The essence of freelance: a free lance, a coconut, an imaginary steed, and insane competition

Freelancing Is The Holy Grail

Lots of people would like to dump the day job and go freelance for the obvious reasons: flexibility of working whenever and wherever, choosing the assignments, and so on. Many seem to think of freelancing as The Holy Grail of work-life balance.

One day, suddenly, I realized it absolutely is! The analogies are obvious… Freelancing is The Holy Grail! See what I mean?

  • Your lance is free for hire by anyone (you like) in the world, just like the lance of any of the knights.
  • You can ride an imagined steed (the skills you hope to have) or an actual steed (the skills you actually possess), or both, to fame and glory.
  • Insane competition makes every step forward feel like an epic battle (which results in numerous flesh wounds, no doubt).
  • Coconut… Well, regarding coconuts you just need to figure out if it is the coconut that migrates or yourself. (My choice was to migrate to where coconuts grow.)

The chance of success in the global online world is small, but the prize is worth the risk, effort, and misery. The Grail guarantees happiness, eternal youth, and infinite sustenance.

Freelancing is The Holy Grail as illustrated by Monty Python

Insane competition among other obstacles on The Quest for The Holy Grail (take a look at the original Grail here).

But first, let’s look, how insane the ride to fame and glory can get especially you are as crazy as I was to try to seize the opportunity presented by online freelance sites that have been booming and are now in 2020 populated by millions of others.

Your lance

Being a freelancer, it is always up to you to choose what to work on next. Many, especially starting freelancers, do not have many options in practice. On the other end, the more experienced and highly reputed freelancers are always under constant overload from clients, old and new, asking for help.

Freedom can be a curse in the beginning. You might have to try just about anything before becoming productive.

This bipolarity has an interesting impact which many starting freelancers do not realize. If everything else fails, i.e. you cannot find targets for your lance meaning you cannot reach any paying clients with a reasonable amount of effort, perhaps the way forward is to go work for your competitor! Crazy, right?

But it might work. Just like becoming a real knight, one could start slowly as an esquire. No knight becomes a knight overnight without a fight (what a tongue twister, haha). Working under someone else would give you a clear idea about how things are done in real: how to find clients, how to talk to them, how to close a business deal, how to execute without a single fault, and how to devise a strategy that works for you in the long run. A less risky path to a realistic freelance career. But eventually, you might be strong enough a knight to take on real (proposal) battles, even with your former master, Sir Freelance-a-lot. 🙂

The steed you (think you) ride

Many of those who turn freelance early on in their careers, face a greater challenge than the others: How to build your business and your core competence along the way? Only skills that produce valuable results make a business. Being realistic about your skillset is key to building a successful freelance business.

Instead of trying to do everything yourself, I suppose, the fast way forward is to go learn directly from someone. Then, at least in theory, even a young person would be able to build a solid freelance business with the help of someone more experienced, which leaves more time for building the core competence and skills.

This is where professional networks, online discussion forums, LinkedIn groups, etc. can make a huge difference. Sometimes even one-on-one coaching and mentoring could be the way to go.

The problem is, when you are starting up, you won’t be thinking about these things objectively. Fortunately, the ever-lowering balance of your bank account works as a good incentive. Sometimes, you can even avoid paying for your help as many accept service-for-service arrangements or direct apprenticeship of some sort.

Build your skillset in a realistic way. Otherwise, The Bridge of Death awaits!

Insane competition

The world is global these days. Anyone can try to sell just about anything to anyone else. Also, this aspect of freelancing splits people into two groups:

  1. Those who copy others and compete with everybody
  2. Those who claim their own niche business areas, worldwide

The first group is the typical case of newbies. See how others do it, copy the examples that look good (e.g. freelance profiles, portfolio pages, and pricing), and execute as the others are assumed to execute. This approach is the most normal one when starting up. Just copy the example of others without truly understanding the underlying logic… just like a baby.

