Discover Your Ideal Freelance Career Path in 2023
By Jena Kroeker
Do you ever wish you could discover your ideal freelance career by following a yellow brick road? It seems like it would be such a simple process. If you’ve read the book or watched movie adaptations of The Wizard of Oz, you’ll remember how the main character, Dorothy, is instructed to “follow the yellow brick road” to Emerald City. This strategy works despite obstacles, interruptions, and added companions along the way. As long as Dorothy keeps following this one path, she makes it to her destination.
In contrast, a freelance career path is much more complex. And that’s not a bad thing. The more complicated the journey, the more freedom you have to choose what you want to do and how you want to live. It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Have you read one before?
These books were highly popular when I was a kid. Basically, instead of reading the book from cover to cover, you’d keep reading until you were offered choices that determined which page you turned to and how the plot would unfold. Your journey through the book was unpredictable, and you could read the same book in several different ways.
Our freelance careers are like that. We often follow similar paths that lead us to different destinations. And sometimes we start on one path, but make choices that abruptly turn us in another direction. We might even flip back to the beginning of the book and begin the whole process again, so to speak. We can truly choose our own adventure. I’ve chosen several different adventures during my 20 years as a freelancer, and each step I took was a valuable learning experience that led me closer to my ideal career.
Discovering Your Ideal Career Path in 2022
The New Freelancers and VAs section in the Freelance University training center has a number of courses that provide the first steps towards a freelance career. In particular, it outlines “Your Pathway to Success & Freedom.” At first glance, this pathway might seem like a yellow brick road, but in reality, it’s a series of five “Choose Your Own Adventure” chapters where you decide how you want to proceed.
1. Your Business and Technical Skills
This step on the path is like putting on your shoes and checking the contents of your backpack. Do you have all the equipment and know-how you need to set off on your journey? If not, don’t despair. In her article, “How to become a freelancer in 2022?” Ieva Sipola shares the following advice:
“The secret to finding your own path as a freelancer is to never give up on learning and trying new things. You should always consider taking webinars or courses in your preferred area. The technologies change extremely fast and there’s always a new tool or platform you need to learn using.”
As an example, the Freelance University training center is divided into several sections. The Business Training section has three tracks that include a number of courses:
Similarly, the Skills Training section has a wide variety of tracks you can choose from depending on the technical skills you want to add or upgrade in your business:
Some of the courses are foundational, while others provide specific training that allow you to delve deeper and specialize in certain areas. You can travel back and forth throughout these tracks to find your ideal destination.
And if the choices seem overwhelming, a good start is to “find out what you’re good at,” as recommended in an article titled “Finding Your Freelance Niche”:
“This sounds easy enough, but sometimes it’s hard for us to see our strengths and weaknesses for ourselves. There are a few ways to get a better perspective of your best (and worst, for that matter) professional skills.
“If you have experience, think about the projects you’ve worked on, either as a freelancer or otherwise, and consider times when you got truly positive feedback. Is there a theme among these top projects? This theme is a niche.”
2. Your Work and Life Experience
In one of the University “Mindset” courses, FreeU co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings shares an inspiring quote:
“The past is behind, learn from it.
The future is ahead, prepare for it.
The present is here, live it.”
In other words, he recommends asking yourself three questions:
• What can you draw from the past?
• What can you leverage now in the present?
• Where are you going in the future?
I was once asked to outline my freelance journey in a linear fashion, assuming it had begun with a more general niche and narrowed down to a specific focus. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll think about that and get back to you.” And as I thought about it, I realized it didn’t fit that pattern at all. It had actually started with a narrow focus, then broadened, then narrowed again, and then broadened a bit depending on what services were in demand and most needed by my clients.
But the pattern that remained consistent was lessons I learned from the past, skills and experience I could leverage in the present, and dreams and goals I wanted to work toward in the future.
So, spend some time asking yourself the above three questions. Use pen and paper or a note-taking app to list your work and life experiences that have shaped your path until now and can guide you in your future choices. And don’t worry if it doesn’t look like other people’s paths. We are all unique.
3. Your Unique Skills and Qualities
Since the theme is “Choose Your Own Adventure,” it’s only fitting that your ideal freelance career path will be shaped by your uniqueness. It’s not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. As you think about your work and life experience, you undoubtedly will uncover unique skills you’ve displayed. And you may also recognize personality traits that contributed to your previous work. These traits may even play a role in how you navigated past experiences and prepared for the future.
