How to Survive as a Freelancer

I have worked as a freelancer for around six years. For the most part, it has been a mixed bag. There have been periods where I have been scraping around for work and other times when I have had so much work a nervous breakdown seemed inevitable. For the purpose of this post, I am not going to tell you where to look for work. That would be pointless as you might not be a writer. What I am going to talk about, however, are the everyday practicalities of surviving as a freelancer.

Create a Suitable Work Space

It is difficult to be productive when you don’t have a clearly defined work space. Some people are happy to work at the kitchen table, with one eye on the keyboard and the other on the pile of washing up to be done. Personally, I can’t work like that. I get distracted too easily. For me, what works best is to have a separate office space where I can concentrate and not have to deal with domestic issues. Whether this is an office at home, or a work space elsewhere is up to you.

Working from home is convenient and cheap: you don’t need to travel and you can work in your PJ’s if you want to. Working in an office environment is useful if you like company, but renting office space is often expensive. Hot desking is a workable compromise for many freelancers, so check out if there are any local community projects for entrepreneurs that offer shared office space at a discounted price.

Stay Connected

Working as a freelancer is very different to working in a busy office. There you are surrounded by other people: you might not like all of them, but at least there is someone to talk to or bounce ideas off if you fancy a chat. When you work on your own, there is nobody to talk to and if you are not careful, you will begin to feel isolated.

The internet has made it very easy for us to stay connected, so make the most of this valuable resource. Social networking is not just good from a personal perspective – it is also useful from a business perspective. Be active on websites such as LinkedIn and cultivate a network of people you have worked with, or would like to work with. Staying in touch with friends, colleagues and business contacts and clients helps to alleviate the isolation of a typical working day. It can also help you find new work.

Stay Positive

One of the downsides of working as a freelancer is that isolation can sometimes morph into negativity, especially when work is elusive. Some people are more prone to negativity than others, so it is important to recognise your own particular trigger points. For me, I start to feel jumpy if work is scarce. Even though I have been doing this long enough to know there are seasonal variations in work availability, it is hard not to give in to the insidious voices in my head telling me I’ll be broke within a month.

Talking to other people in the same line of work can help. There are lots of forums out there, many of which are populated by freelancers. Join in the conversation and share your experiences with others going through the same things. What you shouldn’t do is give in to the negativity and cut yourself off from the world.

Be Firm with Family and Friends

working from homeOne of the biggest problems with being a freelancer working from home is that family and friends assume you are always free for a chat or an impromptu visit. Sometimes these incursions into your work day are welcome – usually when work is going badly and there is nothing new on the Daily Mail Online. Usually what happens, however, is that a knock at the door or a telephone call from your sister disturbs your workflow and puts you behind schedule.

To prevent this from happening repeatedly, set clear boundaries. Lock the door and unplug the telephone when you need to get your head down. At the very least it will stop telemarketers from harassing you during work hours.

Create a Work Schedule

Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. We are all guilty of wasting time on social media or online news sites when we are supposed to be working. According to research carried out last year, 89% of people waste time at work. In 16% of cases, this is a whopping two hours of non-work a day.

I know I waste time when I am supposed to be working. A quick peek at the Daily Mail Online soon becomes 20 minutes of non-productive internet use. Over the course of a working week, this soon adds up!

One way to be more productive is to set strict boundaries for when you are supposed to be working. Ironically, the more time we have to complete tasks, the less productive we tend to be. I work better to a tight deadline, so the less time I have available to complete a task, the more productive I am.

If you are a champion procrastinator, learn to better manage your day. Make an agreement with yourself that you will work between, say, 08:00 and 10:00, and then have a 15 minute coffee break. The next break could be 12:30, where you stop for lunch. These timings might not work for you, but you get the idea. By rewarding yourself for being productive, you are more likely to stay on task.

Social media is something to be avoided unless you need to use it for marketing purposes. Delete social media from your work laptop and throw your smartphone in a drawer so continual updates don’t distract you.

Take a Sanity Break

Sitting at a desk all day, especially when you work alone, is not good for your health or well-being. It is very easy to get sucked into working long hours when you are a freelancer. The insecurity of an irregular income combined with a frenzied desire to accept whatever work comes your way tends to lead to a poor life-work balance. In the short-term, this won’t hurt, but as time goes on, it will be disastrous for your health.

Always have time away from work, even when you are busy. You need to switch off and restore the batteries, or you will make yourself ill. All work and no play is no fun at all. Make time for exercise, family and friends. One of the benefits of being a freelancer is that you can set your own schedule, so make the most of this perk. Go to the gym at lunchtime or take the dog for a walk. A break is good for you.

Be Disciplined with Money

Income is often variable when you work as a freelancer. Some weeks you will be rolling in money; at other times available work will be thin on the ground. You can make hay while the sun shines, but this is a risky proposition as you might end up broke when you have no work available. As time goes on, you will start to recognise the work patterns in your particular niche and it will become easier to plan ahead. In the meantime, try to have enough savings in place to carry you through the lean times. This might not be possible until you become more established, but wild spending is best avoided unless you like living dangerously.

Life as a freelancer can be extraordinarily good, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses before you quit the rat race and set up as a freelancer. If you are the type of person who needs a good kick to get things done, working for yourself might not suit, but if you are a driven, highly motivated individual or you want flexible working hours, freelancing is a great choice.


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