The ideal of freelancing is to be your own boss, to set your own schedule, manage your own creativity and be responsible for your own budget. Sometimes though, the freelance life seems to do the opposite — you end up working for multiple bosses who don’t care about your personal world, yet still want to micro-manage your creative work.
At the end of the day, it can feel like you don’t really run your own business — your business runs you.
Freelancing comes in many forms and sizes, whether you’re a writer, designer or you just like to sell knitted scarves on eBay. Whatever you do, you’ll have to make some compromises, but you’ll be happiest if you can find ways to take advantage of your flexibility and freedom.
Here are some tips for transforming your job from a worker bee’s cube to the desk of the CEO:
1. Make Time for Yourself
Working solo offers unique perks that keep life exciting and drawbacks that can make you want to run back to that safe little cubicle – you know, the one you can leave behind at the end of the day.
The days I appreciate freelancing the most are when I’m seizing control of my schedule or my work environment. It feels exhilarating to make time for an afternoon bike ride, cook a meal for friends or just sit in the park with my laptop while I’m working.
Find one or two ways to personalize your work schedule or interrupt the routine every day, to make your time uniquely your own.
2. Make Social Time
The work-from-home lifestyle is glamorous when you can dance naked around your living room on your break, but it can be depressing when you can’t turn to your coworker and complain about that late night you had and how much work you have to swallow today.
The bright side is you’re not forced to sit around an office with people you barely know all day, and you don’t have the constant interruptions. Instead, you can concentrate on work when you need to and then make more time for your favorite people in your free time.
You can schedule your work around your social life, instead of the other way around – have lunch with friends who work in a different city, take the afternoon off to go to the zoo with your kids or take off work early one night for a party. Remember that your social time can also be a business opportunity for networking, too.
Later you can make up for the lost work time when there aren’t other people around to hang out with—on a quiet week day evening or even a weekend morning when nothing else is going on.
3. Take Vacations
There are days when work monopolizes me, and I eat frozen tamales and glance uncomprehendingly at the sunset out my window, wondering how the day went by. Sometimes, I’m not sure whether to be grateful for the challenges or hateful of the way work bleeds into my personal time.
Luckily, I can make up for those crunch times by taking time off for vacation at quieter times. I don’t have to worry about how much Paid Time Off I’ve accrued or what my boss is going to say when I tell him I’m going away for a week.
If you work from home and telecommute via the net, you can also take a “working vacation” nearly anytime. Find a cheap hotel with free wireless and spend your free time soaking in new scenery.
4. Trust the Future
Sometimes I get so caught up worrying about work and what will happen after my next lull in a project, that I neglect my personal life. I’ve learned to accept that sometimes I’ll forget important things like getting groceries or buying my mother a birthday present. Luckily, she’s going to love me no matter what I do, even if I fail as a writer and have to beg for work as a coffee barista.
When I was young, just out of college, I imagined that one day everything in my life would come together, and I would know my purpose in life and accomplish something amazing. Now, I’m a bit more humble. I’ve learned that life is a continual process of reinvention. In order to succeed, you need to know what your goal is. And one setback or one step ahead can shape the future in ways you can’t immediately understand.
It’s helpful to think of freelancing as a stage in your life that you get to learn from and enjoy, rather than a task you have to succeed or fail at. If you fail, you can go back to other types of work and maybe find your way back to freelancing again at some other point. Maybe the freelance work you’re doing now will lead the way into the perfect office job you used to always want. For now, just enjoy what you have and where you’re at, and trust that the future will bring you something good too.
5. Take Charge
No one will treat you like an independent business person unless you act like one. That doesn’t mean you can control every aspect of your work, because you’re still working to please the client. But you can also set boundaries for your work life and be firm about them.
If you’re asking for a vacation at a time when you don’t know of any work that’s coming up, don’t even ask — just notify your boss that you’ll be away during certain dates. If you’re already hard at work on a project for one client and they ask you to put it aside for another, sometimes you can just tell them you’ll get to the second once you’ve finished the first.
Usually you’ll find that you’ll earn people’s respect by setting certain boundaries –just make sure to be polite and consider compromising when it’s important to them.
6. Fake It Till You Make It
If my freelance business had a motto, this would be it! I suspect there are times when all of us feel a bit insecure about our qualifications, expertise or abilities. But it’s helpful to remember that what you have to offer isn’t just the your static experiences, because you are always growing — what’s important is your potential to achieve something for yourself and your client.
Use your extra time and flexibility while freelancing to study another aspect of your job, take classes or teach yourself a new skill. Read as much as you can about what you don’t already know, and soon enough you will find yourself growing more capable and confident. Freelancing is a great way to continue educating yourself, while being the expert at a particular job too.
7. Ask Others How They Do It
Sometimes you can get great advice from people you know, or web sites like Freelance Folder. And I’m interested to hear yours — so, how do you handle the contradictions and compromises that come along with freelancing? Are you taking creative control of your business, or letting your clients take control over you?