Do you have what it takes to become a successful freelancer?

Do you have what it takes to become a successful freelancer
FAIR WARNING: What I’m about to share with you is harsh. I get real and I share actual numbers. Hopefully by stepping outside of my comfort zone, I can motivate and inspire you to have the right mindset to succeed at freelancing.

By the end of this post, you’ll walk away with a fresh perspective and a mindset that will fuel your desire to accomplish goals and succeed.

Playing the long term game

Five years ago, I made the risky decision to quit my part-time job in order to freelance full-time.

I was fresh out of college, still lived with my parents, and after working with several clients on the side, the idea of freelancing was something I could see myself doing for a living.

I jumped into freelancing with little experience:

  • I had never owned or operated a business.
  • I only worked with a handful of clients up to this point.
  • I didn’t know the first thing about marketing myself.
  • My portfolio was mainly comprised of school projects.
  • I didn’t know the first thing about pricing projects.

I was a complete amateur.

But I had the one thing it takes to be a freelancer: a committed work ethic that fueled my passion to succeed.

I didn’t dive into freelance thinking I’d make a lot of money right away; I just wanted to do something I loved for a living: design.

I believed I was making my dream job a reality, so it was only a matter of using this mindset to succeed. With the goal of making a living as a freelance graphic designer, I now had to show up and make a livable income of it.

At the time, I needed to make a consistent minimum of $700 a month in order to make ends meet.

How long do you think it was before I started meeting this goal?

3 months? 8 months?

In my first year of freelancing full-time, I barely made over $8,000. Just to give you an idea, plenty of freelancers charge $8,000 for a single project! I was making that much in an entire year.

Year two into freelancing full-time, I was barely making over $500 a month. Some months were better than others, some months I didn’t make anything at all.

Though I was making progress, I was struggling to make a livable income. Not to mention, I really needed to get out of my parents’ house at this point.

Fast forward 3 more years, and I’m now making 3x more a month! (And I no longer live with my parents! Woo-hoo!) After five years of freelancing full-time, I’m just now making a livable income.

I’ve met my long term goal!

What’s different? What changed in those three years that allowed me to make a livable income with freelancing?

Nothing changed.

When I thought I was at my lowest low, and I was ready to throw in the towel, I knew I’d come so far. I needed the right mindset to push past those first two years, to set goals and strive to meet them. And I did.

The only thing I did was put myself out there more, and strived to do good work.

In those first two years, I was learning, planning, and working my butt off to make my goal a reality. I was planning to succeed.

Playing the long term game and planning to succeed

If you want to freelance and make a few extra hundred bucks here and there, that’s great – you do that. But this next advice isn’t for you, it’s for those looking to work from home and build a sustainable business doing what they love.

You can’t make money today with freelancing.

You can’t make a living by next year with freelancing.

What you’d make this year is only half of what you could be making the next.

Freelancing is a long-term career just like any other, but the difference is you’re building it from nothing.

If your goal is to pay your bills doing what you love, and you’re trying to do it right now and expect results, then you’re going to end up compromising on the wrong things – things that will be a disservice to your long term goal.

Compromising will create hurdles for you, which prolongs the time it takes to succeed, and can sometimes put you further behind on achieving your end goal.

I receive at least one email a week from someone looking to start freelancing, and they want to know the secret formula to leaving their job to work for themselves, but they want the results of a livable income right now.

What those people don’t consider, is it may take 6–8 months to quit their job. You need to build a padding of savings before you even consider quitting.

Additionally, you can’t quit your job until you’ve validated the idea of freelancing. You need to have some sort of freelance experience under your belt, because even if you had six months of savings, it’s going to take at least a year for you to fully grasp working for yourself.

Freelancing is not a get-rich-quick career path, and it’s not easy to succeed in.

Everyone wants to hear the microwavable advice, but that’s not what will make you succeed long term.

What will make you succeed, is realizing you have to work towards freelancing for two years before you scratch the surface to making it a sustainable career. If you aren’t willing to work for prolonged results, then you won’t make it as a freelancer.

If you can’t dedicate your time and efforts to your future career for two years, then it’s not a career. It’s a hobby at best, and you can’t make a livable income on a hobby.

The advice you need to succeed is out there for free, but only the act of doing it will get you there. If you want to become a successful freelancer, how are you going to make it happen?

Start with setting a goal…

You’ve read this far, now I want you to actually do something – not for me, but for yourself.

Write down ONE long term goal.

Type it out in a text editor. Email it to yourself. Write it on a sticky note – it doesn’t matter. Write down one long term goal and don’t limit it to your current reality or what you think you can accomplish.

What do you want in life? Where do you wish you could be one day?

Next, create an action plan.

Write down 20 tasks that will lead you to accomplish your long term goal.

If my goal were to make the jump to freelance full-time, and make a living off it, my first 5 tasks might look like:

  1. Find a day job that can pay my bills while I plan my freelance career.
  2. Create my freelance business plan.
  3. Estimate how much I’d need to earn each month to make ends meet as a freelancer.
  4. Take on one new client project (to validate the idea).
  5. Compile a folder of my best work and plan my new portfolio website.

The first 5 tasks will be easy to come up with — 10, a little harder — and you’re going to struggle getting to 20, but I don’t want you to stop until you do.

Come up with every action you could possibly take that will help you reach that goal you’ve written down.

Now pick ONE thing from that list and start doing it.

Just pick one, and take that one small step towards your goal. Then repeat this every day if you can. If not every day, then every chance you get. If you can work these tasks into your schedule, the faster you’ll progress towards making your dream come true.

