Going Freelance? Project Confidence and Stop Apologizing!

Man with confident shadow

Going freelance? Your success obviously depends on talent. But your self-confidence matters too.

Launching a freelance career in the creative industry can challenge your confidence like nothing you’ve done before, especially at first. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. When I started my own freelance copywriting business more than 13 years ago, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it either.

Many things may feel new and uncomfortable, but that’s no reason to sell yourself short with “pre-apologies” to potential clients (or just to yourself) like:

  • “I haven’t been doing this very long, but…”
  • “I’m not very good at this yet, but...”
  • “I don’t have a lot of experience, but…”

Nothing sends the message “I’m an amateur” more clearly than negative statements like these. But however true they may seem to you, you’ll need to get over this feeling quickly to get your new freelance career off the ground. Here are six ways to overcome the urge to pre-apologize, boost your confidence, and build your credibility:

1. Start believing in yourself

Recognizing the value of what you do is a critical part of building your confidence. If you don’t have a strong idea of what that value is — not to yourself, but to the clients you want to serve — then get an outside opinion. The best advice will come from others who are already working in your field. Show them your work samples or portfolio and listen carefully to their opinions. Failing that, consult a trusted friend, mentor or a professional recruiter.

2. Embrace professionalism

Getting your first few clients is going to require commitments of time, money, or both. Even if you don’t have any paying gigs yet, you’re already earning the right to think and act like a professional if you’re making serious startup investments like leaving your full-time job, buying computer equipment and supplies, setting up a website, joining trade associations, and attending networking events or conferences. This doesn’t mean you can act cocky or entitled, but give yourself some credit for being brave enough to invest in yourself.

3. Don’t make negative comparisons

There will always be someone more experienced than you. Someone will always be making more money, working faster, and gaining more clients. In my opinion, tallying up your shortcomings compared to other freelancers isn’t going to get you anywhere except a therapist’s office.

When you meet with potential clients, tell yourself that where you are now is enough for today. You’ll feel and act more confident, and will probably reach the point where you have the resources to make improvements much sooner.

4. Play to your strengths

Set yourself up for early success by targeting businesses you’re already somewhat familiar with first. You might seek out clients in a market you know from an in-house career or one inspired by a strong personal interest or hobby. That’s not to say that you can’t start from scratch with something completely new, but it’s going to require more effort than “easing into” your new freelance career through a door you already know.

5. Find a safe shoulder to cry on

It’s okay to vent your frustrations and fears, but don’t do it with prospective clients. When going freelance, never tell a potential buyer that you feel like a fraud or that you struggle with the “business side” of your creative work, even — or especially — if you do. Instead, build a support network of other freelancers, friends or loved ones where you can safely let these emotions loose.

6. Be persistent

No matter what rejections you face, keep at it. Try new things to learn what works and improve your skills when you can. Sooner or later you’ll land that first gig, and then another, and another. One day you’ll wake up and realize you’re a true professional, and you’ll never feel the urge to “pre-apologize” again.

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