6 Techniques for Surviving Your Freelance Business

by Christina Gillick 5 Minutes

surviving-freelance-businessI love my freelance business. But, it can get a little crazy at times …

There are so many things to do …

Learning your craft (anything from web design to marketing) …

Consistently improving and keeping yourself up to date …

Selling your services …

Even managing the administrative side to your freelance business …


Some people recommend outsourcing or guest blog posting … but what if you’re not earning enough to pay someone and you barely have time to write your own content – not to mention someone else’s?

That’s where I was when I first launched my freelance business. I knew I had to stop spreading myself so thin or my health – and business (and income) would suffer.

So I set out to reduce my stress – and survive my freelance business. Here are 6 things I found helpful:

1. Combat information overload.

Having too much information – and feeling like you have to read it all – can be very stressful. But, don’t worry – you don’t have to learn everything right now. It will only overwhelm you and likely freeze you in fear.

Instead, do three things:

a. Reduce what you have to know.

If a quick glance at your to-do list makes your palms sweat, you have too much on your plate. You can quickly reduce what you need to know by choosing just one niche – instead of trying to conquer the entire industry.

Also, don’t let yourself be distracted by interesting articles, blog posts, or forum topics that don’t help you advance your freelance business or skills right now.

For instance, if you’re a web designer, you might be curious about an article called, “Why Freelance Writers Get Paid Less Than Web Designers.”

But, don’t you have something more important waiting on your to-do list?

If so, save that article with a service like Pocket or Instapaper for later and get back to work.

b. Say, “Let me get back to you on that.”

surviving-freelance-businessEarly in my freelance business I would nearly panic if a potential client wanted to get on the phone.

“What if they asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to?!”

It was stressful … but eventually I learned that owning and operating a freelance business doesn’t mean you know everything.

Now – when a client asks a question I don’t know the answer to – I simply say:

“Let me get back to you on that.”

Not only does it give me time to craft a complete reply, but I also have an excuse to follow up with them again later.

You could also say, “I’ll do some research and let you know.” (Even doctors use that one!)

Either way, having a line ready to go when your client pops out a question you can’t answer will really take the pressure off.

2. Keep your task list realistic.

I have to be honest; I’m pretty bad at this tip.

But, the days when I do have a realistic to-do list are my best. I’m less overwhelmed, able to better focus, and at the end of the day, I feel more productive. I’m convinced a realistic task list is the key.

Here’s how I make my overwhelming list more manageable:

a. Assume everything will take twice as long.

Many freelancers are optimistic about how long a task or project will take, but when a task that they’ve planned a half-day for takes a whole day, it throws off the entire week.

Instead, plan for everything to take twice as long. If you finish what you have planned for the day, you can always move on to a future task and get ahead – or take off early.

b. Plan time to work on things without deadlines.

If you fill your schedule with client projects, you won’t have time to build your own freelance business. And, since many important tasks for your business don’t have deadlines, it’s easy to push them to the side.

Be sure to schedule time for your freelance business just like you would for a client. You need time to market your services and keep the flow of clients consistent.

c. Set reasonable deadlines.

As freelancers we often have a say in our deadlines. If possible, give yourself extra time on every project. That way, an emergency is far less likely to cause you to miss a deadline.

3. Create guiding documents.

I initially approached my freelance business like I was taught in school … memorize what you’re learning.

Of course, that’s not necessary. Luckily, freelancing doesn’t come with a multiple-choice test. You can even look up answers as you go – thank you, Google! Plus, you can use cheat sheets, checklists, and even templates …

For example, when it came time to set my prices, I created a pricing guide. It’s changed over the past few years, but instead of figuring out a custom price quote for each client, I can quickly consult my guide.

Here are a few documents to consider making for your freelance business:

  • New client questionnaire.
  • Pricing (or quoting) guide.
  • Pre-project checklist.
  • Post-project checklist.

If you’re just starting out, you might think it’s too early to create your own documents or templates. I assure you, that’s not the case. It’s better to start early because you’ll be able to create your documentation – and improve it – as you learn.

4. Set boundaries.

One thing that really helps me survive my freelance business is setting boundaries. You see, in a corporate environment it’s easy to know what the boundaries are … Most companies give you an employee handbook outlining the rules for you.

As freelancers, we don’t have a boss to set boundaries for us.

Instead, we get to determine how we will run our freelance businesses! But, making big decisions on the fly can be stressful, that’s why I use pre-determined boundaries to stay sane (and reduce stress) …

For example, let’s say a friend invites you to an afternoon movie. If you know your boundaries, you have an instant answer …

  • Maybe your boundary is, “I will adjust my work schedule to hang out with friends because that’s why I’m freelancing in the first place.”
  • Maybe you’ll only adjust your schedule if you’re ahead on your work …
  • Or maybe you’re not willing to adjust it at all.

The answer is up to you – it’s your freelance business. But by deciding ahead of time, you can make your decision based on your goals – not your feelings in the moment.

5. Reach out to your network.

Finally, having people you can turn to will eliminate a lot of stress on your path to freelance success …

While it’s easy to forget how many freelancers are in the world when you’re alone in your office, please remember, you aren’t in this by yourself.

There are others experiencing – and overcoming – the same doubts you’re having in your freelance business. They can help you by sharing their advice and even pointing out the mistakes they made along the way.

Reach out to them through like-minded forums, social media, or even at live networking events. A simple, “Hello,” can get the conversation going. Or, if you only network online, send a tweet, connect on Facebook, or comment on their blog.

Running a freelance business isn’t easy, but it’s worth it!

So it may take a while to get used to the flow, changes, unexpected twists, and learning curves of running your own freelance business. But, by following the tips above, you’ll have processes and methods in place to “survive.”

Your turn: What tips do you have to reduce stress and survive your freelance business? Please share in the comments below …

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by Christina Gillick
Christina Gillick is a Content Marketing Strategist and an award-winning direct-response copywriter. She helps her clients create loyal customers through relationship building copy and content. (She is also the founder of ComfyEarrings.com where she regularly tests her ideas and advice.)