How to Work For Yourself as a Freelancer

Say hello to the worst boss you’ll ever have…you.

As a freelancer, you have access to the best things in life:

  • A career where you can dictate when and where you work;
  • The flexibility to run errands and spend time with your friends and family;
  • Choose clients (a.k.a. booting terrible people out the door)
  • Sleeping in (let’s be honest)

However, there is the old adage “too much of a good thing” dangling over this lifestyle.

Too much time flexibility, spending too much time with friends and family, being too picky with your clients, and sleeping in too much…equals no career. No income. No more freelancing.

Truth be told, being your own boss (BYOB) isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Here is the ultimate guide to succeeding at being a freelancer and your own boss.

“Anybody who is in freelance work, especially artistically, knows that it comes with all the insecurity and the ups and downs. It’s a really frightening life.”
-Alessandro Nivola

Set Boundaries

When you work from home, it’s way too easy to think about working on your nice couch. In front of the T.V. Oops, how did Friends get on the screen again?

You need to have a place in your home that is designated for work. In the true Millennial style, my workspace is the kitchen table. (Because who eats there anymore?) This allows me to be close to my coffee, plus it’s the spot with the most natural light — the sun comes up in the window next to the table.

For your optimal workspace from home, use the following criteria:

  • Find the most natural lighting; this helps with your circadian rhythms and focus.
  • Do NOT be somewhere where you can be easily distracted (living room, kitchen, etc.).
  • Steer clear of your bedroom; there shouldn’t be any electronic screens in your area of sleep anyways.
  • A room or area where you can control the volume; if need be, your workspace can be completely silent or filled with loud rap music (hey, to each his or her own).

We all know environments are important. They are what make you grow and creates your tendencies. Your workspace environment must foster quality work and creative thinking, especially as a freelancer.

Shape your workspace for massive productivity and creativity, preferably away from everything else in your home.

Create a Schedule (and DON’T Change It!)

I am absolutely terrible at this. Not the scheduling part — the sticking to it.

You need structure of some sort. The 9-to-5 rat race got one thing right. Set hours dedicated to one work thing, set other hours for other work things.

As of right now, here is my schedule (let’s hope I stick to it):

6 A.M. to 7 A.M. = Morning Routine

7 A.M. to 8:30 A.M. = Medium (write 1,000 words, engage with others)

8:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. = Freelance Ghostwriting (main income)

1:30 P.M. to 3 P.M. = Lunch, read nonfiction

3 P.M. to 4 P.M. = One more ghostwriting article

4 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. = Exercise (Lift M/W/F, basketball T/Th)

5:30 P.M. to 6 P.M. = Check Medium (engagement, respond to comments)

6 P.M. to 8 P.M. = Netflix & Dinner (yes, that’s really what’s in my schedule)

8 P.M. to 9 P.M. = Shower/Chores

9 P.M. to 11 P.M. = Read fiction

I sleep from 11 to 6. This routine is different to me because I’m 100% a night owl. Waking up when my fiance does is quite the jolt. And I am currently struggling with the actual waking up and doing my morning routine, but I hope sometime soon things will click and I’ll be able to do this all without thinking.

Your schedule needs to become a habit eventually. It might take a few months, but once you bust through the initial friction of your current routine you’ll be one genius of a boss.

Make a schedule (at least for your work time) based on your productivity periods. And keep this schedule for at least three months.

Pair Work with Something You Enjoy

It doesn’t have to be something large or insane. For me, it’s something so simple and so normal that I could get this little luxury with any job: Coffee.

My vice — okay, okay, addiction — is that tiny jolt that gets you from a groggy guy or gal who has barely woke up, hair disheveled, to someone who took just the right amount of cocaine.

Alert. Focused. Crushing projects. Fingers blazing across the keyboard.

Everyone has a small thing they enjoy. Maybe it’s doing work in your underwear. Perhaps it’s coffee or energy drinks or tea or soda or alcohol (though I don’t recommend that last one).

You know what I’m getting at. At a 9-to-5, you can’t always do what you want. But, by doing your small enjoyment, you get to experience the benefits of freelancing in quick, digestible bites that don’t jeopardize your work.

Abuse of powers would be sitting on the couch, playing video games until 3 in the afternoon, then doing the five things on your work to-do list. Instead, take small wins. Drink your coffee (or booze, I guess).

Be the cool boss and let in little bits of pleasure.

Dress for Success

No, Justin Timberlake, you don’t need a suit and tie.

“Success” can mean different things, but when you’re working from behind a laptop you can slack in the clothes department and be fine.

However, dressing for success — a nice pair of jeans, a clean graphic tee, your favorite sweatshirt — at least tells your body that it’s time to be up and get to work.

If you were to stay in your pajamas all day, your brain and body thinks its perpetual nighttime. Zero work would get done.

Sure, your little vice could be basketball shorts and a baggy sweatshirt (*raises hand vigorously*). So long as you’re telling yourself involuntarily that sleep is over — it’s time to get crackin’.

Change out of your PJs, for Pete’s sake!

Have Your “Why” Be “Time”

You need a reason. Yeah, yeah, “escaping the rat race” can be one. It’s not enough, though.

A reason that’s personal to you. A “why.”

For me, I freelance write because writing is my purpose. (Hence why I use Medium like a drug — when I need it and when I don’t.) I left my job for a life of freelance because it allowed me the time to write.

I’ll write that again: It allowed me the time to write.

Time…that’s what this is all about. You want time to do what you want. It’s the means to the ends, the ends to the means.

Instead of being paid for giving your time away, you broke free and now work for your value. Per project, per word, per experience; whatever it is, you aren’t a slave to the clock anymore. (Except for your schedule — stick to that sh*t.)

Having a strong why, a strong reason for wanting more time, will make everything else above inherently easier. This is because you have a purpose, a passion. Wanting more time just to waste it with video games, marijuana, and Netflix binges — damn you, Friends — won’t force you out of bed, ready to tackle the day.

Rather, freeing up time to work on that novel you’ve always meant to write, or getting more quality memories and experiences with your spouse and children, or learning a new language and traveling for the culture and not the escape…

THIS is how your environment, your schedule, your tiny hit of pleasure, and your choice of clothes become everything you could ever hope for.

Have a powerful why: You have new time, but what is it for?

Working freelance is an amazing opportunity.

Trouble is, you usually get one shot at it. If you piss away your time, don’t get any work done or clients nailed down, you’ll feel financial pressure and come crawling back to the corporate world. (Or, worse…your old job.)

Don’t squander this wonderful, wonderful world. Take this opportunity by the reigns and steer it towards success. Use these tips to build a lifestyle that not only allows you to get quality work done, but also gives you the ability to use your time the way you were meant to.

“Freelance is only free if the lance isn’t pointing back at you.”
-Me, probably

Who Is This Guy Anyways?

Jake Lyda is a freelance writer and fiction author. He is currently working on short stories. For more information on his freelance writing services, visit his site. Follow him on Instagram for an insight to his lifestyle. Look out for his weekly fiction stories and advice on Medium.

Hope this helped you in your writing journey! ✍️