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How to build a system that works for your freelance business

Blanket statements can be destructive. We’re not saying all of them are, but many times people struggle to achieve their version of success because they followed someone else’s business blueprint to the T. There are many “I grew my business doing these 5 things” and “follow these steps to be a successful freelancer in 1 month” type of videos out there. We must be careful about it.

Don’t get me wrong, some advice is actually helpful. I found tons of YouTube videos and articles full of helpful tips on how to become a full-time freelancer. However, it’s one thing to cherry pick the tips that you believe can work for you, it’s another to follow everything by forcing yourself into something you’re not fond of. The latter might make you despise your freelancing journey and you won’t see the beauty of it. The question now is, if success as a freelancer is all about knowing yourself and building a system that works for you, where do you even begin?

Know what kind of business you want to build

Many people say they want to be a freelancer but a lot of them aren’t clear what kind of freelancer they want to be. Sorry to burst your bubble — without clarity, you won’t get anywhere!

Instead of spending your energy on Facebook groups trying to get clients or making sure your website looks perfect, focus on knowing exactly what kind of business you want to build and the kind of entrepreneur you want to be. Ask yourself questions until you’re happy and content with your own response. Such a response would be rooted in your interests. Don’t just say “I want to be a virtual assistant” because you know businesses will always need a VA.

That famous Albert Einstein quote, “if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself” is very applicable here. At the onset, make it a point to focus your energy on knowing what kind of business you truly want to build.

Get to know yourself as a freelancer

I mean literally get to know yourself as a freelancer. Pay attention to yourself as you work on building your business. Does cold emailing scare you or does it excite you? Can you work for 5 hours straight, hyper-focused on the task, or do you need breaks? Are you a night person or do you work better during the day?

Getting to know yourself as a freelancer takes time. In order to do so, you must improve your self-awareness skills. Pay attention to how you do your work and how you feel when doing it. This will help you build a system that works for you. Try batching tasks you’re anxious about all in one day so the rest of the days you don’t have to think about them. Or breaking tasks into smaller to-do items so you can improve your daily and weekly schedule. It’s all about knowing what works for you.

Be honest with the parts of the business you hate and/or not good at

I suck at social media. I love scrolling through Instagram but I am too lazy to engage and comment on other people’s posts. Honestly, I don’t even know why. I love writing, which is exactly why I’m a writer. But I’m terrible at following up on my invoices. Sometimes I even forget to send an invoice! Anything with numbers, anything where I need to do math, I’m naturally bad at it.

Imagine what my business would look like if I ignored these facts about myself. Imagine what your business would look like if you ignored your facts.

Pride and ego can be very loud — ignore them! The key to successfully building a freelance business that suits you is knowing the parts of it that you hate or you’re terrible at. You can address them by hiring someone, improving your self-discipline, or doing both.

Feel the feelings and know where they’re coming from

You can’t build a system if you shrug off certain emotions. If you’re anxious about cold emailing, it could be because you fear rejection or you’re too shy to connect with strangers. Either way, what can help you understand this anxiety is to sit down with that feeling and give it space. Try to figure out where it’s coming from. And from there, you can figure out a workaround for you.

Trial and error until you figure out what works

What worked for Persons A, B, and C may not for you. That’s just how it works. Freelancing is all about having the willingness to try, fail, and learn. This is all about trial and error until you figure it out. However, trial and error doesn’t mean trying so many things and failing at all of them. This is why there are other guiding tips like getting to know yourself and feeling your emotions. Those tools will help you know which are worth trying and which aren’t.


Your system is yours for a reason. It’s tailor-made for you. It works for you. There are many tips and advice out there but they can only guide you. Once you’ve processed all that advice, gather the courage to try some, get a feel for a few, and from there, dare to do things your way.

CategoriesRemote Work
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.