This leads to the perceived insane competition that all the freelance sites are infamous for. What most people are missing is differentiation. What is it that you do better than the next guy with just a little cheaper price?

And the answer to that is exactly what makes the second group. It is those few online freelancers who define their niche, own the marketplace for that little niche part, name their price, and reject all other opportunities so that the track record left behind (e.g. the Work History section on Upwork freelancer profiles) looks perfect and polished for all the new clients of the right kind, only.

Most of them can even demonstrate great agility in switching from one good niche to another without destroying their previous track record. I managed to pull it off on Upwork, the premier freelance site of them all. Switching from augmented reality application development to virtual reality training simulators and further to virtual reality consulting. Evidence provided.

Changing your niche on freelance sites requires many skills that you cannot acquire overnight.


To me, in this context, coconut represents everything essential in life. The fuel that keeps you going. The purpose of your work, i.e. getting more of them. Everything coming together as one. Even the color is nice (haha)! It’s perfect.

Everyone has their own preferences, personality, lifestyle, priorities, and everything else. It is important to understand if the goal of freelancing is really what you want to achieve. It won’t happen overnight and the first months can be quite horrifying. You might get hurt with something much worse than “just a flesh wound.” 😀

Try to avoid deadly wounds on your quest. (Flesh wounds are inevitable, though.)

After seeing several youngsters getting their freelance business going, and unfortunately after seeing many give up before seeing any kind of success, I have come to realize that it is surprisingly important for a person to know that the quest is right. I guess you just need to believe in The Grail!

At the same time, I have to highlight that freelancing is not for everybody. And in the worst case, trying for years but not getting anywhere could cost you your whole future career!

Think twice before you start and be sure The Grail is a meaningful quest for you.

Other perils that might affect your Quest for The Grail

There are so many obstacles to building a nice freelance business online that I could not possibly give a comprehensive list. But here is an attempt.

Communication might fail on a massive scale.

You might be lead astray from your quest by distracting client requests.

You might be lured into a trap by a completely fake target.

You could lead yourself astray by making bad choices.

There is no end to the challenges you might face. So, freelancing is totally like The Holy Grail! 🙂

The whole story

There are actually far more perils identical to the Quest for The Holy Grail than you might imagine. And they might follow the original storyline one to one!

A new niche business you came up with might turn out to be against the regulations.

You might get a client whose system does nothing but represses you.

All conventional wisdom you learned from books doesn’t seem to make much sense in reality. All you get is a headache.

Your personal branding campaign on social media might turn into a total witch hunt.

Your moments of victory might turn out to be far too silly to be told to anyone afterward.

Your client suffering from a God Complex can make your entire quest be all for nothing.

You encounter unexpected obstacles that leave no margin for… anything at all.

Some devious freelancers may post fake projects just to sabotage the public reviews, work histories, and JSS of their competitors.

BTW I encountered this once, but dodged the Trojan Rabbit! The Badger I’ve never seen.

You might end up battling against competitors three times your size and see it wise to “bugger off.”

You might end up wandering in circles with people who force you to do things you don’t want (even more than just saying “ni”).

You could get carried away so much that your client doesn’t appreciate you anymore.

A person you thought you could partner with proves to be unworthy of your trust.

You might encounter someone who is totally one with their trade, life, personal brand, and life’s purpose, and do life-saving business with him.

You might not know the language of your client which leads to an unexplainable end of discussion.

Everyone else in the game seems to have skills and knowledge you can only hope to gain one day.

You may end up in a situation you just can’t handle and thus need a secret weapon of your seniors.

Written communications from your clients take so much time to interpret that you put your life in danger.

Despite all your best efforts, you might need to “just walk away” from any further **it storms.

You might get a lawsuit from old clients or their associates which abruptly terminates your whole quest.

Indeed, freelancing Is The Holy Grail

If none of the above makes any sense to you, you might have to watch the original! 🙂

Anyway, keep freelancing!