Lots of people imagine freelancers as being perfectly organised people that roll out of bed (at an hour that suits them) onto a pile of strictly organised files, and a laptop with emails full of opportunities. The truth is, the struggle is real and when you’re starting out it can feel like a constant uphill battle with no one to cling to for support.
Freelancing can take many forms. Some people do it full-time and others do it alongside other part-time or full-time jobs. One of the benefits is that you can freelance to fit your lifestyle.
I’ve been freelancing since I graduated from highschool, often taking on projects on top of my other workloads and study. You may not even realise you’re freelancing to begin with — maybe a friend asks you to stream a gig live on Facebook in exchange for free tickets, or a family friend asks you to write a blog-post review of their homemade soaps. Freelance can be freeing and full of variety, and you can make the most of it by setting yourself up for success from the start.
1. Get your admin in order
It can be great fun picking things like which website template you might use or which plants to pop on your desk, but before all that happens you need to tick some major admin boxes. The Fair Work Ombudsman have a handy guide on how to navigate work as a contract freelancer so you can stick to the rules (and the people you work with can too). First, you’ll need to set up an Australian Business Number (ABN) which you can do via the Australian Business Register (ABR). You’ll also need to make sure you have a Tax File Number (TFN).These are some of the things you’ll need to be a legally practicing business, or you could end up with some hefty penalties. For a deeper dive, read up on the essentials for running your own business and checkout some startup fundamentals.
2. Decide on your hours
If you’re coupling freelance work with another job, make sure you’re dedicating a reasonable number of hours to your freelance projects without neglecting the time you need for other indispensable things like sleeping, eating and exercise. Plan your work week so you have at least one full day of rest, otherwise you’re going to burn out pretty quickly. Don’t push yourself to work overtime if you can help it. It’s not a great habit to get into.
3. Pick your workplace
A lot of freelance work will probably begin in the comfort of your bed wired into a laptop at an odd hour. Keeping this up isn’t sustainable and can have pretty dramatic negative effects on your health. It’s too easy to be connected all the time with a smartphone in your pocket, so you’ll need to learn to switch off from work and switch off from your personal life when you need to. The line between these two things can be pretty blurry if you’ve got no one to keep you accountable and most of your work happens at home. It takes practice to keep your personal stuff and work stuff separate. A local café with Wi-Fi or even a public library can be great pseudo-workplaces unless you need something more permanent or with particular facilities. The Fetch have a great guide to start your search for a co-working space that suits your needs.
4. Get ready as if you were going to an office
To get you into a productive mindset you need to remove absolute comfort from wherever you’re getting work done (kind of similar to the point above). Get showered, put on a fresh outfit and try to leave the house (or whatever shape your workplace takes) a couple of times during the day to stretch your legs and get some air. This mode of preparation will set you up for premium productivity, and help to separate your personal life from your professional one. Start some good habits and this will help you to develop a routine.
5. Write up a manifesto, project plan or big-picture goal
This could be a list of words that describe who you are as a business and what you have to offer, or it could be a timeline of everything you hope to achieve in the year/month/week. Use this document to shape all of your day-to-day decisions and direction of your work. You’ll soon realise if what you’re producing and what you might have planned don’t quite line up or if you’re totally smashing it.
6. Learn to love your loneliness, but remember to seek support
I won’t lie — most days will feel like you’re flying solo. You’ve got to practice getting comfortable and confident in your own abilities, but you shouldn’t neglect the power of networking and reaching out to other people who might be in the same position as you — chances are, they’re feeling a lot of the things you’re feeling! Social media can be a great place to look for professionals and businesses you admire, and attending local events or freebie workshops can be another way to enter your industry community. Ask questions, be friendly and keep an open mind. You might even find a mentor who can guide you through the early stages of getting a project off the ground.