The Emotional Side of Freelancing
There are so many articles out there about how to get freelancing right, and there is so much to think about: the invoicing, the client communication, the hustle, the accounts, and more.
What I have learned in three years of working as a freelancer is that it can be an emotional rollercoaster, too. Just like an actual rollercoaster, freelancing can be immensely thrilling, exciting, and sometimes can make you feel a little bit sick. Without management or HR to review your work, and without a regular salary in place or colleagues to bounce ideas off of, those dips and twists in your work life can throw you emotionally if you don’t know how to handle them.
Yet, despite the rollercoaster, working as a freelancer has helped me become more emotionally stable. As a freelancer, I am my business. This means I have to stay grounded, consistent, and calm as I go about my work. I have also needed to develop and maintain a steady sense of peace, because freelancing, by nature, can be so uncertain and unstable.
I have always wanted to work for myself, and that, so far, has meant tackling every issue that has annoyed me about jobs I’ve had in the past. I’ve had many stomach-churning moments in this process, and have experienced a lot of positive moments and accomplishments as well. The positives make the lifestyle worth it, and how you deal with the stomach-churning moments — let’s call them dips — ultimately determine the success of your business. Here are some of the dips I have seen come up pretty regularly in my experience as a freelancer:
When the work (seems like) it’s drying up
I have noticed that freelance work often comes in cycles and correlates pretty heavily with your mindset. Panicking about paying the bills and the fact that no one you reach out to with ideas seems to be getting back in touch just won’t help you. I have learned to embrace the fact that I experience cycles of really busy periods, along with bouts of time when things feel a bit quieter, or when contracts naturally come to an end.
When work dries up, you need to remind yourself why you started. Did you want to work for just one person, on a never-ending, boring business? Of course not! You like the variety freelancing brings because it means you get to work on lots of small projects. Sometimes these last six months, and sometimes they don’t — that’s a good thing.
Don’t be afraid when things feel stagnant — maybe it just means that it’s time to get creative and go to the next level.
Plus, you love the thrill of the hustle! As a freelancer, love of the hustle is part of your nature. Whether you’re sending out proposals or chasing down projects, you can’t let the uncertainty behind the hustle destabilize you emotionally. I’ve realized that, though it may feel a little scary to get back on the saddle after enjoying a nice six to eight months of steady income, you have to remind yourself that looking for new opportunities helps you grow. I like to think about the hustle that comes from periods where I’m low on work like walking into a sweet shop. There, I get to look through a variety of options and search for exactly what will feel tasty and satisfying.
Don’t be afraid when you’re tested like this and things feel stagnant — maybe it just means that it’s time to get creative and go to the next level.
When you start to feel lonely
As a remote freelancer, sometimes you get lonely. Sure, you may be surrounded by other great freelancers if you’re part of a co-working space, or have more leniency in your schedule to meet friends for coffee, but when it comes to running your business, you’re on your own.
My advice? Get help when you can.
Realize that no man is an island. The beauty of living in today’s world is that there is an answer to every problem you have, including lack of community. You just have to find that answer.
Here’s the positive angle on difficult clients: They can build your emotional resilience.
I’ve also learned that loneliness can often come when you’re not focusing your efforts on the right things. Maybe you feel alienated because the work just isn’t the right fit for you, and does not engage you enough to be a real stepping stone on your journey.
Ultimately, we’re all learning about ourselves, so practicing patience with yourself is something that you’ll definitely get tested on as a freelancer. Try to find and build community wherever you can.
Dealing with difficult clients
These can come in all shapes and sizes. Some examples of difficult clients include those who are unresponsive whenever you reach out, some that just don’t seem happy with your work (regardless of how many edits or changes you make), or others who are simply taking advantage of you and have not yet paid you.
Here’s the positive angle on difficult clients: They can build your emotional resilience. Thankfully, I now rarely deal with them, because I’ve learned to be very careful about who I work with, but I do find it interesting how we can often attract clients who, unintentionally, may help us resolve an area of growth we may need.
Once, for example, I got burned when I was asked to do a fairly large package of copywriting work for a brand’s birthday campaign. Time was of the essence, and I delivered a newsletter, promo copy, emails, and some product descriptions over the course of a few days.
It is easy to put the client on a pedestal and to put yourself underneath that pedestal. But it doesn’t have to be like this, even if you’re a new freelancer.
I had asked for a deposit up front, but as the launch of the brand was “imminent,” (or so I was led to believe), I let it go when the company didn’t pay me immediately. Surprise, surprise: To this day I still have not been paid and the brand itself has gone AWOL.
This was the first time something like this happened to me, but it was a good test and helped me shape aspects of my work, including my boundaries, what I should and will insist upon, and what I decide is acceptable for me as a business owner.
Many freelancers can make mistakes like this when they start out, simply due to a lack of confidence. It is easy to put the client on a pedestal and to put yourself underneath that pedestal. But it doesn’t have to be like this, even if you’re a new freelancer. Learn not to let others take advantage of you. Holding your own when it comes to dips like these can ultimately make you stronger.
Ironic as it may sound, though I am a marketer, I really do not enjoy marketing myself. I don’t mind sharing my articles, but I don’t want to become a sales channel on social media for my business. It doesn’t feel right to me — I’d rather just use my platforms to share what I am interested in, and be myself rather than pushing “a brand.” Branding myself feels too confining.
As a freelancer, you are allowed to have a wide range of interests and skills and to use your social media to promote them. I have learned that, by being a little more personal and focusing away from pushing a brand, you may connect with the types of people you want to work with anyway.
Freelancing brings an extraordinary sense of empowerment and freedom. You alone are responsible for shaping your destiny.
I recently had a consulting client that contacted me with the following message: “I wasn’t familiar with you before today, but after looking at a few of your tweets I think we might have a few interests in common (I am a Manc with a fondness for raving and healthy living!)”
This message shows me that sharing my interests on social media enabled me to connect with a potential client who was on my wavelength, and who I felt that I could actually help. Yes, I do want to work with people that like raving and healthy living (and no, the two are not mutually exclusive!)
If someone does not seem to understand you, on the other hand, they are not your client. This is something that has taken me a long time to grasp, after working with lots of people who really weren’t the right fit for me. That’s okay, because there have been plenty of others who were.
I’ve spoken about the dips, but what about the highs? And yes, there are many — I wouldn’t have stuck it out as a freelancer this long if not. Along with the benefits of working remotely I’ve written about before, freelancing brings an extraordinary sense of empowerment and freedom. You alone are responsible for shaping your destiny.
Did you earn £4k this month? That was all you. Did you get a positive testimonial? That’s awesome — your communication style is working, and you’re building relationships. Is your brain bursting with ideas, and suddenly you want to write? Great! This means your creativity is being sparked.
So go for it, embrace the rollercoaster ride and the highs and the lows that come with it. Use each positive and negative experience to build emotional resilience and stability. Freelancing can be an emotional journey, but it doesn’t have to own you. Ultimately, it can be a journey where you’ll truly learn about yourself, and realize that you’re capable of more than you ever thought.