Freelancing is a dream lifestyle to many people, for all of the reasons you might expect. A freelancer often doesn’t have to put on a suit and commute to an office. A freelancer is, for all intents and purposes, his own boss, and although he has to answer to his clients, he is nonetheless the organiser of his own day.
The freelance lifestyle offers the allure of virtually limitless time flexibility, as well the potential to fit in assorted hobbies, fitness routines, naps, and side-hustles during the working day.
Furthermore, a freelancer — once successfully established — may, counter-intuitively, enjoy a greater degree of job security than the normal office worker. Sure, any freelance client might terminate their working relationship with the freelancer without notice, but performing work for several clients at once means that the loss of any single one might not be a game-changing crisis.
But for all the potential benefits of freelancing, the freelance lifestyle can also be a deadly trap if you’re not careful.
What at first seemed like unlimited freedom, can soon end up as the lack of structure that causes you to completely go off the rails. What was the potential for you to forge your own professional destiny can end up becoming the chaotic nightmare of struggling to define your own personal brand.
The freelancer’s lifestyle can be great and enriching, but it can also become a nightmare if you don’t keep a proper handle on things.
For that reason, here are some tips for ensuring your career as a freelancer works out the way you want it to.
Stick to a strict schedule
One of the benefits of a traditional office job, is that you will typically have fairly routine set working hours. You will know when you’re expected to arrive in the office and begin work, you’ll know when it’s lunchtime, and you’ll know more or less when you’re able to go home.
Working as a freelancer robs you of this degree of structure — or, said differently, presents you with more freedom.
The thing about schedules is that they are actually useful. They focus your efforts at work, and they prevent you chaotically wandering off and procrastinating for the entirety of the day.
In order to stay on top of your work as a freelancer, and to focus your productivity and prevent yourself from losing time like water from a bucket with a hole in it, structure your days and try to follow the same routine most of the time.
You can allow yourself a bit of leeway or room to manoeuvre here — an occasional afternoon nap, or quick lunchtime trip to the shop isn’t likely to ruin your career — but be sure that you’re holding yourself properly accountable to how you’re spending your time.
Wake up early
New freelancers often fall into a particularly irritating dilemma, where their newfound freedom leads to an increasingly flexible schedule, which in turn leads to later nights spend going out or watching TV shows during the week, which in turn leads to waking up later the next morning, which in turn leads to even later nights down the line.
After the first month or two of freelancing, those who aren’t great with managing a consistent work schedule can sometimes have ended up in a situation where they’re all but completely nocturnal, rousing themselves from bed in the afternoon, and going to bed as the sun’s rising the next morning.
The thing is, humans tend to function best when their sleep-wake cycles are aligned with the natural cycles of day and night. Those who work night shifts frequently fall into depression and are may be less productive in general.
Forcing yourself to wake up early each morning not only helps to regulate your schedule, it also gives you a chunk of time to use, either for your own personal pastimes, or for your work, before most people are awake and before the working day has properly begun.
This will make you more productive, improve your mood in the long run, and just prove to be a great investment all around.
Stay well fed
People, especially those with an entrepreneurial spark, often like to imagine that they could shoulder their way through any challenge without blinking, regardless of the external conditions they’re confronted with.
As it so happens, however, your body actually does need food for energy, and you do actually need energy in order to perform to the best of your abilities in your job.
Some people do work through the day without eating a proper meal, and somehow make it work — but those same people might be amazed by just how much easier their days went, and how much sharper their minds were, if they fuelled their bodies properly.
Keep yourself well-fed, and your energy levels will be more consistent, your stress hormone levels will be lower, and you will just have a better and more productive day all around.
Always meet your deadlines
When you start to meet your deadlines as a freelance writer, you are on a rapid downhill path which will very quickly lead to the end of your professional life, and the ruin of your professional reputation, if left unchecked.
While repeated failure to meet deadlines will, of course, end the career of an office-based staff worker as well, the risk of you missing the deadline in the first place is typically much higher when you’re a freelancer and don’t have the usual workplace checks and balances keeping you in line.
As a freelancer, your professional reputation is everything. One of the fastest ways to ruin that reputation beyond all repair is to miss deadlines. Don’t do it.
Use a good organiser tool to keep track of all your tasks and projects
It’s impossible to thrive as a freelancer if you don’t have an efficient system in place for keeping track of all your tasks and projects, and organising them in such a way that you can figure out where you stand at a glance.
You will quickly find that you have more stuff to do than you can easily remember, and that writing things down on stray scraps of paper doesn’t quite get the job done.
Subscribe to a task management system and use a good organiser tool. David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method, and the Nozbe app (which relies on the GTD method), is a much-beloved system among high-flying professionals of all stripes.
This method involves capturing all of your incoming tasks in an in-tray (digital or physical), and then processing them into projects with sub-tasks, or else discarding them or storing them for reference.
Outsource and rely on apps and digital services whenever you need to
Depending on the nature of your job, you may well find that, as a freelancer, you’ve got more on your plate than you bargained for.
Instead of simply performing your professional duties, you will also need to worry about bringing clients on board. This will mean you need to be a marketer, too, and will have to handle jobs like SEO, website design, and sales writing.
While you may have the time, energy, expertise, and inclination to handle all of these tasks yourself, you may well benefit from outsourcing some of these tasks and relying on apps and digital services to help take some of the load off, wherever possible.
This could take the form of hiring a writer to handle your web copy, or even contacting a virtual assistant to handle your calls and compile some spreadsheets for you.