I’ve been freelancing for a year, here are seven tips that worked for me
A year ago, I quit my day job as a web editor for a university to be a freelance copywriter. Since then, it’s been the rollercoaster that every freelancer talks about. I’ve edited magazines, picked up awards and moved to a new city. I’ve also freaked out about who’ll pay my rent next month or if I’m even any good at what I’m doing at all, but that’s another story.
When I started, I read a lot about how to be a great freelancer and tried to set myself some rules for how I wanted to work. A year on and I have a pretty good idea of what’s stuck for me, so I thought I’d share what works (and what doesn’t).
- No deadlines on Mondays — I’ll happily admit that I stole this from Jessica Hische’s ultra-schedule post. It’s a great idea and for the most part, I’ve stuck to it. There have definitely been a few occasions where client schedules have meant that I’ve had to get something sorted by a Monday, but as a general rule, not having deadlines at the very start of the week has made for stress-free weekends.
- Mondays are for admin — Again, I stole this entirely from the aforementioned Jessica Hische post. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually run out of admin to do by Monday lunchtime, so I end up doing client work. Still making a habit sorting out my books every Monday has made life a lot easier for me and my accountant.
- Hire an expert or two — Hiring my accountant and paying a designer to sort my branding and business cards for me were two of the best decisions I’ve made as a freelancer. It might feel like an unnecessary expense, but it took me two whole days of pure stress to sort my tax return out last year. That’s two whole days I wasn’t working or earning money. Effectively, the two ‘extra’ days I’ll work this year will pay for my accountant. Hiring people who have the skills you don’t feels great.
- Don’t undersell yourself — The biggest struggle I had over the last year as a freelancer was pricing and estimating time on jobs. I’m getting better at it as time goes on, but in the beginning, it was really easy for me to price too low and underestimate how long a job would take me. No-one loses out in this situation except me. I was working longer hours for less money. If you find yourself doing the same, try upping your day rate or ‘overestimating’ your time. Chances are, that change will actually take you to where you should’ve been in the first place.
- Work out when you work best — This can take a while, but finding out when you work best and setting your schedule around that is one of the best things you can do to make your working day better. My creative focus is best early in the morning, so I make a point to get into the office (I have a desk in a coworking space) before everyone else and leave somewhere between 3pm and 5pm. I can’t concentrate late in the afternoon so I don’t even bother trying. It takes a while to learn how to listen to yourself in this respect, especially if you’ve been tied down to a company’s set working hours for a while, so experiment with your hours until you find what fits.
- Separate work and life — This isn’t a rallying call to find a ‘work/life balance’ in the sense that those two things are mutually exclusive. In fact, if you’re freelancing, there’s a chance that you love work and, to an extent, work is life for you. Finding a way to walk away from work and focus on the other stuff that matters is important, though. I’ve only just cracked this by hiring a desk in a coworking space. Now I walk for 20 minutes every day to get to work and that time gives me a chance to shift gears and prepare myself for what’s ahead (or wind down at the end of a busy day).
- Make the most of it — I sort of stole this from an excellent post by Matt Gemmell on working from home. He says it a whole lot better than I can:
It’s fine to schedule a half-day off for the launch of that new game, or take advantage of cheap daytime movie tickets once in a while. Otherwise, why bother at all?
There’s so much more advice that could end up in this post. But really, the two articles I’ve already linked to cover a lot of the most useful tips I’ve followed so far. I’d love to know what’s worked for you, though. So please do comment or recommend this post if you found it useful.
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