Remember how you loved the idea of working for yourself?
How you were drawn to the freedom and flexibility of freelance life? How you’d get to be in control of how you spend your time and energy, and to pick the clients – and the work – that inspires you?
It’s common to come off the treadmill of employment only to find yourself on a whole other treadmill.
You’re working crazy hours just to get by, no more in charge of your time than when you were employed, and what’s worse, you’ve swapped one boss for multiple bosses (hint – they’re not you!).
You’re not alone.
According to research by Leapers, 61% of freelancers are stressed by long hours and tight deadlines.
But there is a better way.
It’s okay to say no to work that doesn’t fulfil you.
It’s okay to admit you can’t do it all, and to ask for help.
And it’s okay – scrap that, it’s downright essential – to set boundaries that protect your energy and prioritise your mental health.
So, how do you take back control of your freelance business, and get more enjoyment from self-employment?
The empowering magic of saying no
When you’re self-employed it’s tempting to take on every piece of work that comes your way, especially when you’re starting out. Money is tight, paying clients are scarce, and you’re trying hard to build up your reputation.
Once you’ve established a handful of regular clients and a steady flow of work you have a little more freedom to ask, “Is this right for me?”.
Does it suit your skills?
If a client is asking for skills you don’t have or services you don’t offer, be honest and realistic. While you may be able to upskill in a particular area, taking on work that’s way beyond your capabilities is a recipe for stress and overwhelm
Is the timescale realistic to do a professional job?
We’ve all been there: “I’ll need it back tomorrow,” they say. If you don’t have the capacity to fit work in at short notice – and, frankly, most good freelancers won’t – ask if there’s wiggle room in the deadline. You can’t do your best work when you’re stretched to your limits, and most clients are prepared to wait for the right person to do the job.
Is the pay worthwhile?
Don’t undersell yourself. Knowing how to price your work as a freelancer can be tough. As a bare minimum, aim to charge standard industry rates for the job, as well as covering legitimate expenses. (Remember, as a freelancer you don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, a pension or any of the other financial benefits associated with employment.) You might find the Work Notes pricing guide helpful here.
What is your instinct telling you?
Being stuck in a cycle of attracting and accepting the wrong work takes the joy out of freelance life. But what is the wrong work? Your gut often recognises it before you do! Perhaps the client shows signs of not respecting the value you provide. Maybe they’re quick to quibble over your costs, telling you they can get the work done much cheaper elsewhere. Perhaps they’re vague about job specs or set unrealistic deadlines. If your instinct tells you to steer clear, listen to it – it’s usually for a good reason.
Takeaway tip: Being honest, professional and businesslike from the start will help to establish respect and trust from potential clients – and save you a lot of stress and aggro later.
Ask for help if you need it
As freelancers, we wear a lot of hats! It’s easy to feel like you have to be your own accountant, do all your own admin, troubleshoot your own tech, and be your own life coach.
Newsflash: you don’t.
It took me a loooong time to realise this, and I could’ve saved myself a lot of time and stress had I learned it sooner!
Outsourcing the tasks you don’t enjoy, you’re not good at, and that don’t make you money is just good business sense. Spending half your time on tasks that drain your time and energy can leave you questioning why you went into business in the first place!
The more time you spend doing the thing you love – and the thing that makes you money – the more fulfilled and happy your freelance life will be.
So, how do you decide what to outsource? Start by writing a list of the tasks you do each day and rate them according to:
- how good you are at them
- how much you enjoy them
The tasks that score low are those you should look at outsourcing first. Many freelancers start by outsourcing their accounts and IT support.
Finding the right person for the job may take a little while, but soon you’ll have a team of experts working for you and supporting your business while you get on with doing the thing you love.
And that feels good.
Set healthy boundaries
Freelancing can feel like a constant juggling act – between different clients, tasks, projects and deadlines. To stay on top of your game, you’ll need to set healthy boundaries with realistic expectations of your time and attention. Feeling like you’re permanently on call is a recipe for burnout.
- Consider setting an email auto response that lets clients know you just check your email a couple of times a day – and stick to it! It reassures them that you’ve received their email, manages their expectations on when to expect a response, and sends a clear signal that you won’t be pulled off task every few minutes when you’re working for them.
- I know many freelancers who don’t publish their phone number, and for good reason! Unplanned calls can be a real distraction when you’re focused and productive. Unless you really can’t avoid answering the phone, let calls go to voicemail and encourage the client to book an appointment at a mutually convenient time when they can expect your undivided attention. Apps such as Calendly and Acuity Scheduling are great for this.
- Freelance life isn’t about the 9 to 5. Ultimately, your clients don’t care what hours you work, as long as you get the work done on time, so set working hours that work for you. Communicate them in your email signature and terms of business.
Takeaway tip: Setting clear, professional ground rules makes life easier for both you and your client – and helps you avoid burnout.
The bottom line…
Follow these golden rules to take back control of your freelance business and get more enjoyment from self-employment:
- Set boundaries
Remember – you’re the boss! Learn to say no to the clients and work that aren’t the right fit for your values, experience or schedule. By doing so, you’ll open up space for the projects that are a good match for your skills, personality and passion – and that’s pure gold!
- Get clear on your process
Communicate clear ground rules on what each project does and doesn’t cover, and on when you will and won’t respond to emails or phonecalls. When you manage your clients’ expectations, they’re less likely to micro manage, and more likely to trust you to deliver when you say you will.
- Ask for help
It’s a sign of strength, not weakness! You’ll have a team of experts in your corner and you’ll get to spend more time doing the thing you love – which is the reason you went into business in the first place, right?!
Create clear boundaries that work for you and you’ll find yourself with less stress, a richer work–life balance, and a more fulfilling freelance life.
And who doesn’t want that?
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