On a recent post, I offered five bits of a advice from a five-year veteran to a new freelancer. Taking that step is a a bold and daunting one. It wasn’t that long ago for me and most of what happened between January 2013 (when I made the decision) and April (when I left my “proper job” to do so) is still fresh in my memory.
Working as a freelancer requires dedication and the changing of several attitudes towards work. But it goes way beyond all of that. It means fundamental lifestyle changes.
Prepare for Sporadic and Unstable Income
This is the number one lifestyle change to which you must adapt. Even if you can rely on a steady stream of reliable clients who to pay on time, that doesn’t mean workload is guaranteed. What happens if they have to go away at short notice, have a family bereavement, cash flow problems etc and can’t pay you on time? Last week, I suddenly lost a very big client. It came as a shock to me and now I have to step back, tighten my financial belt and take the hit for a while. That means making potential lifestyle sacrifices and dedicating more time to reaching out to new clients. Nothing is assured in this game. While you shouldn’t forego luxuries at all, you need to be hyper-aware of how the bottom can suddenly fall out. That means better financial management.
Become Your Own Motivator
You’ll have to motivate yourself in ways you never thought would be necessary. If you don’t have the motivation to sit down and get the work done in the first place, you’re in the wrong game. You must also find the motivation to take breaks, make sure you’re eating and drinking enough, and the most important aspect of life – human contact. That’s one area where freelancing cannot compete with the “normal” workplace. Humans are social animals; even a card carrying introvert likes me needs that human contact beyond my girlfriend and immediate friends and family. Go to co-working groups, networking, and getting to know people at the local coffee shop is all simple stuff but easy to forget.
Every Decision You Make Affects the Business
That sounds like a lot of responsibility, and it is. It’s a large burden because you’re not just thinking about how much you will earn from this, but the impact on your reputation too. You are the CEO charged with driving the business forward. That means stress and anxiety, and lots of potential near misses. You’ll regret passing over jobs you should have taken and you’ll regret taking jobs you should have left well alone. But you can only act on the information you have to hand at the time. It’s important to remember this mantra and make it an important part of your working philosophy.
Owning Your Sh*t
You can’t pass it on to a supervisor or manager, or even the hapless intern or junior employee any more. The buck starts and ends with you. That’s a lot of responsibility and one of the great stresses of working as a freelancer in any field. It’s your responsibility to put it right. If you don’t, you lose the client, you lose the money and the time devoted to the task that you most likely won’t get paid the full amount for (if at all). But owning your sh*t comes with two major advantages – it can be a steep learning curve and there is great potential in learning from your mistakes, and (when it finally does finish), you get all the job satisfaction too.
Have you heard of ROWE? It means “Results Only Work Environment”. It seemed to be a thing in the corporate world just a few years ago, now I rarely see any articles on it. For freelancers, it’s as alive as it ever was. Most corporate speak is utter nonsense but this is one of those rare occasions when it makes sense. It’s simply the idea that employees are paid for the work they put out, not the number of hours they put in. You are only paid for completed work and the faster you understand that the better it is for your freelance lifestyle.