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August 1, 2023

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05 MIN.

5 biggest lessons from freelancers who've been in the game 5+ years

Are you thinking about becoming a social media freelancer? Maybe you need a bit more insider knowledge before you take the leap!

Bella Foxwell

Bella Foxwell

5 biggest lessons from freelancers who've been in the game 5+ years

Are you thinking about becoming a social media freelancer?

Maybe you need a bit more insider knowledge before you take the leap. 

I get it. 

That’s why I spoke to 5 seasoned freelancers who have a combined total of 31 years’ of experience to offer their pearls of wisdom.

I asked them: “If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice as a new freelancer, what would it be?”.

Want to know what they told me?

Let’s find out! 


  1. Connect with other freelancers
  2. Set boundaries with clients
  3. Know when to stop working for free (sooner than you think!)
  4. Don’t make your job your life
  5. Get an accountant

  1. Connect with other freelancers – Michelle, freelancing for 8 years

Michelle’s biggest piece of advice after 8 years freelancing is to connect with other freelancers.

“When I first became a social media freelancer, I had this strange belief that I had to go it totally alone. I thought that hanging out with the competition might be detrimental to my job but in fact, the opposite is true.


There’s more than enough work to go around and spending time with people in a similar position to you is a great way to exchange knowledge, get tips on what’s working right now in the industry, and most importantly, discuss all the things your 9-5 friends don’t understand!”

I, like Michelle, have found networking with other freelancers a huge source of support, inspiration, and on multiple occasions, work.

But if you’re wondering how exactly you can connect with fellow freelancers when none of your existing friends are in the same boat, fear not! 

That’s exactly the situation I found myself in, so I had to be proactive about networking.

When I began freelancing in early 2020, I joined a monthly ‘women in business’ networking group for $20 a month that initially met in person and then, when the pandemic hit, moved online. 

This was a fantastic way to meet other like-minded people — all of whom were running different, interesting businesses to my own. 

  1. Set boundaries with clients – Nia, freelancing for 7 years

Nia says that her biggest freelancing lesson took her years to figure out.

“It took me WAY too long to wake up and realize that the beauty of freelancing is that YOU are in charge, not your clients. You don’t need to answer work emails outside of your preferred working hours. You don’t have to respond to a Whatsapp message within 20 minutes of receiving it. 

While this is almost inevitable when you first start freelancing (thanks to the fear of all work suddenly drying up, which does subside — I promise), don’t let it become a consistent part of your freelancing career.

Because the truth is, (almost all) clients appreciate boundaries as much as you do. They like to know whether they should use email or Slack to communicate. They like to know when you will be offline or online. It keeps things clear and simple.

They won’t, as I used to think, find you too demanding or difficult to work with if you set boundaries right from the start of your relationship. Spell these out in your contract so they’re super clear from the beginning and you’ll save yourself difficult conversations later down the line.” 

I couldn’t agree with Nia more, but it took me at least a year into my freelancing career to ‘formalize’ my boundaries as she suggests.

Now, whenever I onboard a new client, they get a lovely form explaining my ways of working, which includes preferred channels of communication, hours/days that I do and don’t work, and average response times. 

This level of transparency has never been questioned by any of my clients. In fact, it offers up an opportunity for them to tell me if they have any boundaries that they’d like me to respect.

  1. Know when to stop working for free (sooner than you think!) – Claire, freelancing for 5 years

Claire, who’s been working as a social media manager in the beauty industry for the last five years, gave this advice.

“There’s no shame in working for free. Most of us will have to do that in the beginning, especially if you realize a bit later on (like I did) that social media is what you want to do… not accountancy!

However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working for low or no pay. Especially if you enjoy the work or get entangled with a client who’s learned to expect things for free.

Before you take the leap into the world of freelancing, decide how long you’re willing to work for free (or at discounted rates). For example, you might create 6 TikTok videos for a dream brand you’d love to work for. You do this for free because you want to show the brand’s social media team what you’re capable of. This actually happened at the last company I worked for and we ended up hiring someone who pitched us her amazing content!

Take another example. You might send a proposal to a client offering a discounted rate for your services for a couple of months, to give yourself a chance to show them what’s possible.

All of this is ok and very standard for a new freelance social media manager. Just make sure you have a limit on how much and how long you’re willing to work for free. As soon as you have a couple of testimonials under your belt, start charging your worth.

If you’re wondering what ‘charging your worth’ actually means, this is where networking with other freelancers comes in so handy.

You can find out the kind of fees people are charging for services very similar to your own. This is usually much more reliable than a Google search, which throws up a huge variety of freelancer rates depending on your niche and where you live.

  1. Don’t make your job your life – Emma, freelancing for 5 years

Emma talks candidly about the importance of not losing yourself to freelancing.

A couple of years into freelancing I burned out hard. I’d been juggling too many clients, working every weekend, and even though I was making more money than I’d ever made before, I was completely exhausted. I ended up having to quit work completely for four months and almost gave up freelancing altogether. 

That’s a lesson I wish I could go back and teach my younger self – not to glamorize freelancing too much or make it my whole identity. This is easier said than done when you don’t have the guarantee of a fixed monthly income like you do in a full-time salaried role. 

However, the sooner you seek balance in your life, the less likely you are to burn out and throw in the freelancing towel. After this happened to me, I made some big changes. I proactively sought out longer-term retainer contracts to ensure my income was more predictable. I made a rule to only work 2 hours over the weekend (if I really had to). I made it clear with clients when and how they could contact me. 

Since then I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled in both work and life… it is possible!

While I didn’t burn out in the same way that Emma did, I can certainly relate to her experience of keeping a crazy schedule just because I could.

With no manager or colleagues to give you perspective (and help set boundaries), it’s really easy to say “yes” to everything because you’re fearful that work will dry up.

Now while that feeling never completely goes away, it definitely quietens with experience and a dash of self-belief… and with the mental clarity and headspace to be able to reflect on things rationally, which you can only do with a degree of work-life balance!

  1. Get an accountant – Jess, freelancing for 6 years

When Jess gave me her biggest freelancing lesson after 10 years in the game, I replied immediately with the words “OMG YES!”.

Three words: get an accountant. Seriously. You don’t need the stress of taxes weighing on your shoulders as a new freelancer. My accountant is worth his weight in gold and I’m SO glad I brought him on board before I quit my full-time job. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made (and it’s not even that much money in the grand scheme of things!).

I couldn’t echo Jess’s sentiment more. Finding an accountant is one of the first things you should do when you go freelance. 

They’ll help optimize your business, reduce your taxes, and show you all the various ways you could be making or saving money. 

Let’s wrap it up

The world of freelancing shouldn’t feel scary or confusing.

By learning from others’ mistakes and experiences, you can carve out a freelance career that is both successful and enables you to do all the things you love outside of work, too.

To discover more articles about time management, productivity hacks, and social media strategy as a freelancer, check out our dedicated Creator’s Advice.

the writer
Bella Foxwell

Bella Foxwell

Copywriter @Iconosquare

Hey! I'm Bella. Super curious about any new feature released on social media platforms. I do have a preference for Instagram, even though each platform has its specificity ;)


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