3 Ways to banish underearning in your freelance career

Being a freelancer is tough. Not only is it a lot of work to run your own business, but the ups and downs in income can wreak havoc with your cash flow. The lack of a clear structure can also make it hard to diagnose what needs to be fixed when things are not working.

 So now your money is bringing you to an important lesson: How do you shake off the toxic legacy of the past, and learn to earn what you deserve?

1. Get out of your own head, put a plan on paper
The first thing you need is a structure for your work that buffers you from the distorting effects of emotions. A simple business plan is the tool for the job. You might think, "But I'm just a freelancer, not a business." Not true. Your freelance work is a business, and you need a clear statement of what it is you do, the market for your work, your income goals, and how you plan to spend the money you bring in. Without a plan, your decisions will always be overly swayed by how stressed or exhausted (or, just as dangerously, how optimistic or flush) you feel in the moment.

2. Use your plan as a guide to organize your efforts
Many freelancers I know, especially ones in creative fields, only want to focus on the work or service they provide. They figure if they offer a superior product then the rest will sort itself out. But with this narrow view, they may get lost in unnecessary details of production, or see their difficulties as a statement about the value of their work and slash their fees. When you have a working business plan, you have stable targets for what you're trying to earn and spend. You can always edit your plan, it's not written in stone... but in pushing yourself to stay plan-focused you give yourself an important reality check. You can easily tell if you're meeting your target revenue (Nope. Need to focus on generating more income. Should I raise fees? Start a new marketing initiative?) versus overspending (Aha. money is coming in as projected, but I blew my budget this month and need to adjust for the period ahead).

3. Get support
Even after you create your plan, it's perfectly normal to need help in those areas that pose a particular challenge. Change is hard, and we all require help to grow. The key is to connect with positive, constructive resources that will support and affirm your efforts, not tear you down and remind you of past mistakes.

As I've said before in this column, I'm a firm believer that money troubles often appear in our lives as lessons that help us to grow. You may be the youngest in your family, but you're no longer a baby. Your money is telling you it's time to grow up and grow into your place in the world.