3 Things You Need to Know to be a Successful Freelancer

Oftentimes, freelance grant writers and nonprofit consultants are ready to go. They have their packages ready, they know their mission and vision, and they have a functional website and followers on LinkedIn, but they are hearing crickets.

In this article, I am going to give you the first step into getting more clients. It’s probably not going to be what you think. But it’s really the most important step. 

Next week, I will give you specific strategies that will help you connect with and gain new clients. 

However, this is step one, and it’s a doozy because it’s not all fun and games to invest your time and money into a business if you don’t have clients to pay you yet!

Many people stop before they really get started. Or, they think they got started, but they didn’t really

You might be in that situation today. You might think you are committed to opening your consultancy business and you’ve done the X, Y, and Z to get started. 

I mean, your website is lit. You’ve got social media followers or at least have a LinkedIn profile. Somebody really cool that you admire even commented on one of your posts. You’ve MADE it! 

However, the honeymoon isn’t paying the bills. And, in fact, it’s already over.

You’re hearing crickets, and you’re taking it personally. 

The “I’m not really good enough” mantra is on repeat in your mind and that cloud has covered you up. 

“Why did I think I could do this?” You constantly catch yourself thinking.

Then, it hits like I train, “How did I think I could do this?” 

The imposter syndrome sets in like a heavy boulder in a pond. 

And now you are on LinkedIn, Idealist, or Google checking out job announcements. 

Because, you reckon, “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this.” 

But this isn’t the real issue or even the true issue. 

If you really got down to it that would be playing the victim. Yep, I’m about to go Grant Cardone-harsh on you for a minute, but really it’s because I love you and I want to see those clients paying you and you helping get nonprofits funded.

The reality is that it can feel easier to play the victim than taking the responsibility. Ouch, what??

#1. It Always Takes More Time, Effort, and Money Than You Think

Yes, we hear this but just like Gigi in “He’s Just Not That into You” we think we are the exception. And it’s not that we even say that we are the exception out loud, we just know a person who knows a person who is related to someone who arrived at their amazing millionaire status overnight. The wonderful world of social media doesn’t help this out as everyone’s life is so filtered and polished. 

The thing is, developing anything always takes more time, effort, and money than you think. 

When new to consulting, sometimes we fall into the thinking that 90% of our day will be writing grants or that we are now the boss so we don’t need to write so many grants because we can work our own schedule. 

We just didn’t realize that we would play each role at the company. You, as a consultant are the CEO, the grant writer, the administrative assistant, the marketing director, the bookkeeper, the IT specialist, the website designer, and the development director. You are every single role. Sure, you may hire out certain roles, but you are responsible for and the leader on every single task. 

During the first two years of being a consultant, I was just in learning curve mode. Everything was about learning a new task. Yes, I do outsource many of those items these days (I don’t have employees, but I do hire consultants), but I really needed to understand many of those roles by doing them so I can provide guidance. Also, I learned what I like to do in and on the business.

But that took time. A lot of it. I did not arrive overnight, and neither did any of the entrepreneurs that I know.

This also takes a lot of effort. Learning new things and how to operate in different roles can be stressful. It’s important to keep going, but you won’t necessarily clock out every night at five in the evening.

And, yes, it also takes money. 

I am a firm believer in bootstrapping and starting with low hanging services. 

Having very limited overhead expenses is the joy of a consultant. Your time and knowledge are most of your expenses. You don’t need crazy inventory like a product company.

In this way, you are able to work out of your house and write off a percentage of your rent. You basically need a computer, internet, and some subscriptions. 

You are super lucky. But you will get wooed. That latest phone with all the gadgets, the most expensive photographer for that photoshoot, and after you screwed up your website again you will pay any web developer any amount they charge! 

Stick to your guns. I am not saying any of that is bad at all. You should always go for quality when you purchase items. But the highest expense isn’t always the highest quality. Learn how to get reviews and recommendations from other consultants. You can find them in LinkedIn Groups, Facebook groups, or in meet-up groups.

The fact of the matter is that even though consultants typically have lower overhead than other types of companies, there will be costs that you just didn’t account for. The computer breaks, your client is on a payment plan, state taxes are weirdly higher than you thought, and you didn’t see that all those tiny little memberships would add up like they do!

However, if you are putting WAY too much time and effort into cutting your overhead and it’s crippling you, then you need to outsource. For example, if you are spending hours upon hours which turn into weeks and weeks getting your website just perfect then you aren’t spending time writing grants.

