Starting a freelance business is harder than it looks.
Don’t get me wrong, the flexibility of working your own hours and the ability to pave your own path without the constraints of an overbearing boss is certainly an amazing feeling, but there are also elements that are not so cruisy. Things like not knowing where that next paycheck is coming from or how to price your service. Things that the guidebooks don’t tell you that you quickly figure out on the fly all while trying to build your brand and customers base.
The good news is that with any challenge comes lessons. Lessons I’ve certainly learned. Quickly.
Here is my take on the lessons I’ve learned in my first 6 months of freelancing.
Joining a support group or network keeps you sane
Freelancing from the outset sounded so exciting to me. The flexibility to do what you want, when you want made so much sense to me. However, as the larger projects rolled in, I started to realise that I relied so heavily on humans as a sanity check. Humans to bounce my ideas off and to see if I wasn’t going bonkers. If this sounds familiar to you, I get it. To combat loneliness and to keep your brain sane joining Facebook groups and meetups was my answer. Meetups especially helped me to connect with other like-minded freelancers and potential clients all at the same time.
Changing up your working space drives creativity
As a freelancer, cabin fever can set in very quickly. Sometimes the flexibility of working from home is great because you can practically put on your washing while working, however, the act of actually separating work and home is so important. That’s why moving to a cafe or shared office space to work for the day can help. I find that some of my best work is done outside of my home office. What works for me is making a commitment with myself to work from a cafe or one of my clients’ offices for a few hours a day. I find that the act of actually getting dressed as if you are going to an ‘office’ and leaving the house helps tremendously for my creativity.
Know your numbers
It is so important to know the ins and outs of your business, especially when it comes to money.
- Do you need a second job to support your lifestyle?
- How much is going out the door in expenses?
- How much is coming in the door?
- What tax deductions exist?
Knowing your numbers will help you calculate how much you are going to charge your clients and how much you need to eat etc. To streamline my finances, I use Freshbooks to record expenses, especially the ones that are tax-deductible for easy access when tax time comes around.
Also, a note on tax time for freelancers.
It’s our job to collect tax during the year. I highly recommend that you keep a separate account and transfer funds into it to cover your tax bill on 30 June. Spending money that is not yours always leads to a nasty shock at the end of the financial year.
Value your work and don’t become a doormat
As a new freelancer, it is so common for us to accept any work the comes our way. We tend to go above and beyond to make sure we get that much-needed approval from our new clients. Although this is definitely a good thing to build that solid relationship, it’s important to not become a marketing doormat. In other words, know your limit. If your client is asking so much of you and you know it is starting to affect you, taper back and say no. Know how many hours you can put into projects while keeping your body and mind in check. They are both far more important than a client’s opinion of your work at the end of the day.
Keep a focus during downtime between clients and projects
When freelancing, it is inevitable that there will be downtime between clients. When these periods hit my life, it’s a perfect storm for my brain to play the ‘what if’ game:
- “What if that client proposal was priced too high or low compared to others. Why haven’t they got back to me yet?”
- “What if I can’t get enough money through the door this month to pay the bills?”
- “Will that client accept that proposal?”
During periods where my brain plays funny buggers, I always aim to keep a focus in my day and work on my own website and brand. This could include:
- Installing customer user journey mapping and analysing how customers interact with my site (thanks, Hotjar)
- Yoga and meditation – Headspace is your answer!
- Developing new e-guides for lead generation
- Creating new lead forms for my website
- Touching base with my network
Separate work from home
As a startup freelancer, it’s impossible to afford a office space, that’s why I work from either a cafe or at home. Although working from home can help keep your operating costs low, it’s important to separate work from home. We all know how tempting it is to jump onto your laptop at night and smash out a few hours in the evening, but it’s so important to give your mind a rest and balance your personal life, too. To combat this, I set times where I am allowed to work and when I need to switch to ‘no-work-guy’. I do this by using alarms on my computer plus getting my girlfriend to remind me to stop (thanks, Simone).
Doing work that you believe in far outways the paycheck
When I left the classic corporate 9-5 world, I did it because the work I was doing was not aligning with my values. I was sitting in meetings knowing full well that the agencies were planning on taking the client for a ride. An approach that really didn’t sit well with me.
So, when I decided to freelance, I made a pact with myself that the meaning that comes from the project or the relationship I build with the client far outweighs the project. This mentality has helped me immensely so far.
It is you and only you. You pave your future.
Freelancing can sometimes feel lonely. It’s just you. You pave your own future. You don’t have a big company behind you offering support programs or other colleagues who you can lean on. That’s why you need to create a support network by finding a mentor that can help you and offer advice.
Another big part of this is setting actionable goals for your business and going after them by breaking it down. After all, you set your own agenda and goals.
To help me each day, I spend a quick 10 minutes answering the following:
- What did I want to achieve today?
- What did I actually achieve?
- What challenges did I face?
- How did I overcome them?
And there you have it. That’s my take on the lessons I’ve learned. The bottom line is to consistently believe that the work you are producing is valuable. To question your work where necessary but not let that uncertainty rule your life. Mistakes and challenges are inevitable, but learning from these is the most important bit.
Good luck fellow freelancers!