Anja Palmaerts is an expert in procurement, which means she helps entrepreneurs and local governments when buying products and services in the niche market of public procurement. She ventured into freelancing eleven years ago, seeking the liberating autonomy it offered. After some contemplation and encouragement from her spouse, she took the leap, initially planning to test it out for one year. However, within two months, she secured her first significant client, and since then, there has been no turning back. Not even during the tumultuous times of the pandemic did she falter. Instead, she adapted by intensifying her marketing efforts and innovating new services, which became her cornerstone amidst the crisis.

Anja emphasizes the necessity of adaptability, especially during challenging times like the COVID-19 pandemic. She observed a significant slowdown in business as early as late 2019, prompting her to pivot swiftly. By bolstering her marketing strategies and introducing new services, she not only weathered the storm but also found unprecedented success. That new service is still her number one business offering today showing that in times of need, it’s important to stay creative and keep on investing.

My biggest lessons from the pandemic

Reflecting on her journey, Anja acknowledges the evolving nature of her business. She has transitioned to virtual workspaces, a shift that has become increasingly accepted and embraced by clients since the pandemic. Her employers are also less inclined to work with brokers, a change which she supports and is happy to see.

The second lesson she learned is about the importance of self-care. Thinking about yourself and spending time and resources on self-care are essential to your happiness and your success.

Don’t start without a plan

Anja stresses the importance of strategic planning, advocating for freelancers to equip themselves with comprehensive knowledge of fiscal responsibilities and to surround themselves with supportive specialists. Her best piece of advice for other freelancers is to transcend the immediate horizon and draft robust business plans. Despite the misconception that freelancers might not need such formalities, she argues that it provides a roadmap for sustained success and growth.

Trust your instincts and your added value

Anja says freelancers should trust their instincts, particularly when considering collaborations with friends or family, and to maintain boundaries with clients, prioritizing self-respect and fair compensation. Trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel right – even if you can’t put your finger on why exactly – then don’t do it. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to bad clients.

As a seasoned negotiator, she also emphasizes the importance of valuing one’s services appropriately. She advises against revealing a fixed rate too early in negotiations and advocates for transparent communication regarding fees and expenses. Moreover, she urges freelancers to prioritize financial stability and to resist the temptation to undervalue their work. And never work for free, you have bills to pay.