What “Legally Blond” Taught Me About How to Become a Freelancer

I love Legally Blond. (Sorry, I’m not sorry.) You know, the movie about the California sorority girl who is so determined to win her exboyfriend back that she just decides to become a lawyer?

Yes, it’s a slightly ridiculous chick flick, but under all the hot pink and little, yappy dogs, there’s a lesson to be learned. Just hear me out.

Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, has no experience with law. Prior to the breakup with her boyfriend, she had no interest in law. But she decides to chase him to Harvard Law and spends the rest of the movie trying to prove to others that she belongs there just as much as anyone else.

In this blog post, you and I are both Elle Woods.

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Basically the freelancer’s dream.

You’ve decided to try your hand at freelance whatever. Maybe you’ve read some books, answered a few job posts, thrown together a professional website (make sure you buy that domain name!) or started putting together a portfolio with your best stuff. If you’re really hustling, maybe you’ve even landed a few gigs. But on the whole, you’ve got little in the way of experience, and you feel like everyone you pitch can smell it on you. Or on your emails.

(Let’s not make smell-mail a thing, OK? Thanks.)

So when can you officially call yourself a freelancer? When you’ve landed 20 jobs? When you’ve made $4,000 in a month? When you’ve been working on freelance projects for a year? When you buy a new computer or invest in a home office? When you’ve got a long list of semi-famous clients, complete with glowing testimonials? When you make business cards and buy a new wardrobe to totally look like the real thing?

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If you’ve seen Legally Blond, then you should know the answer already. If not, maybe you should sit down, because the answer is going to rock you.

Ready?

You’re already a freelancer.

I’m still new to freelancing myself, but from the moment I sent my first pitch letter, I felt myself thinking, “They’re going to realize I’m not actually a copywriter. They won’t hire me.”

But then they did hire me. As a copywriter.

Crap.

While I was thrilled to jump in, I also felt like my clients were going to realize that I was just a housewife in copywriter’s clothing. And that feeling only intensified after each gig I landed.

Since I posted last week about the client who hired me without any samples, I completed that project. It was a lot of fun to write, but because it was the first project where I wrote something from scratch, I was nervous about what the client would think. After I put some last-minute touch-ups on it, I sent it off and then tried to ignore my inner monologue:

Oh man, she’s going to find out that I have no idea what I’m doing. She’s going to refuse to pay for this.

Two days later, I got an email back.

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!!!

And then right after that, she left me this testimonial.

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!!!!!!!!!!!

In the movie, Elle struggles with wanting to prove herself, but not being able to convince others she belongs. It takes its toll on her, to the point where she nearly gives up and goes home. But she ultimately decides she doesn’t have to convince anyone except herself. She does belong at Harvard Law– because she said so. And then, she goes to work and finds out that a lot of her previous experiences work together to give her fresh perspectives that no one else has. She’s actually really good at law.

She was law school material, because she decided she was.

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No matter how little experience you have, there is something you can bring to the table that other people can’t. Use those skills and perspectives, mix with some hard work, and BOOM:

You’re a freelancer, because you say you are.

I wrote copy, and the client loved it. I got paid for it. I am a copywriter.

(And I make sure to say so in every pitch letter I send.)

But what if your first gigs don’t get the best results or feedback?

We can’t all rely on our knowledge of hair care products to win a murder case. Does a slow or less-than-stellar start mean you can’t call yourself a real freelancer, yet?

Heck, no!

I’ll tell you a not-so-secret thing about myself: I’m a perfectionist. The ridiculous kind. I have a hard time with feeling like I’m not doing something well or that there’s even a chance that anyone will be disappointed in me. This sucks for me because it means that I beat myself up over criticism. I end up feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing and should maybe just quit.

But it also fuels me to give my best in everything, so that I reduce the risk of being criticized.

No one hits it out of the park every time. 

We all produce crap from time to time. But learning from failure is part of any job, too. Everything we do in life requires a learning curve. You also sucked at dressing yourself once, but that doesn’t mean you just decided to give up completely. (Or maybe you did and you’re a nudist now. In which case, more power to you.)

So if you get a gig and flounder a little, don’t assume that means you’re not cut out to be a freelancer. Elle had a lot of trouble, too. She almost went home. But she didn’t. Bumps along the way don’t diminish your ability. They actually add to your ability. You just turn that experience around and figure out how to do it better the next time. I know I can’t and won’t please everyone all the time. If I did the best way I knew how, and gave 100% of my effort to the project, then I can’t beat myself up too badly because my next client will reap the benefits of my previous screw-up.

Basically, the bottom line of this post is this: If you have the skills to back it up, believe in them. Give yourself the title, and then own it. Tell everyone what you are, and then be it.

Be Elle Woods.

Be a freelancer, because you said so.

Lauren

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