How to survive the freelance life
Has the routine, structure and hierarchy of corporate life got you yearning for some freedom? To be your own boss - become the master (or mistress) of your own destiny - instead of working for the benefit of someone else?
Or maybe you’ve already made that leap and are experiencing the benefits that self-employment can bring: greater freedom certainly, the excitement of being able to shape your own future and drive your work forward – without someone breathing down your neck. Not to mention the flexibility: the ability to work from home more; less hours spent in the nightmarishly time-consuming rush hour; no difficult manager to answer to and the option to take time out when everyone else seems chained to their office desks!
There is of course a downside. In fact, many people who have tried being self-employed simply find the isolation, lack of structure and unguaranteed income something they’re unable to cope with (one friend of mine who tried it for a year said –“trying to work from home without an inbuilt routine drove me mad – I realised I’m just too institutionalised for this!”).
However, depending on the kind of person you are and your personal objectives when it comes to work, it is possible to crack the challenges of being self-employed; by firstly being very self aware of the main issues you will face and having some tried and tested strategies to overcome these. Because once this significant step has been taken, the option of going back into the world of ‘employment’ is for many of us, just too unpalatable!
From someone who has made this transition (and also works in a coaching capacity to support fellow freelancers) here are some survival tips:
1) You are not alone! One of the main issues for the self-employed (sole traders in particular) is one of perceived isolation. The lack of interaction with work-mates, the absence of workplace banter and staff socials can be hard to adapt to. A good way to recreate this is to either arrange to meet regularly with other freelancers (even if to work on your own stuff but in the company of others every now and then), or to join one of the wide range of networking groups out there (which can also be great for both getting new business and developing your own expertise).
2) Be focused on your ‘desired outcomes’. Take time to focus on the end result you want for every piece of work you take on (including an overall one for what you want to achieve by being self employed in your line of work in the first place!) Make it part of your action planning (see below). It’s a really good way to focus your mind on what you’ll get from finishing a project and being fully aware of the potential knock-on benefits for you, including both income and wider experience. This is actually a great motivator to keep you on track when things get challenging.
3) Create workable action plans. As a coach, one of my roles is to help people to set goals and focus on the steps needed to get there by overcoming the perceived ‘blocks’. Personally, these days I’m a great action planner – making longer term, weekly and (often the night before) daily action plans that help me to prioritise tasks and structure my day. Crucially, this is always more effective as a workable ‘to do’ list rather than a laundry list! There’s nothing worse (and more demotivating) than having two-thirds of the list not achieved, simply because it’s unrealistic!
4) Structure your day (and take breaks!) Many successful freelancers advocate getting up early in the morning and tackling their most difficult task of the day first… possibly even before looking at emails or engaging with social media. Of course this may not work for everyone, depending on the needs of their business and other factors; however I can testify that my better days as a business owner are always when I get to lunchtime, feeling as though I’ve had a productive morning – thus giving me both the license to take a break and propel my motivation and focus into the next task.
5) Create an environment conducive to work. Your work-space is paramount to enabling you to focus. Having had for years a very ‘packed’ office, some recent de-cluttering has really made this a much more pleasant place to work in. A good filing cabinet and a desk with comfortable chair (and of course the relevant technology) should be enough for most freelancers. Like many people, I also find that varying my day and doing some tasks in public places (there are buzzy cafes all over London full of people with laptops) regularly enables me to get a refreshed perspective at moments of dwindling motivation!
6) Celebrate your achievements. With no one there to give you a pat on the back, promotion and pay-rise as a reward for your labours, it has to be up to you to reflect positively on your achievements – and properly celebrate them on a regular basis. This I think is vital to help you keep on track with how you are developing with your business, and is a massive source of motivation (i.e. the more you realise and recognise what you have done, the more you will in the future!).
7) Crack the ‘procrastination’ habit. Last but not least, this can be a very big issue for many freelancers and business owners. Making excuses for why this is not the right time to crack on and really develop your business can be a downward spiralling, paralysing trap to fall into. So if you’re setting your sites on the gym or that housework that really must be done or the part time job that is taking up too much time, at the expense of getting down to your business that will keep you moving forward (and very probably, earning significantly more money)… sit down and refocus on the desired outcomes you want to achieve. Set goals and start making the changes you want to see. There really is no time like the present!