7 Freelancing lessons learned in 2016

This year, I’ve taken the plunge to do more freelance work; mainly working remotely through sites such as Upwork, and taking on a few local clients. There’s so many things I’ve learned already; so in order for me to remember them and to share them with others, here’s the tips I’ve gained in 2016:

1. Look after your health

It’s been said a thousand times before, but as a freelancer, you are the product. Particularly if you’re a sole trader, as I am. There’s no sick pay, no other employees to lean on - in short, if you’re sick, your business and finances suffer. So looking after your health becomes extremely important. It’s not just about getting enough exercise, eating the right foods and sleeping enough, although these are important. It’s about looking after your mental wellbeing too - noticing if you’re getting stressed, or taking on too much work.

I’ve found I’ve started to develop the art of listening to my body. When’s there’s no clock telling you to go home, you rely on your own internal body clock. Some days I’m just not productive. My energy just ebbs and flows, that is life. Rather than beating myself up about it, I’ll just ensure that I plan my time better another day or switch my location so that I am productive.

I got quite sick this year, with what some doctors diagnosed as Guillain Barre Syndrome. Having the patience to let my body heal has been the biggest challenge for me. I’m not blessed with patience and like to work at break-neck speed, spinning several different hobbies and workloads. Health is now my prime concern, it comes before work every time.

   2. Set boundaries

Setting boundaries in general is such a huge and important lesson, and one I’m only just starting to get the hang of. I always felt uncomfortable saying no to people, or limiting my time with them, until I realised that if I was going to look after my health, I had to do this.

I once knew someone that ran his own business, but replied to every email from his client within 5 minutes, worked on weekends, and replied to emails on his holiday. He set a precedent that over time, became the norm. The client became increasingly demanding because he had failed to set boundaries. He was overworked, stressed, and had health problems. I vowed never to get to that stage - it’s not why I decided to work for myself!

When your time is your money, and you are your business, you have to start valuing your time and preserving your energy. If a ‘quick call’ turns into over an hour, or a ‘catch up meeting’ runs over time, you have to either set a strict timeframe, or charge for your time. Or both.

Ironically, when you start to respect yourself and your own time, that’s when others do too.

3. Raise your expectations

Business relationships are really no different from other types of relationships, and it’s been interesting to me how my views on them have changed. Earlier this year, I would have worked with anyone,  because my perceived value on my services was that I was still ‘starting out’ and I needed to build my portfolio. That led to me working with people who really weren’t working in the way I like to work. We were mismatched, and I either got projects I didn’t like or I worked with people who I didn’t resonate with.

I started to get clear about what I wanted. I wanted people who were serious about their idea, were demonstrating that in their success, and that were adding value to the world beyond making a profit. I’m now focusing my efforts in working with social enterprises and conscious business, and am meeting some amazing people that I’d actually be friends with rather than just work for.

4. Back up your work

A simple yet crucial lesson! When doing copywriting or content work, I often use Google Drive, as it’s a useful tool for tracking version control and amends, and one that’s easily shared with clients. As I was recently getting to the limit of my storage, I went through and deleted what I thought were a bunch of my old files - until I realised I had permanently deleted a recent client file that we were both using! Luckily I quickly did some digging, and managed to get the deleted item restored by contacting Google. But it has made me appreciate the value of having backups.

5. Set aside a finance day each month

At the end or the beginning of a month, I set aside a day purely for finances and planning. This means I do invoicing, manage any expenses, and look at the work I have coming in, and try to forecast ahead.

A planning day is so vitally important as you’re ‘adjusting your sails’, and reflecting on what is often a hectic lifestyle. If you’re juggling several clients, trying to keep them all happy, you can lose sight of you, where you’re going, and why you’re doing this in the first place. My goal for freelancing wasn’t just financial - it was to build a lifestyle where I am in control of my own time, and to have more of a balance between work and play.

6. Set aside learning time

One thing I almost never did when I was working at companies is set aside chunks of learning time. I figured that if I spent too much time learning and not enough on outputs, my employers would think I was just wasting time if they saw me reading articles online. When in fact, I personally considered learning to be extremely important and key to the growth of a successful organisation.

I get so much out of reading, that it encourages me to grow. It sparks my mind with new ideas and I take bits I resonate with and implement them into my working week. I’ve just added to my bookmarks bar the Hubspot BlogThe Hootsuite Blog, The Freelancers Union and the Buffer Blog. These sites give me some much needed brain food when I’m lacking in inspiration. By setting aside 30 minutes a day for reading, you’re committing to your personal growth by taking daily action.

7. You get what you decide on

My health crisis this year almost forced me to work remotely and go freelance - I couldn’t sit up for long periods, and I did bits at a time, slowly. So for me, it was a blessing in disguise as it’s what I always wanted. When I started to get better, I realised that I was a lot happier when I was in control of when, how and where I worked. So I made a decision that I was going to do this, whatever it took. If it took me working part time, or not having the financial security that other people had, then fine, that was ok. It has been 100% worth it.

There has been a large increase this year in the amount of people going freelance, either working remotelyco-working, or becoming a digital nomad, working and travelling the world. One of my highest values is freedom and this kind of lifestyle suits me. There are drawbacks of course; not being able to predict your cashflow (most frustrating), being lonely at times, juggling lots of work, building up your reputation, wearing lots of hats - but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Ultimately I’ve realised that if you really want something, you just need to make a firm decision that this is the path you want to take and you’ll deal with challenges as and when they arise.

Here’s to learning even more lessons in 2017!