Envy 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?