Two Freelancing Myths and The Need For Self-Discipline

Self DisciplineEnvy filled my friend’s voice as she spoke, “I wish had it like you. Since you’re self-employed, if you wake up and don’t feel like working you don’t really have to. I have to go to work every single day, whether I want to or not.”

The volunteer coordinator at the children’s school huffed impatiently, “You work for yourself. You must have a lot of free time every day. Surely, you can make time to chair this major committee for us since you can control your own schedule.”

Both statements indicate a common misconception about freelancing. Both statements also totally ignore a key factor that every freelancer must master if they are to succeed. That factor is self-discipline.

First, Let’s look at these two misconceptions:

  • I would go broke if I only worked when I felt like it. My friend was dead wrong in her perception of how freelancers work. I may not have a supervisor looking over my shoulder or punch a time clock every day, but I still have to complete the projects that I have accepted on time in order to be paid. The idea the freelancers only work when they feel like working is a myth.
  • Freelancers Don’t have lots of extra time. Like the volunteer coordinator, many non-freelancers believe that those of us who are self-employed (and especially those of us who work from home) must have a lot of extra time on our hands. Nothing could be further from the truth. We may not have the daily commute, however we have no support team working for us. As freelancers, we have to fulfill such functions as marketing and billing that those in the corporate world may not have to worry about.

Successful freelancing takes more than just having knowledge or ability in a particular field. The successful freelancer must be able to devise a plan for every single project and follow that plan through to completion without any supervision or prompting. Doing that requires self-discipline.

What does it mean to have self-discipline?

As a child, I was taught to always finish what I started and to honor any commitments that I made. I think that these two lessons, early in life, have contributed greatly to my personal self-discipline and to my success as a freelancer.

Here are some other marks of a self-disciplined freelancer:

  • Is Reliable. To succeed as a freelancer, your clients absolutely must be able to count on you. When they hand off a project to you, your clients must know that the work is in good hands and that it will be done.
  • Judges Required Work Effort Well. A good freelancer can judge how much work effort is needed and will not intentionally overload themselves. Rather, they will recommend another freelancer if their workload is too great.
  • Delivers Quality. There is no room in the freelancing world for shoddy work or taking shortcuts. A successful freelancer knows that they must deliver quality workmanship each and every time that they complete a project.
  • Meets or Beats Deadlines. A deadline is a commitment and a freelancer must have the self-discipline to meet it even when it means working additional or inconvenient hours to do so.
  • Asks the Tough Questions. Everyone hates confrontation, but sometimes you must question a client to get the information you need to complete a project (or to get paid on time).
  • Doesn’t Quit if Project Gets Difficult. Despite your best plans, a project may prove to be more difficult than you thought it would be. A self-disciplined (and successful) freelancer doesn’t give up.

You may have heard this popular question before: would you stop at a stop sign if there was no one in sight and there was absolutely no traffic on the road?

I would expect someone with the self-discipline to become a successful freelancer to answer “Yes” to the above question because a “Yes” answer indicates someone who can be counted on to do the right thing — even when no one else is looking.

Some questions to ponder (and discuss)

What marks of freelancing self-discipline would you add to the list above?

If you find yourself lacking in a particular area of self-discipline, how can you build it up?

What other freelancing myths have you encountered?


  1. says

    You’ll also need a lot of self-discipline to not be rude when people suggest such stupid things. “I don’t need to work if I don’t feel like it? I have loads of spare time!? I’ll show you how much work I need to do this week! Come on, let me show you!”

    I know for sure that a freelancer has to do way more than the typical employee. We have to work when we feel ill, while an employee can stay at home and do nothing for a week. We have to make our own deadline no matter what, while an employee can leave at five and have a colleague finish the job. (Of course, this is not always true.)

    Please remind me why I am a freelancer… ;-)

  2. says

    Great answers to 2 major misconceptions. I personally know lots of people that assume because you work for yourself that its not a “real job”. Let me say that I have worked harder, longer hours since I became a freelance designer than I ever did in a “normal” work setting. Keep up the good articles.

  3. says

    I loved this article I may even print some cards with the URL on them. I hear this kind of stuff all the time. I usually just say that it sucks when I try to call in sick to work, because the phone is always busy. Sadly most people don’t get this at first.

  4. says

    LOL, Steve! What a great comeback.

    Petra and Arron, thanks for your comments. One thing that helps me not to be rude when people don’t understand is remembering my own attitudes and perceptions before I started freelancing. Let’s just say that my first year was quite an eye-opener.

