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Coach and writer Jasmine Williams speaks about corporate work, hustling, and running a freelance business

Consultant, coach, and freelance writer Jasmine Williams is not a fan of office politics, and bureaucracy. She thrives on questioning things, like most creatives, and is always hungry for the freedom to explore different ways to approach a project and analyze why the other methods didn’t work.

Despite the fact that she’s almost always had side gigs, jumping from corporate to freelance was not a fairytale story. The real story is that after being laid off in 2017, she tried to go freelance full-time but it didn’t work.

The pursuit of creativity and innovation

“My first job after school was content marketing at a student job site. I was writing blogs, managing social media, that sort of thing. After a year, I spent 6 months at an online magazine, so that’s more on the journalism side,” Williams shares, continuing that she had “always felt like I didn’t fully fit in the corporate culture and all of the politics and stuff.”

“For a long time I was like, ‘what’s my problem, I was a good student but now I can’t hold down a job’ and that’s when I started thinking more about entrepreneurship,” she adds.

Williams was hungry for creativity and innovation, like most entrepreneurs and freelancers. And when you’re working a corporate job, those two things don’t always happen. Oftentimes, you’re told what to do and expected to deliver the best results. This is something Williams wasn’t fond of. “I’ve always been a bit of a disruptor kind of person. Somebody who questions the status quo and be like, ‘why are we doing things this way?’” Williams shares how she noticed getting bored too quickly at a job and says there’s always this itch to do more.

First try at freelancing full-time

After her experience at a startup, Williams found herself traveling and thought it would be a great idea to explore freelancing. “I mean, I was doing it since I was in school about second year, so it was always in the background.”

“At that point, I thought, ‘maybe it doesn’t have to be a background thing’ so I began pitching more publications.” She admits that at that time, she didn’t consider it a business but more like a freelance writer going from gig to gig. Williams quickly found herself struggling with the lack of structure and business mindset and thought to herself, “I don’t see how this is possible.”

After applying for jobs, she ended up working at a nonprofit focused on helping entrepreneurs. This fueled her entrepreneurial spirit and she shares how much she learned from that job. It allowed her to really think about her first try at freelancing full-time—why it didn’t work and what she could’ve done differently. “I just realized I was missing so many things. I didn’t market myself, I didn’t know sales or finances…” she shares.

Second shot and so many lessons learned

Mid-2018, for the second attempt at going freelance full-time, Williams began putting out feelers to see if any of her friends and colleagues had gigs for her. Her first freelance contract was with a friend who needed a part-time social media person. She coupled that part-time gig with pitching publications. Just like any freelancer, her number one goal was to be able to manage all her financial responsibilities. This time around, she’s finally learning the ropes and by heart.

However, Williams notes it really helped when she started connecting with more freelancers and coaches. “I was able to connect with a business coach and some other mentors who really helped me shape what I was doing and really think of it more like a business, which helps immensely,” she shares.

Compared to her first attempt, this was a smoother course and Williams says her goal during that first year was to, “make as much money as I was making in my [corporate] job.I was able to do that, which I was pretty proud of. But the way I did it I just hustled. I took on whatever was available and I look at that year and I look at all the invoices I sent, it was just so many small projects. It wasn’t very organized.”

Building and running the business

Williams spent a year and a half hustling and grinding full-time. She took on clients whose business she wasn’t interested in for an income source She spent so much time doing one small project after another that she struggled with staying organized. For some reason, Williams knew that this time around, it was going to work. She’d make freelancing full-time work.

In 2020, while everyone was consumed by the pandemic, Williams worked on her business with a different and better approach. With all the lessons learned and the guidance from mentors and fellow freelancers in her circle, she was able to hit her first $100k year. “I know money doesn’t matter that much but it did matter to me. Because as a writer, I was always told, ‘you won’t make any money.’ I had a lot of people who doubted me. Even when I quit that job somebody who was like, ‘well, what’s your backup plan?’”

We all have people who will doubt us, especially since freelancing is still seen as a short-term gig after gig thing… Williams was no exemption. As a freelancer, it is your number one job to power through and focus on what you truly want.

After hitting her first $100k, Williams began asking the question, “what’s next?” She knew there were still things to be improved and noted how there were months when she burnt out taking on too many projects. Her next goal:to get better at balancing business and self-care.

Present day work and success

Nothing comes easy, as they say, and this is more apparent in the freelance business. One of the best things is the endless opportunities to grow your business on your own terms. If you’re ready, if you’re looking for a challenge, if you feel like you need to explore more and try expanding… you don’t need anyone else’s permission.

Today, Williams runs her business with a virtual assistant. She focuses on four writing services and also offers coaching to help fellow writers and freelancers. Burnout had been part of Williams’ freelance journey so she does make sure it occurs less and less. Hiring someone and maximizing apps and software to automate things have helped her achieve more success.

For Williams, it’s important to remember that, “you’re not just a creative. You’re also a business owner,” which is something so many freelancers tend to forget. While it’s nice and fun to have the freedom to explore and see what types of services you can monetize, at the end of the day, you’re still building a business.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.