One thing to remember is that although it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy every single aspect of a certain task or niche, it’s important to ensure it suits your personality as much as possible. There’s a fine balance between stretching yourself outside your comfort zone and living in a state of complete discomfort.
As an illustration, consider this advice from Preston Lee in an article titled “How to Find Your Freelance Niche (5 Questions to Ask Yourself).” He says,
“If you choose a freelance niche you don’t enjoy, you’re stuck doing work you hate for the foreseeable future.
“In fact, you could even become known as the ‘go-to’ person for work you despise. That would be an utter failure.
“So start by asking yourself: what kind of freelance work could I see myself doing for the rest of my career?
“Of course, you don’t have to stick to it forever (that’s a long time), but it’s good to start with work in a freelance niche you actually enjoy.”
This advice corresponds to the first three components of the “Niche Identification Matrix” we discuss in a previous blog post, “How to Discover Your Ideal Freelance Niche.” To identify your own ideal freelance career, consider these questions relating to personality, passions, and proficiencies:
• What are the personality traits and qualities that make me unique?
• What tasks or areas interest me?
• What are my unique skills and background experience?
4. Your Mindset
Just as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book invites you to adopt the protagonist’s role, a freelance career path invites you to adopt an entrepreneur’s role. In short, you need to develop an entrepreneur’s mindset. This is more than just the tools in your toolkit, the supplies in your backpack, and the shoes on your feet. This is the attitude and perspective you take.
For example, in the University course mentioned above, Craig Cannings suggests asking yourself three questions:
• What is your level of confidence and optimism about starting your own freelance business?
• How mentally and emotionally ready are you for this new “Entrepreneurial Journey”?
• Do you have a growth mindset?
Specifically, the growth mindset includes attitudes and perspectives that are essential for a freelance entrepreneur:
• “Failure is an opportunity to grow.”
• “I can learn to do anything I want.”
• “Challenges help me to grow.”
• “My effort and attitude determine my abilities.”
• “Feedback is constructive.”
• “I am inspired by the success of others.”
• “I like to try new things.”
This step can be tough, especially if you don’t come from an entrepreneurial background or have had negative experiences in the past. It’s also a step you may need to return to often to ensure you’re staying on the right path.
And if you need support to readjust your mindset along the way, seek training through workshops and courses, or speak to a mentor or mastermind group. In our FreeU Facebook Community, students and mentors often discuss this topic, sharing our struggles and questions so we can keep ourselves on the right path.
5. Your Freelancer Success and Freedom
If your career path were a book, we’d call this part the happy ending! But don’t close the book yet. You can choose your own adventure here too. What does freelancer success and freedom look like for you?
Maybe it looks like the fourth element of the “Niche Identification Matrix” we discussed above, namely, “Profitable Niches — What niches present the best client and income opportunities?”
To identify niches with the best income and client opportunities, Craig Cannings recommends researching these four questions:
• What do the stats say in articles and statistics portals like Statista?
• What do my clients and colleagues say individually or in online groups focused on particular industries?
• What do tools like Google Trends or Ubersuggest say about the number of people searching for keywords related to a particular service?
• What do freelance marketplaces like Upwork, FreeUp, and PeoplePerHour say about the most popular skills, projects, and categories?
And in addition to profitability, think about other indicators of success:
• Does your freelance career path allow you to live the life you want to lead?
• Do you have a good work/life balance?
• Are you embracing the freedom to choose your own work schedule?
Maya Angelou sums it up best in this quote:
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Final Thoughts and Encouragement
I hope you’ve put a bookmark in this “Choose Your Own Ideal Freelance Career Path” book because the last page is still being written. For some, it may be blank, waiting for you to choose your first adventure. For others, it may be revised as you make new choices and cover new ground in a journey already begun.
Above all, remember that you get to choose. The future is bright in the freelancing and virtual assistant industry. So, in many ways, you are the hero of your own story and can build your own path to success. As the article above says,
“One of our greatest benefits as a freelancer is to have control over the work we do. Get the idea out of your head that you can’t love the work you do, because as a freelancer you can and should love your work.”
And now we’d love to hear from you. Do you feel like you’re on your ideal freelance career path? And if not, which strategies will help you get back on that path? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.