Secret freelance shame

Readers, some real talk: I’m bad at talking on the phone with potential clients. And for the last year, I’ve kept a running list of things I’d like to blog about, but I haven’t written a single one of the posts from that list.

Why? I do not think you will be surprised when I say it is insecurity, plain and simple. Just as I look at some of the poems I wrote when I was 16 and cringe, I can look back at my first professional editing and writing jobs and wish I could go back and do them all over again and get it right this time. When I am put in a position where I have to “prove” what I can do by trying to sell my services to a new client or writing something that definitively claims my expertise, I start to doubt it. I wonder whether I should have more experience. I wonder whether I simply don’t know what I don’t know.

On the phone I picture the other candidates the client is talking to: they are beautiful and eloquent, possess huge vocabularies with all the right buzz words, have loads of applicable experience, and are fast and cheap to boot.

Online I imagine experts happening on my blog, finding errors I didn’t know were there, and revealing my ineptitude to all. I’m not talking about a dropped comma or a misspelling—I mean a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of an academic theory or a grammatical concern or a business principle.

A few weeks ago I read an article by Kate Hamill on the Freelancers Union blog calling for all freelancers to reveal their “secret freelance shame.” Common shames, according to Hamill, include phone avoidance, fear of imperfect work, and struggling with self-promotion. I guess I’m not alone.

My SFS in a nutshell: I get scared about doing various stuff because what if I’m wrong?!

But here’s the funny part. Sometimes I do find errors in work I’ve already turned in and report them to clients. Every single time that has happened, the client has said, “So glad you caught that; I never would have. Thanks for your eagle eye!” It turns out screwing up isn’t so bad—being afraid of screwing up is far worse.

Hamill wrote that as a freelancer you’re constantly forced to confront your own weaknesses. You’re a business of one, and no one can be good at every single thing it takes to run a business. So why do I feel like I have to do it all? It feels like a failure to decide to never discuss brand-new projects over the phone until I’m ready (which, for the record, happens eventually). But if I’m really that bad at it, wouldn’t it actually be a sound business decision?

I’m good at what I do. I’m getting better all the time. So maybe it’s time I put it out there. Perfect editor-writer beings of the ether: If I make a huge, glaring error, call me on it. I’d love to learn from you. And clients: Let’s talk. Maybe through email.


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