Have you noticed more and more people are working as freelancers and doing less and less of the old nine-to-five? Breaking news: it's not easy.
Turns out, it’s only going to happen more as the new world of work will mean most of our future jobs will be invented by us. It sounds super fun, and often it is, but in my experience having done quite a bit of it, it’s also super hard!
Working as a freelancer — which can mean: on your own — is a challenging balancing act if you can get it right. It’s not easy building an empire from your bedroom, so don’t start thinking it’s all about lounging around with a latte in the comfort of your pyjamas.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits when there’s no one to tap us on the shoulder and tell us we aren’t making progress. Sort of like the first time you’re left home alone and realise you have total freedom to make your own choices. Hourly bowls of ice-cream become totally okay, pants are optional, and there’s no limit to the volume of your favourite playlist.
The early days of freelancing can look a little similar, except the consequences can include not getting paid, not producing anything you’re proud of, and making yourself comfy in a ditch of disappointment.
So if that sounds good to you, here’s how to be the worst at it. Although we highly recommend you avoid everything listed below. Perhaps instead use this as your guide for what not to do.
1. Wait for people to come to you.
We can’t all be super talents discovered by a billionaire producer on YouTube. And building a network isn’t always just making friends. You’ve got to introduce yourself, remind people what your name is, and let them know how to keep in touch (and why they should).
2. Don’t mention payment or processes upfront.
Unfortunately the world of freelance is riddled with miscommunication and clients who drop like flies as soon as you mention cash. It’s always best to have physical evidence (this could be an email, or a text) of what you’re expected to deliver, by when, and for how much. There’s nothing worse than having someone zoom off with your finished product and leave you in the dust. (If this does happen, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman to see what your options are.)
3. Undervalue yourself.
Our world is filled with more people making more stuff, and clients will often expect the most from you for as little as they can manage. You’ve got to remember that you’ve got something that they want and it’s up to you to sell yourself, so celebrate your strengths and expertise!
4. Underestimate the difficulty of a project and never ask for help.
Once you can communicate what you have to offer, make sure no one is having grand delusions about what you actually provide. Don’t sell skills that you don’t have as this will leave you with a disgruntled client and a lot of stress to meet expectations on your end. It’s okay to reach out to others to make sure what you’re taking on is reasonable, achievable and in line with what you can deliver. If you’re still not sure, ask.
5. Forget about separating your life from your work.
Even if you don’t have a physical office, the time and place where you sleep, eat, and socialise, needs to be separate from work. For two reasons: no one is paying you to take a nap, and you’ll lose your mind if you never really step away from a project (even if it’s just mentally).
6. Avoid reading your rights and restrictions when it comes to your industry standard.
Set yourself up for success by being aware of exactly what you can and can’t do (in a legal sense) and what clients can actually ask for from you. There’s a minimum working wage and standards that apply to all professions, however it’s worth looking up the specifics in your field. Luckily, the Australian government have a handy Pay Calculator and Award Search available online.
7. Only do work when you feel like it and never make a big-picture plan.
Don’t get lazy, don’t shy away from a challenge, and keep learning. Similar to a sweaty exercise session, when you can feel your mind and body working hard that means they are.
8. Forget that whoever you’re working for can’t actually see what you’re doing. Ignore them. They don’t need to know.
Keep everyone in the loop, by letting them know when you’re “in the office”, which stage you’re at and when they can expect to see what you’re up to. Maybe do a morning and afternoon check in with all your current clients each day, telling them what you’re working on and giving them an opportunity to review your progress. Imagine you’re a client watching a loading screen – it’s so satisfying to see that bar slowly fill up instead of having no clue when something will be ready.
9. Give up.
Freelance isn’t for the faint hearted, it’s going to be hard, and slow, and just like the “daily grind” (but lonelier) and that’s what makes it so much sweeter when you do succeed. You’re your own boss and your own colleague. Be the best team you can be.