Being a freelancer is harder than most people think.
Let’s forget the part about selling and actually keeping the business side of things running smoothly for a moment and let’s focus on running a life as a freelancer.
I consider myself a freelancer still. I just freelance my CEO skills to Better Proposals. Before that, I was running The Business Automation Company and I was a freelance salesperson, writer and product designer. Before that I was a web designer.
I’ve been running my life as a freelancer for nearly 20 years. Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned in my time about how to, for want of a better term, keep your shit together when freelancing.
#1 Sacred Time
You need to have some time each week that no matter what happens, you stop working and enjoy that thing. Ideally having a few of these times each week is ideal. It could be date night, reading your kids a bedtime story. Whatever it is – nothing comes between you and that thing.
For me, it’s football (actual football, not handegg). I play on Monday nights and nothing stops me playing. It’s the one time of the week where it’s just me, my mates and a ball. No phones, no thinking, just enjoying.
The other thing for me was Barcelona matches. I don’t record games. I just watch them live. No working during games – just enjoying for 90 minutes. Find your version and protect it. If you don’t, you will just continue working when it’s busy and while that might be fine for 2 weeks, if you do that forever you’ll run yourself into the ground.
#2 FU Money
This has been a concept for a long time but the general idea being to save up “fuck you money” which is an amount of money you use as a mental fallback if you ever have a client situation that you really can’t deal with.
The act of knowing you’ve got it is often enough to not take on a low quality client to begin with. The idea is to save this up as quick as you possibly can by any means necessary. If I was starting over from scratch, I’d actually take a loan for this. If you never need it – fine, but having it keeps you from working for awful people who will destroy you if you let them.
Save up money in a separate account. At a minimum, shoot for whatever your average order value would be, then just keep topping it up in bits.
On the side, consider investing in stocks or other assets, too. Although it’s not as accessible as cash, it’s a great way to make you feel more at peace and confident in refusing clients that aren’t right for you.
#3 35 or 168 Hour Weeks?
Are you trying to replicate a corporate working environment where you have lunch to yourself, work 9-5 and don’t answer the phone after that? Or are you trying to build a flexible working life?
When I say 168 hour weeks, I don’t mean literally, I just mean you’re typically “always on”. You’ll have some weeks or months when you’re just slow and doing the minimum, then have other months where you’re burning the candle at both ends. It evens itself out.
If you’re single with no family or a ridiculously understanding partner then the second option might suit you. If you have a family then you might want to try engineering a typical work pattern. Check out more inputs on calendar availability management here.
#4 Know when you work best
This is vital. Knowing this can be the difference between having an average year and a great year. You might find sometimes you’re way more effective than others. You need to try to pin down when that is and engineer that as often as possible.
For myself, I find that between 4am and 8am are my most productive hours but no chance am I doing that every day. I might do it once a week. The rest of the time I just let it happen when it happens.
Observe your energy levels throughout the day and take note of when you feel most focused. Instead of forcing yourself to work all the time, maximize your low-energy hours to catch up on rest and sleep so you can start fresh everyday.
I like working to live DJ sets on YouTube so if I’m feeling a good 2 hour stint then I’ll find a set that’s 2 hours, get the headphones on and smash it.
If I’m really up for a marathon, I’ll go with this 7 hour Armin van Buuren set from Untold Festival in Romania. 😉
#5 Close the Laptop
This was something I got from Tim Ferriss. He said that he enjoyed using a laptop over a desktop because you can just close the lid and work is done. It’s a nice feeling to close the laptop.
There’s really not much of a “tip” here, other to find a way of “finishing work”. Be it close the door to the office in the house, close the laptop or whatever it is. Find what it is for you.
#6 Get out the House
This is vital. I’d never leave the house if I could help it. So much so I’m actually in the middle of designing my house to the point where I genuinely don’t need to leave it. I will though, I promise 😉
Here’s what I’ve found to work really well for me. Go and work in a hotel lobby one day a week. Just get a couple of different places you can go and work. These places are generally quiet, have really nice environments, restaurants and a bar that will bring you an endless supply of coffee.
I’ve never been one for co-working spaces but if that’s your thing then this works great too. I’ve gone weeks in the past without leaving the house when in the middle of writing Automate Your Business. It’s not fine, but you can get away with it for a short while but it’s not healthy at all.
#7 Have Boundaries
If you haven’t been working for yourself for long, you’d be fooled into thinking you need to put up with a lot from clients. Trust me, you don’t.
You will develop this over time but these were things we would not accept from clients. Any sort of rudeness towards staff. If someone was rude to me personally, I’d be rude back and smooth the situation over but if you’re rude to my staff, you’re gone.
Not paying. This was a no-no. If we invoice you, you pay. It’s that simple and we would not stand for not paying. We were very very upfront about this as we got to the end of our time running The Business Automation Company. I’d say to the client “I want to be clear about something. We do not put up with non payment. There are no exceptions to this or flexibility. If you don’t pay on time, your system will be blocked until you do pay. We don’t issue warnings, this is your warning. Is this cool?”. Not a single person had an issue with it.
#8 Know where you’re going
It can really feel like you’re spinning your wheels as a freelancer. Years on end doing the same work, dealing with the same clients, same issues, same money. You need to at least have 1 eye on moving forward.
Moving forward could mean anything but if you are earning $50,000/year and you want to double it, you need to be working towards that proactively and gradually.
#9 Get Systems to Help
There are plenty of systems out there to help you automate parts of your freelance business. I recommend getting anything that will pay for itself in time saved. That is the currency you need to protect.
Look at something like Xero. $25/mo and it’ll save you 10-15 hours a month. Worth every penny. Any project management tool – easily worth the money. Better Proposals – $19/mo and will save you easily 3 hours per proposal. If you even charge $10/hour it pays for itself in a week.
These tools are there to save you time. Use them.
If you’ve enjoyed this post and want to save yourself time with your proposals then consider starting your 14-day free trial. See the amazing reaction you get from your clients and how quick and easy they are to create and send. Get started now.