5 brutally honest tips for brand new freelancers

The internet is not short of stories about new freelancers “making the leap” and “being your own boss”. They’re great! The stories are inspirational, and we’ve found the freelance community to be one of the most supportive out there.

In our first year as one of these new freelancers, the next hardest bit of freelance life (after quitting a “secure” job and submitting our first client pitch) was getting to grips with the basics.

Navigating each day under your own steam and getting things started is actually really scary – even with your head full of dreams unique only to that sense of giving yourself a fresh new start.

We’ve got six brutally honest tips to help you ease into your first few weeks as a freelancer, complete with real talk and emotional rollercoasters.

1. Talk to everyone you know

The favourite part of our freelance story was when we scoured our phone, Facebook and LinkedIn and reached out to as many people as we physically could to let them know we were going freelance. Not in a desperate, use and abuse kind of way. But in a way where you have to swallow any hesitation around striking up that kind of conversation and be brave enough to say, “Hey, this is the change we’re making in our life. If you know of anyone or anything that can give us a hand, please bear us in mind”.

This exercise helped us realise a few things:

  • If you ask, your friends will help. They will. You’d do the same for them.
  • You’ll almost definitely see that you have more business contacts than you realised.
  • Approaching other people to open a conversation will make you 100x more excited about your venture. One conversation has the ability to turn your whole day around.

Shake off the needless worries about pride and judgement. In this game, everyone helps each other – and it’s wonderful.

2. Don’t overlook the importance of screen breaks

You need a break. Often. Taking a break doesn’t make you undisciplined – it makes you human and professional.

If like us, you went from an office job to full-time freelancer with no punches pulled, it’ll feel weird at first. That can take the form of guilt, or pressure, or any other emotion that surrounds the concept of ‘if we’re not at our computer, we’re not working hard enough’. It’s bullshit.

Your breaks will ensure sustainable creativity, refreshed approaches to tasks and the ability to focus on what you’re doing with fewer mistakes. So go on – make another tea. Your brain will thank you.

3. Your time is flexible. It is NOT optional

…And here’s where we balance our above point about breaks.

Yes, your hours might be flexible now, and you should totally make the most of that if it’s an option now open to you. But – however it tots up – make sure you haven’t just ditched work entirely and decided it can all be done at the weekend (unless working weekends is part of your vernacular, obviously).

Do it however you want. But work the days-per-week you’ve set yourself up for. Work the hours-per-day you’d planned to. And stick to it. Otherwise, you can fall really behind, and the ‘leave it until the weekend’ thought pattern becomes a bit too easy to keep saying.

4. Get a schedule

Not only will this help you organise your day-to-day tasks, but it’ll give you a real overview of how many hours you’re spending working in general. Our wonderful client and friend Jo Shock – a kickass Virtual Assistant to the CEOs of social enterprises – created our working schedule for us some months back, and it changed our lives.

Once you start scheduling your time properly, it’s not unusual to discover a few things:

  • You’re jamming far too much into your working days
  • You have a couple of free hours each week
  • Your procrastination problem has reached shocking new heights
  • You could take the opportunity to finish early on Fridays (or the day of your choice).

The best thing? A schedule lets you play to the times of day when you’re most alert/most likely to slump. For example, we cannot do creative brainstorms in the afternoon. It just doesn’t work for us. So that’s always a morning job. It’s amazing what you can find out about yourself, then tweak to make your natural workflow work for you – not just your clients.

5. Don’t do it the same way as everybody else

There’s plenty of good advice out there that you can and should follow. But sometimes the advice that doesn’t work for you – and that doesn’t negatively affect you or your business – is just fine to turn down.

Better yet, you might find yourself a gap in the market.

For example; you’re always told to keep emotion out of business. And that’s certainly good advice – the quickest way to have a client ditch you is to go to them with your latest ‘Tinder bastard’. But what that also tells us is that a surprisingly high amount of people have made this mistake and, more to the point, want to converse in an emotional context.

So, against most advice, and secure in the knowledge that our next client is unlikely to be Coutts, we decided to make our trade based on human emotion and honest transparency. We’ll moderate how we do this, sure. But if we’ve made mistakes or feel strongly about something, we know there’s a tribe out there who’ll respect us for sharing the emotional side of business. Going against the grain can work for you.

Fellow freelancers, do you have a  tip to add? Tweet them at us!

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