  5. says

    Excellent article. I especially love the part with the bullits for a self-disciplined freelancer !

    I’d like to add the myth that freelancers are expensive by means of charging high rates for lectures.
    Example: you give a masterclass or some training and ask $300 a person. The class takes a whole day ( 8hrs ). Most people would calculate you ‘earn’ $300 / 8hrs = $ 37.5 per hour per person who takes your classes. What is left out in that calculation… is all the hours preparing your lectures, doing research, getting the presentation to your standards etc…

  6. says

    Good myth Ramon – and actually it could apply to a lot of areas.

    Most people just think of the obvious part of the freelance job as being “the work.” But, freelancers must keep up to date on the skills and there are many other “behind the scenes” tasks that need to be done.

  7. says

    Ahh, I had my rant all prepared, and then you moved the article into all these good things we freelancers uphold.

    I’ll add integrity to your list. It means a great deal to me that I always do the right thing – not just for me, but for everyone. Sometimes that means I don’t get the good end of the stick, but it DOES mean I can walk out of the situation proudly knowing I was the bigger person.

    Here’s a freelancing myth: “You don’t need that. You work from home.”

    Oh. Sorry. I thought I had the right to nice coffee cups, a good chair and better phone equipment. My mistake.

    *rolls eyes*

  8. says

    I always have people asking me how I became a freelance writer full-time. They squint as if they do not believe it is possible! Then they say, “Oh, I want to write a book someday,” or, “I like to write, maybe I could do that”. I think the myths I come in contact with most are 1: It is impossible and 2: It is really easy. Whew!

  9. says

    James feel free to rant away anyway. BTW, integrity is a great addition.

    Nicole – impossible and easy. That’s sort of ironic, isn’t it? Nobody out there seems to feel it’s doable with some hard work.

  10. says

    It was good to read this today. #5 is particularly apt for me this week…

    While it’s important not to simply quit when the going get’s tough, it’s also important (and very difficult!) to know when you DO have to quit a certain project, or better yet, discern which projects you should stay away from in the first place. All that is something I’m still figuring out as a relatively new freelance web designer.

  11. says

    All of these facts hold true for myself and most of my colleagues and business owners as well. I know many who have a tendency to simply shut down when the going gets tough, especially when you’re not disciplined, and you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. Some people actually need that boss to keep them working.

    The deadline issue is so true. Over delivering is generally the idea behind this concept as well.

  12. says

    Some of these myths are really frustrating, especially since it’s usually close friends and family who buy into them the most.

    It took starting a second business and buying a nice car before most of my family actually took me seriously. That’s definitely not the way it should be.

    Great post, Laura :-)

  13. says

    @ Mason – Now ain’t that the truth, and it’s funny I never noticed that myself. I sustained myself and my family from freelancing for three years – and well, on top of that. No one took it seriously (and they still don’t) until I said, “Oh. By the way, I’m buying a duplex.”

    “GASP! You can’t! You have no money! You’re a writer!”

    I can, I did have some and yes, I still am. And I’m the proud owner of a building I hope doesn’t fall apart on me.

    I *will* say that the bank took me more seriously than my friends and family. That’s kind of sad.

  14. says

    If you think about a self employed plumber or electrician, it becomes more clear.

    If they don’t go to work, they don’t pay the bills.

    Good article with some good points!

  15. says

    What a great article! I’ve come across these myths many a time. My Home Owners Association wants me to join the board bc I’d have plenty of free time to do it, you know, since I work from home. HA!

    Another thing Freelancers have to be…..Good Jugglers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working on a job and had to switch gears when an ‘emergency’ came in, then answer a call while still working, and oh yea, let the dog out too. I guess it helps if you’re a little hyperactive so you have enough energy to do all that :)

    Oh, and what really frustrated me was when I was buying my condo 2 years ago, and I couldn’t go thru a normal loan process bc I was self employed. I make more than many of my counterparts and have been doing this for almost 8 years….longer than any “real” job I ever had. So what’s the problem? sigh….

    Keep the great articles comin!

  16. says

    If I had a dime (not a dollar, a dime) for every time I have heard these mis-perceptions of “so much extra time and flexibility you have”, maybe I wouldn’t consult anymore, and instead just count the enormous change and accumulated income from that alone.

    The funny thing is that no matter how many times I hear it, I am still marveled.

    The good news is that indeed “we are lucky” sorta speak.

