4 First Job Lessons Learned that I Still Apply Today
When people ask me what my first job was, I usually answer Long John Silvers! I got hired the summer before my junior year of high school and 2 out of my 4 homies worked there! And I got paid a whopping $4.25 per hour - holla! Eventually I became friends with everyone I worked with and being a natural with customer service, I was often placed in front of customers - whether it was drive-thru or the front counter; whichever was busier, that's where I was at. But here's the kicker - that may have been my first employed job but a year before then, in the beginning of my sophomore year, I started my first freelance job. Ya'll will laugh, but looking back, freelancing has always been in my bones. I moved into the neighborhood in time to start 9th grade like everyone else and by 10th grade, I started to get to know more people. As they got to know me, they seemed to come to the conclusion that I can write (who knew??). Over a series of events, mid-year I found myself writing reports to a nice handful of returning clients - $20 for 3 pages, $2 for each additional page. Boom.
Here are 4 lessons that I've learned from my first freelance job writing reports for other students in my school (haha you just have to laugh at that, seriously):
Take action. When opportunity knocks, you can either contemplate whether or not you will open the door and then plan all the different what if scenarios of what's happening on the other side of the door or you can simply open the door, then decide. I have a difficult time playing the what-if game, I'm more of a dive in and learn what works and what doesn't. Being one or the other doesn't make you right or wrong or even better than the other, it simply means that our approaches can be different. I've learned that those who need a plan to move forward bring a little more emotion to decisions than I do and most times have a firmer foundation to walk on if things don't work out. Although I'm still a dive in kind of gal, I've learned to open the door, check things out and decide whether or not it's an opportunity I want to take. You don't always need to take the opportunity placed before you, but you won't know whether or not you should until you take the first step of seeing what that opportunity is. In this case, a fellow student half jokingly said they'd pay me $20 to write their report because he or she had a busy weekend ahead and didn't have time to do it. In the big scheme of student life - this is wrong, I know and I'm not telling any student who may be reading this that it's ok, I'm just saying when I was 15 years old, I half jokingly responded with a "sure" and the rest is literally history.
Use the tools you've got. Back in the day, we didn't have touchscreen laptops or tablets - we had typewriters. Bulky, heavy typewriters. I started typing on a electric typewriter and any mistakes I made, I needed to use white out because it didn't have a correction tape. Then, one day my dad brought home this sleek, light, electric typewriter with a delete button and case - pretty sure that's the first time I geeked over anything. Back then, I typed over 100 wpm with minimal mistakes - opposed to now where I'm slower and mistake-proned - so this typewriter was a phenomenal tool that I never knew I needed. Which also made report writing so much easier. When I first took on this job, I thought, "I got this typewriter, paper and time over the weekend - why not?" the worst thing to do is to take a job with a tight deadline and not have the tools to make it happen. With that said, don't skip on jobs because you don't have the latest and greatest tools. I started shooting weddings with a Canon Rebel and I still use stock lenses. Don't miss out on opportunities because you don't think you can use the tools you have. If you have tools - basic or not - use them! If you don't have tools and need to get them - they don't have to be top of the line anything. The typewriter didn't write the reports - remember that.
Know your worth. At that time, the minimum wage was $4.25 per hour - that was so not my worth. Honestly, back then I used to always ask my Dad for $20 - $10 was never enough but $30 was always got me a "No". I learned that $20 was a sweet spot so it was almost like habit to say I'd write the report for 20 bucks. That first report took me 2 hours to write because I was in that class and already knew the assignment. Over time, some reports took 3 hours because I had to read the cliff notes and because there was no Google, I had to actually go to the local library for about an hour, so now a report can take about 4 hours, which I was fine with because it was still more than minimum wage. Most reports were 3 pages long and averaged 2.5 hours to do. I didn't have a drivers license yet so I was just going to be stuck at home anyway, so why not make double the minimum wage while sitting at home? Feel me? I didn't think about my rates until my little business started to thrive, so I didn't charge for additional pages until a few months later. I also started to take "deposits", pay half now and you get the report after you pay the balance because I got tired of chasing after people to pay me. Whatever your business or service - know your market, know your worth. Create policies that work for you, not because it's the standard.
Clients are all different. My first client was super stoked that he or she didn't have to stop their weekend plans to write the report and that he or she got a solid C on it because he or she was a solid C student. He or she was so stoked, I was hired on the spot for the next one. This client had one criteria that I had to meet - the report cannot get a better grade than a C, done. However, as the word got out and I started writing reports for others, criteria changed for each one - B work, food stains, typos and misspelled words. Some clients were super involved while others let me do my thang. I got to learn how to change my approach and conversation with each one - same goal as everyone else but some needed a little more attention to their concerns, a little more excitement when planning and upon delivery of the report. This holds true to today. I have clients who want to be part of every phase of their logo design or rebrand and some clients who tell me to just work my magic and tell them when it's done. Most of all, they all liked to be treated well.
A weird little example to learn from I suppose, but in the last 35 years - nothing has changed. These lessons all still apply today and I hope it helps or gives some insight in your freelance journey. What are some lessons that you learned back in the day and still apply today? Let me know in the comments!