I’ve been freelancing for years. It started as a necessity and, to be honest, at the beginning it was more like a hobby that paid for itself. It’s been hard. When you are not a natural business person it takes guts and determination to stay afloat and not give in when the going gets tough.
With that in mind, and following on from my article 10 things you should know before you turn freelance, here are ten things you should know if you want to stay freelancing.
For every entrepreneur who strikes it lucky there are hundreds of freelances who are just scraping by. Don’t believe that going freelance is going to be an easy ride.
Whether that means looking over your business plan from time to time (you DO have a business plan, don’t you?), or just knowing where you are going, you need to be focused. Once you lose focus you can end up accepting any old work and diluting your business goals. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Specialise, prioritise and realise your goals.
Whether that’s a daily work schedule (for example you may want to stick to office hours) or a weekly schedule (I like to roughly schedule in my work and know what needs to be done by the end of the week) a structure will help you focus. When you were 9–5 you had a structure, and to stay on track you need one in your freelance life. If you don’t have some sort of schedule (even a rough one) you will eventually get bogged down in either too much work or too little. That can break an independent worker pretty quickly.
If you schedule well there should be little in the way of overlap. But again, it isn’t easy. Set a working day and once the work is finished leave it behind for the night. Take weekends off. Structure your work; don’t let your work structure you.
Having a separate workstation will lead you into being more productive. Even the chance to close the door on the outside world will turn your brain to work mode. Then at the end of the day you close the door and are less inclined to merge work and personal time. If you can’t have a separate room, have a little ritual that gets you into your own work space – for example, only use a certain coffee cup for work or start at the same time every day. Hardwire your brain into work mode. Working from home shouldn’t mean a lackadaisical approach to your freelance life.
This is one of the hardest things a freelance must do. It’s easy to become de-motivated and demoralised when the work isn’t flowing as you like, the work you do is boring or the work isn’t bringing in as much money as you hoped. To stay being a freelance and not move back to the confines of the 9–5 you need to motivate yourself. Set yourself small goals, congratulate yourself on a job well done or a target you’ve reached. Treat yourself every now and then. Put client testimonials on your notice board or have a target board on your wall to show you when you’ve reached certain goals. You have to stay motivated and not give in to apathy. Apathy kills businesses.
For goodness sake, just get dressed every once in a while and don’t perpetuate the stereotype of the freelancer in his pyjamas.
Put simply, if you don’t stay up-to-date your business will likely die a slow, lonely death. You also need to keep on learning, not just to keep relevant, but to be the best you can be for your clients. Money spent on upgrading your skill set is money well spent.
While we all like to cocoon ourselves with our work, especially as winter draws in, to keep afloat as a freelancer you need to network and socialise. Even social media is a way to keep in touch and let people know you exist, or remind them that you haven’t sloped off to Siberia for six months. Set aside networking time. Don’t just limit yourself to Twitter and Facebook, and try to set networking goals every now and then to help you step out of your comfort zone. Your potential clients need to find you if you are to survive the freelancing life.
It’s tough. It’s really tough. It isn’t an easy life, but it also isn’t boring. To stay sane and keep on keeping on you need to remind yourself why you first became freelance. Take a break mid-morning and go for a walk in the park. Take your laptop and go be one of those hipsters you see in Starbucks, watching the world go by as they work with a gingerbread latte and a heavenly muffin. Above all remember that:
even though the work may come in in waves,
even though you have days and weeks when you wonder why you left your cosy desk and your workmates,
even though client demands can have you tearing your hair out at times,
and there are times when you wonder if you will ever work again
the life of a freelancer in charge of their own destiny is SO much better than bowing to ‘the man’.
To stay being a freelance takes skill, determination and a thick skin. When you started off you were full of hopes and dreams – there is no reason to let your dreams die, you just have to work hard to find your client base and keep it.