5 Freelance Lessons I Learned from Working in the Fast Food Industry

It’s funny where the little lessons on life stem from. I was surprised the other day to discover that many of the work habits I use daily were ingrained into me from my first job in fast food. I started working right after I turned 16, and by doing the same thing every day for the next two years, I developed a set of rules from my experience that still apply today.

Whether at the drive-thru, the front registers or cleaning up the lobby, I’ve taken those lessons and applied them to my freelance business. Although I don’t smell like burgers at the end of the day, using the customer service rules of the fast-food industry has helped make my freelance business successful.

Below are a few freelance lessons I learned from my stint in fast food that can be applied to almost any type of business.


If You’ve Got Time to Lean, You’ve Got Time to Clean

I can’t tell you how many times my managers uttered this phrase. In a nutshell, this means, if you have time to stand around and chat, at least wipe down the counters while you’re doing it. This has led me to a method of working where I always have something to do even during slow periods. This keeps me motivated, helps me stay caught up, and encourages me to use every moment to do or learn something.

A few things I might do instead of leaning:

  • Catch up on RSS Feed/blogs
  • Add past projects to my online portfolio
  • Watch/read tutorials that I have bookmarked
  • Write a blog post
  • Stretch out creatively by drawing or writing in a different style
  • Create a new marketing piece like an email blast or direct mail postcard
  • Attend or research networking meetings in the area
  • Reach out to past clients with a hand-written note or email
  • Find new, interesting people to follow on Twitter

Smile at the Customer and Say, “Have a Nice Day”

Client facing is an important part of being a freelancer. If you don’t have people skills and know how to make clients feel comfortable and trust you, you’re going to have a rough go of it. So, smile and try to be friendly. Sometimes that’s all it takes to start a relationship with a potential client.

And while you’re at it, don’t burn your bridges! You never know when your next potential client might be the friend of a friend of a past client with whom you had a falling out. Remember that anyone you know or meet could be a client or friend of a client down the road. Even when I’ve had to deal with difficult clients, I try to kill them with kindness. I may never work with them or anyone they know again, but in this business, it could happen. So, be nice!

If You’re Expecting a Rush, Start Cooking More Fries

It happened more than once…the 5 o’clock dinner rush hit, and we’d be out of french fries. So, we learned to plan ahead and drop fries at 4:55 in preparation of an influx of french fry orders.

Do the same with your schedule. Have you noticed a busier day of the week or time of the year for your freelance business? Traditionally, January is very busy for me, but summer is much slower. Take stock of your workflow and manage your time accordingly by being aware that a ‘rush’ period is coming.

To prepare for the rush season, I’ll spend the slower times:

  • Organizing papers and files
  • Gathering and entering tax information into my accounting software
  • Making backups of completed work
  • Creating templates to use for layouts or questionnaires for pre-project information gathering
  • Organizing contacts
  • Getting freelance contractors lined up
  • Researching technologies that can help me be more efficient

Remember, You Have More Than One Boss

This goes the same for freelancing…with multiple clients, you have multiple bosses, and they all have different goals, different personalities and different ways of dealing with problems. You have to learn how to deal with these different personalities and communication styles effectively if you want to learn to survive and get ahead. Do this by:

  • Treating them like they’re your only client
  • Being respectful of their time and needs
  • Giving good, timely feedback and input
  • Understanding that their project is their baby and very important to them
  • Listening without judging or without putting emotion into it

Be on Time

Even though you’re not punching a clock anymore, you still need to be on time for meetings, or better yet a few minutes early. Clients appreciate you being aware of their time constraints and getting to a meeting when scheduled.

Also, keep an eye on those deadlines. If you have one approaching and know that something is going to keep you from completing your work when promised, give the client a few days’ notice so their expectations are kept in check.

And don’t forget about being in the right place at the right time. Meeting potential clients takes diligent work.

So, get out there and go to networking meetings, happy hours and even freelance meet-ups. You’ll be happy you took the time to do it.

Clocking Out

As a bonus, the final thing I learned from working at fast food is that sometimes it’s nice to leave your work behind and go do something else.

So take the time to “clock out” every once in a while. This can be hard to do when you office out of your home, but the benefit you get from having lunch with a friend, taking the dog to the park, or even working remotely from a coffee shop or co-working environment is huge. You’re refreshed, renewed and it really helps to shake that creative block that can plague even the most experienced freelancer.

Your Turn

What lessons have you learned from past jobs that you use in your freelance business today? Let us know in the comments.

Image by Like_the_Grand_Canyon