Building any kind of a business or any kind of a career takes patience. It’s not going to happen overnight. Today may seem insurmountable, it might seem like there are mountains in front of you and there’s no way you’ll ever be able to get to the top. But every mountain, no matter how big, is climbed the same way – one step at a time.

In the moment, it may feel like you’re not making progress, you’re not making money, you’re not growing – it may feel like you’re not even moving towards that mountain, let alone climbing it. But a year from now, you’ll look back and you’ll see all that you’ve accomplished.

You’ll suddenly realize that you’re half-way up the mountain, that you’ve had growth, that you’ve made progress. It’s a struggle to strike out on your own, and it can feel like a struggle every day, but you have to keep moving forward, one small task, one job, one project, one client at a time. 

You need to be patient and not give up too soon. If you are persistent, you will get there.

So remember…

Fear not failure, let it redirect you to something that works.

Revere rejection, and let it lead you to right client.

Commit to seeing situations through the lens of self-awareness.

And be patient while you persevere, because with perseverance comes progress.

These are the ways you need to think as you embark on your freelancing journey; these are the mindsets you need to adopt as you push forward, towards the fabulous and frightening freelancing frontier.

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