When I worked a typical 9–5 job, I assumed I would hate freelance work.
I have to see people each day, I would say. I wouldn’t be able to stand being alone in my house!
Fast forward to two years out of the “typical” business world and I love freelance. Love it. The freedom of working for myself is fantastic and I never want to go back.
That being said, there are important things to know when transitioning from a “regular” job to working for yourself. Some involve a change in mindset while others involve a change in behavior, but you will have to embrace these differences before you have any hope of success.
No More Monthly Budgets
One of the toughest things for me was learning how to get away from budgeting my income on a month-to-month basis. When I was looking for new clients, I would seek out retainer-based projects to ensure long-term income. The only problem with that is that those projects are few and far between when you’re starting out.
An episode of the High-Income Business Writing Podcast by Ed Gandia helped me adjust my approach. If you need help in this area, check out the interview with Dianna Huff.
No More Slacking
Unless or until you get to the point where you are coasting through your business (I am not there … yet), you don’t get to slack off. When you work a 9–5 job, you can operate as efficiently or inefficiently as you’d like and you still get the same paycheck. As a freelancer, however, you don’t make money unless you work. It’s a cruel reality.
Time is (Literally) Money
Piggybacking off the previous item, your time is quite literally money. If you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. That means every lunch break, vacation day, or nap you choose to take will cost you in dollars.
Find Your Focus
Narrowing your focus is so important as a freelancer or entrepreneur. It is tempting to try and include every single job opportunity as potential work, but you will do such much better if you narrow your focus. If you are a freelancer, this will help you target clients. If you are an entrepreneur, it will help you get good at what you’re offering before you expand upon your services.
Learn to Say No
Once you have a focus, it is important to stick with it. Yes, you can divert slightly one way or the other, but you want to make sure you are always on target with your niche. For example, I specialize in writing about causes, parenting, women in business, and sports. If someone approaches me to write a blog on the top five refrigerators available right now, I may be more than capable of completing the project (after all, I have a refrigerator), but adjusting my focus so drastically will also decrease my efficiency (and probably my morale).
Learn to Negotiate Price
If you aren’t used to negotiating, this can take awhile to get used to, especially when you are brand new to freelancing. New freelancers often feel self-conscious about their services, not wanting to call themselves “an expert” at the risk of overselling. You will have to take lower-priced projects to begin with to get your feet wet, but be sure to find a happy balance.
Take projects that are easy to complete, in your niche, that will pay high enough to retain your focus. Learn from me: I once made the mistake of agreeing to a really low-paying project, telling myself any work was good work. I ended up struggling to muster up the motivation to complete it.
Down Time is a Must
I am terrible at relaxing, but I have learned that down time is essential when you work for yourself. Freelancers typically work out of their own homes, meaning they are always at home or always at work (depending on how you look at it), so separating from work can be tough. Whether it’s taking a designated break in the middle of the day for lunch or putting away the laptop after dinner, recharging will only improve your efficiency once you dig into your work.
Make Time to Work for You
It’s tough to come to terms with actually doing work for yourself when you’re a new freelancer, because you aren’t paying yourself … at least not in dollars. You are investing in your own business by developing your website, marketing yourself, or generating leads, but you aren’t bringing in dollars directly. That may tempt you into putting off these tasks because you’re so desperate to secure money-making gigs, but you have to invest in yourself if you’re going to attract the right clients.