Chances are you can find someone who is actually really good to work on your website for way less than what you could make with that time writing grants and securing clients. The other thing is.. do you really need that website before you get clients? You might start first in your community. Afterall, Consulting is a relationship business

So, if you are freaking out because it is taking more effort, time and money then you thought, relax for a minute. You aren’t a loser because this is happening. It is totally normal to be overly confident and overly positive when starting something new. 

From the book, “The 12-Week Year” the Emotional Cycle of Change states that, “A decision to make a significant positive change in life is almost always accompanied by an immediate wave of optimism. This optimistic mindset arises in large part, from anticipation of a future state where frustrations, difficulties, and discomforts are reduced, and status, satisfaction and happiness are increased. Further inflating the sense of optimism, the brain tends to discount the future costs of implementing the change. While the early optimism is exciting, it is based only upon thinking. That’s why this initial phase of thinking is called ‘uninformed optimism.’ This optimism is useful to get us moving quickly, the problem is that it does not last long when confronted with the reality of taking action.”

We all do this. You hear it with your family and friends. You know that new job that they are talking about that will solve all their problems? And they are so convincing when they talk to you all starry-eyed and tell you the list of reasons why it’s so perfect. But then they get the job and soon the grumbling might start again. Things aren’t exactly as rosy as they thought. 

Even starting a new diet or routine is like this for us! We are so positive. And then reality hits. It always takes more time, effort, and money than we think. 

Don’t even get me started on the thinking of what being a mom will be like and what actually being a mom is like. Lol. 

#2. Getting Over the Fear of Rejection

Maybe you’re thinking that just because you mention that you’re a grant writer that you will have people busting down your door. And sometimes they will! But most of the time they want your free advice. They want to pick your brain. They are nonprofits with no budgets so they ask you to do pro bono work.

Remember, you have a skill. You need to pay your bills. A lawyer or a doctor probably wouldn’t just donate hours of time giving them advice or treating them. You are a specialist, and you should get paid for your knowledge and expertise.

Not everyone is going to want your services. Not everyone is going to be able to afford your services. I know it feels like rejection when you put your services out there and nobody buys. 

The thing is people aren’t looking at you and saying you aren’t good enough. Realize that in business your services WILL get rejected. 

Now, take a deep breath. Think about how you as a consumer weigh the pros and cons to all of your purchases and who you hire for jobs. Once in a while you hire that plumber because they are so nice, but usually not. You go for the person who does the best job and charges competitively. If they are nice, that is a bonus. 

We are in the day and age of making purchases based strictly on reviews. So when people are rejecting your services start to think why. Do you not have any testimonials or reviews? Are you too overpriced or underpriced? 

Yes, being underpriced can do you a disservice as people may associate that with you being cheap and not good quality. Maybe it’s because you are approaching the wrong type of nonprofit. Check out this article for more information on how to know your ideal nonprofit!

Overall, think about how you purchase and then look at your brand as a consumer. Also, ask for feedback. This will give you great insight on getting over the fear of rejection and instead using this as a tool to start getting more clients.

#3. Dismantling Imposter Syndrome

Okay, maybe you aren’t an expert as much as you thought you were. But if you have taken a grant writing course or written a grant, you are a few steps ahead of someone who never has done it at all. But to really market this as a service, you do need some experience. 

If you take the time to intern at a nonprofit and write some grants, or open a podcast and interview other experts so you can learn, or review grants as a panelist then you are getting ahead. 

And if you already are a grant writer and have years of experience under your belt it doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically know how to be a freelancer. Doing the job and running the business are different things. As we identified before, you need to know more than just grant writing to run a business. 

To get over imposter syndrome, you need to continue to learn, read articles, listen to (ahem) podcasts, and write grants. Also, realize you aren’t going to know it all. I’ve been writing grants for more than 15 years, but I still don’t know it all at all. That’s why I invite experts onto the podcast and share other blogs and articles and resources.

To Sum Up

So, take a deep breath. 

Realize that exactly where you are right now. 

Stop Googling jobs just for a minute and realize that you have invested a lot of time, effort, and money into becoming a freelancer already, that rejection isn’t personal but a tool to move forward, and that you are not an imposter! You have something to offer.

Realize that you might not be able to replace your salary immediately, or in a year, by starting a consultancy, but in the long-term you can break through that glass ceiling of what you previously earned. 

That by going through the beginnings and not giving up that you will have learned how to run your company from the bottom up. You will be able to guide all levels.

Know that it isn’t you, but that you are the one that has to take responsibility to actually make this work. And you can. Most businesses don’t and that is why they fail. 

But because you now know that all is normal, you have a choice to make this work. 


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