Everyone is capable of making their dream a reality. But the difference is, most people aren’t willing to put in the time. If you can’t do that—if you can’t set a goal and actively work towards accomplishing it, then I’m afraid to say, you don’t have what it takes to be a successful freelancer.

To those that are actively hustling and working towards their long term goal, keep at it! Even better, leave a comment below with your goal and what tasks you’re currently working on.

I’ll kick things off and comment with my current goal, and what I’m actively doing to help meet that goal. See you in the comments!


  1. My current goal and tasks: My partner and I (alongside our day jobs) want to start our own web design business and freelance together. To do this, I’m currently working on the branding and portfolio design, while he starts to put content together so we can launch our portfolio & blog with a bit of breathing room.

  2. Hi Femke, what I really like about your plan is how you’re delegating certain responsibilities between yourself and your partner. It’s a great way to split the work load and keep the quality of design and content. Keep it up!

  3. My current goal and tasks I’m doing to make it happen: I’m currently working on creating a an email list targeting companies that are in need of (or may want to) improve their website’s effectiveness in making sales. I’m creating a free e-book to offer visitors of my own website and educating them on ways to improve their website – design, copy, and layout. My hope is that by educating companies on the importance of a well thought out website, they can be more susceptible to hiring a freelance website copywriter to help write their websites. I am done writing the content and what I need to do in the next week is put it into pdf format, and write out email auto-response emails, then post the e-mail opt-in form on my front page.

  4. That sounds like a solid plan, Alex! Thanks for sharing! With my transition back over to my personal site, I too am revamping my other newsletter and working on some sort of free incentive to give to subscribers. Feel free to reply back here once you have it all finished – I’d love to check it out! 🙂

  5. I love your emails, Brent, they are always very insightful and to the point. Thank you for taking time to share this! 😀

    My current goal is to relocate my budding business to another country + rebrand it to fully comprise of my passion(s). The relocation part will be both fresh and good for my business, but also scary and difficult. I will start the process of writing down the 20 steps asap.

    Thanks again.

  6. Awesome story! It sounds similar to mine 🙂 I quit my 9-5 job 2.5 years ago to become a freelancer. I didn’t know how to market myself either and it was definitely an adjustment getting used to not having a schedule or a steady pay check. I found other ways to make some money on the side to help pay my bills, which I’m very grateful for as they have been helping me out, but I’m not fully happy doing those. My passion is designing and time freedom. I agree it takes time and consistent hard work to build up your freelance career, but it’s worth it! I’ve tripled my income since I started and am very proud of myself for that, but am always working on ways to improve. My current goal is to find ways to make more passive income, so they can take the place of my side jobs and I can focus more on doing what I love: designing! 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  7. Hi Brent!

    My current goal and tasks I’m doing to make it happen: Currently my business partner is finishing an animation for our first client, while I put together a folder of our best work for the portfolio section of our website. We are hoping to finish the animation this week to add it to our portfolio. We have both worked on our website for a few weeks now, and now the final part is to finish the portfolio section. Thank you for your insight!

  8. Great article – I myself just hit the two years/liveable income milestone, and it was great to hear that taking that long to build a real business is common!
    Right now my big goal is to refine my business to fit MY personality & taste, and find clients that are attracted to that, and move away from the jack-of-all-trades/styles business I have been doing. The main tasks I’ve set for myself to reach that goal are creating personal projects that are the kind of work I want to do, launching a blog (preparing for its launch next month), becoming more present & vocal online, and reading many more design & illustration blogs.

  9. Great post, I think it’s the most honest post I’ve read about starting a freelance career!
    And I couldn’t agree more, in fact I could have written that post, it’s the story of my freelance life!

    What you are saying is totally true:” those first two years, I was learning, planning, and working my butt off to make my goal a reality. I was planning to succeed”.

    A few years ago, after being a part-time freelancer, I decided to give up my steady job.
    I’ve worked countless hours reading about marketing, learning new things about different aspects, organizing my office, starting a blog and a website, promoting my work, without earning a single penny (but also, without spending more than a few pennies!).
    The good thing is that I’ve enjoyed doing all those things!

    “If you can’t dedicate your time and efforts to your future career for
    two years, then it’s not a career. It’s a hobby at best, and you can’t
    make a livable income on a hobby.”

    A few times I got disappointed (just for some hours!) but I never gave up, because there was nothing else that I ever wanted to do in my life than being a designer!
    If I couldn’t make it, I would have to live a miserable life.
    One year later I got the first results and, thanks to my blog, the first blog in my country (Greece) about design and psychology, I was starting to be considered as an expert.
    Two years later, I was proud to have the clients I dreamed to have, I mean nice people who appreciate my work and we have a perfect communication.

    “Everyone is capable of making their dream a reality. But the difference is, most people aren’t willing to put in the time. If you can’t do that—if you can’t set a goal and actively work towards accomplishing it, then I’m afraid to say, you don’t have what it takes to be a successful freelancer.”

    That’s the only secret, you’ve said it perfectly.
    We just have to be in love with our job, then the rest come easily.

    Thanks Brent, you’ve made my day (and it’s Saturday)!
    (I hope you don’t mind that I wrote a whole post, can’t get rid of the blogger’s habit!)

  10. My current goal and the tasks I’m doing to make it happen:
    I’m currently starting to plan my freelance business & position myself to start taking on clients. To do this, I’m researching what it takes to become a freelancer.

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