How Long Does It Take to Succeed as a Freelancer?

How do you measure success? How long will it take to succeed as a freelancer?

This is a common question among freelancers, and I believe that many expect long-term results from short-term effort.


Success comes by playing the long game

Much of your work as a creative comes from areas beyond your control. Clients, subs, suppliers, technology, schedules, life circumstances, and more are all beyond your ability to control. And all of these impact your daily and long-term decisions.

A single decision made today impacts your career for a long time ahead. Success is built on the series of decisions you make every day, including who to work with, how you spend your time, what kind of work you do, and whether you’re freelancing part-time or full-time.

We all want to experience success as quickly as possible, and we set out to achieve our success goals with varying amount of effort. But it’s not always up to each of us alone. Your goals are impacted by the market, technology, and circumstances. While there are many factors you can’t control, there are plenty of things you can. These include:

Your goals and your Why.
Your support system
Your network
Your skill level
Your education
Your work style
Your daily routines and rituals.

So here’s a tip: Success comes by taking control of those things within your ability to manage. You can’t simply let things happen and react. It’s a matter of making things happen through decisions and responses that will move you forward.


Success comes by taking control of things within your ability to manage.



Another tip: Let go of what you can’t control. Don’t burden yourself with things that you can’t do anything about.


Your goals and your why

You control your goals and the tactics you use to achieve them. Accept the need to be flexible in how you achieve your goals, because it’ll happen that once you set a goal, you’ll run into opposition on it.

Know your why. Your motives for freelancing — along with your personality and character — will determine how long it takes for you to succeed. If you understand what’s at stake for you and your family if you don’t achieve your goals, you will be more likely to keep driving forward on them.

Another thing you need to be aware of is that you become successful based on YOUR goals and motivations, not on those of others. You cannot create your success by working on other’s goals — even their goals imposed on you. Parents, spouses, extended family may have certain expectations for you, and you need to take care of your family and yourself, so do what’s necessary to do that. But each day, each week, keep working on your goals. Keep moving forward.


Your support system

To accomplish anything, you need people backing you up with encouragement, advice, help and prayer if you trust in that. Be careful who you share your goals with, and rely on the counsel of people who are successful.

Join a mastermind group. Or start one. Mutual support and benefit are vital to your success.

Become part of a professional association for your industry. AIGA, Society of Illustrators, Graphic Artists Guild, Media Photographers of America, etc. are trade organizations that exists to support their members and impact the professions.


Your network

Your network is not your support system. A network is made up of those people who will refer and recommend you, and who need your services. Your network should consist of clients, suppliers and fellow freelancers.

Chambers of commerce and other business networking groups, in additional to clients and suppliers, are ways you can grow your network.

Utilize social media to expand your influence. Use your LinkedIn and Behance profiles to extend your network.

Consider subscribing to Agency Access or Yodelist to build your mailing list. Each name on that list is a prospect and part of your network


Your education

Are you self-taught? Did you earn a degree?
You probably don’t know everything you need to, so take advantage of programs, courses, conferences and webinars.

Always be learning. Technology changes rapidly, and methods and expectations change with it. You cannot stop learning. Get serious about ongoing education so that you can continue to serve your clientele well. Strive to become that master designer, illustrator or photographer.

Read and stay informed about business, culture and even politics. Know what’s going on around you. You can’t create in a vacuum, and your clients need you to be knowledgable about trends and the current zeitgeist.


Your routines and rituals

How many hours do you work each week?

Do you take time to rest and play?

How do you steward your time? Are you allowing unnecessary distractions such as social media, games and email to suck your time?

Time is not a renewable resource. So how you spend it matters. Watch out for things that take time from your work and undermine your success. If those things distract you from work they’ll also steal time from your family.


Define what success means for you


In conclusion, you have to define what success is for you. And then you have to acknowledge that it’s not going to just happen. It’s not your default circumstance.

And then you need to stay focused, keep working and take advantage of opportunities that show up.

In the end, you can’t put a timeline on success. It’s different for everyone. Stop worrying that you’ve been at something for so long and it’s not working. Worry is counter productive — it’s actually destructive. Just focus on what you can control and define your own success.



Green Scheduling

Creating Rituals to Do Significant Work