This week is National Freelance Appreciation week and this month also marks six years since I started my own freelance career. In that spirit, I’m sharing a few things I wish I knew before I started freelancing. If you find yourself contemplating launching your own freelance business, I hope some of my experiences can help you.
Plan to Experiment
So many times I wanted the first thing to be “the thing” that worked: that one post would draw all the business, that one ad would drive all the traffic, that one thing that would shape the course of my business over the next several years. And if and when these efforts didn’t pan out, “failure” was the only category that experience could be filed under. I didn’t understand that experimenting was the lifeblood to a freelancer’s career. I tried my hand at a lot of writing-related ventures and while some things opened doors and led to great contacts or further honing of what I love, some were just duds or not a good fit for me. Not failures, but all helpful info. There’s just no way to predict how something will turn out. Instead of looking at it as something to avoid, I better understand now that it’s something to embrace and plan for. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and then, keep trying new things.
Treat Your Home Office Like a REAL Office
I have said being homeschooled uniquely prepared for me for working from home. But the fact remains in order to be successful, you have to treat your home like an office during work hours. Structure your workspace (mental as well as physical) in a way that minimizes distractions (well, as much as possible in this pandemical setting) and schedule your time in a way that sets your efforts up for success. For instance, if you are focused and ready to go in the morning, don’t continually schedule non-work appointments or hangouts in your prime working time. Shift those to the afternoon. Likewise, if afternoon is your prime time, schedule those appointments in the morning.
Be aware of how your surroundings affect your mental state. I need relatively clutter-free surroundings in order to focus, so some of that prep work may start the night before to ensure the kitchen is clean, laundry is ready to be started, and my workspace is clear. Otherwise I may start organizing a closet that hasn’t been touched in three years instead of sending out queries or following up on leads.
And as much as possible I:
- Leave my phone on DND until a certain time in the morning and I leave it in the other room
- Turn off notifications on my computer
- Use the Freedom app to block certain sites when I need to really buckle down (just started using this and I love it so far!)
- Make sure I have water and tea before starting a project
- Use noise-cancelling headphones
Your techniques may look different than mine, but the point is to treat your freelance work like the business it is. Just because there is the element of flexibility doesn’t mean it deserves less respect than an office job.
Learn to Steward Your Mental Resources
I haven’t spoken about this in a while, but interestingly enough, my freelancing journey has coincided with my husband and I’s infertility journey. I left my office job in February 2015 to begin writing “Bloom” and that spring marked the start of our infertility struggles. The next year when I was in the thick of publishing my first book and figuring out what to do with my “Bloom” series, I did five IUIs and the medication I was on made me moody, depressed, and fatigued…not the best combo for pursuing maximum productivity and trying to establish your own business. But through those difficulties, I learned a lot about myself, creativity, and how to listen to my body. And on the other side of that, I have also learned to better manage my focus and energy. I have learned that some days when I feel “off” or not in the mood, I can still push through and accomplish more than I anticipated. Especially over the last year, I’ve enlarged my capacity for picking work up in the afternoon, and pushing through is the right choice for that day. Other days, it is okay to just call it a day. Writing and editing are extremely mentally taxing, and you don’t have an unlimited attention span or mental resources. So learn to steward your own resources well.
Following Up is Not “Rude”
Similar to my first point, at the beginning of the process, I wanted one call or one email to be enough when following up with potential leads or clients because I thought follow-up seemed…well…rude somehow. Now there are for sure ways that following-up can be done distastefully, but more often than not, it’s not being rude to follow up on an inquiry or possible lead because people get distracted or forget. If you care about your work, you’re going to go the extra mile to make sure people benefit from your business. Plan for following-up and you’ll be surprised at the progress you make.
As a freelancer, every day is so different, and sometimes it’s hard to see progress as the days slog by, and even as the weeks go by. But take a look back over the past several months and years and you’ll see how each decision, each time you put your butt in the chair and written has added up to meaningful progress. Don’t give up.
The world needs you and your brave, creative work.