    In today’s market, skills – solid “make it happen” skills are more important than ever before. Markets and technologies are moving at the speed of light. Consultants know this – never drop their guard, and need to keep the pace. It is invigorating, despite challenging. Few employee jobs give you back the continually evolving opportunities to grow like this, let alone deep satisfaction.

    Nice article Laura – thanks for the smiles brought to us all today!

  17. says

    I’d have to say that one of the most important things you can have as a freelancer is confidence.

    Without it you’ll have trouble moving out into the freelancing world, and you certainly wont stay there very long if you don’t have confidence in your skills and the prices you charge.

  18. Michael Paris says

    Love the site !! May I add, being able to find the good in any thing life throws at you.Turning a negative into a positive. 3 years ago an accident with a transport truck left me both physically and learning impaired, it ended my truck driving days to say the least. On the positive side I am now able to take a love of computer’s, web sites, and photography and to turn it into something I love doing. If life give’s you lemons open up a lemon-aid stand

  19. says

    Excellent article, Laura. It is so true – and very sad – that some people just do not understand what freelancers do. The thing that really surprised me when I started freelancing was all the time that needs to be spent doing invoices, marketing, answering emails, querying, submitting, faxing… The list goes on.

    Someone asked me, “Can’t you just spend a couple hours a day working on the computer and be finished?” I was like, “What?!”


  20. says

    I find everything said here to be , too true. Many people wonder how I have time to do everything that I do and I say, it’s the same way they do. I schedule a 50 hour work week and keep to it. Some days the work day may be made up of 4 or 5 – 2 hour work blocks spread over the waking day and others may look like the typical work day. Or I may work the weekend to attend a function during the week.

    I find that being self-employed can be liberating. It’s not always easy to keep the schedule, but something that needs to be done/

  21. says

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I literally just went full-time freelance last month. How I pictured my freelance life and how it’s actually turning out, I’m finding, are very diferent. Not only is “working when you want” a myth, but I actually feel insanely guilty for wasting a minute of my freelance time. It’s been a VERY hard adjustment, which I did not expect in the least.

    Thanks for the article, it made what I’m going through feel… “normal”.

  22. says

    One thing I use to get a lot when I was in my first years of freelancing was why I never went back to a job. I think it is somewhat of a myth that freelance income sucks compared to a fixed income. It is true you probably will earn (way) less as you’re learning the ropes but you’ll see your income rise as you learn and grow.

  23. Leah Daniels says

    May I just say that people often have a misconception of age? That is one things that bothers ME the most. A lot of people will like my work, email me, talk to me on the phone, and be fine, but then when they find out Im a student, and Im only 20 years old, they think they can treat me like an intern who needs another project for my portfolio.

    I started to learn to deal with this when I was 17, and just never tell people my age. Most people these days assume Im in my mid 20s. Thats where the comment about Confidence comes in, I definitely agree that a confident freelancer is a successful one.

    Perfect example of someone who has a very successful career at a very young age: Jacob Cass.

  24. says

    Great comment Leah!

    I think the age perception is at both ends of the scale.

    I know successful freelancers who are in their fifties, sixties, and even seventies – but are hesitant to mention age at all because they believe that most clients want someone in their thirties.

  25. says

    I get this all of the time from my friends. I have been told that I don’t have a “real job” or that it seems I don’t do anything all day because I don’t leave my house. I probably work 12-16 hours almost every day of the week. From my experience, the benefits of freelancing are not that I can “work when I want to” or that I have “alot of free time”, but are actually:
    – I actually enjoy what I do
    – When I get overwhelmed, I can step back and relax for alittle bit(which usually ends up meaning that I have to work later into the night)
    – If I’m lucky and can afford it, I can take a few days off when I want to, to go on vacation
    – I work 12-16 hours a day and honestly the only time I feel like it has actually been “work” is after I have been out trying to find new clients.
    – I can do things how I want to and split my day up to work on several different projects, if I want to
    – I save money on gas
    – And best of all, there is not a dress code for work

    If I am told that I don’t have a “real job” one more time, my head might explode. Thanks for the great article and pointing out what all of us freelancers go through! I used to have the same misconceptions about freelancers and I used to never want to do this kind of work, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  26. says

    Don’t forget how you’re automatically the one handling chores since you’re in the house anyway.
    Every time I make hubby do the dishes or cook himself I get very guilt-tripped, since he does manual labor for 8 hours whilst I just sit at the computer for 12. >.>. When he gets days off it’s also very frustrating since I don’t; yet he wants to spend time with me, so he really gets in the way of my work. I guess it’s just hard to comprehend that someone at the computer is actually doing something useful.

    Ah well.


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