6 Techniques for Surviving Your Freelance Business

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 …

Whew!

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 …

About 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.)

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Lori Newman

Great advice – I sometimes find myself on overload – hard to set boundaries and keep them. Working more on that myself. Thanks for sharing!

Jeremy Green

One of the best boundaries I have is not taking client calls past a certain time in the evening, or on weekends. This eliminated a huge amount of stress for me because I have more control over my schedule.

Matt

While a couple of these might seem to be no-brainers, sometimes it takes a reminder (or three) to keep them in check. Keeping a realistic task list always hobbles me, and “procrastination” always seems to muscle in on my list (ie; networking, working on my own business, etc)

Thanks for sharing. Some great advice and a good read!

Laura

Hear hear! Great tips, as freelancers we tend to think of ourselves as superheros who can and must do it all.

I’m learning the hard way that it simply isn’t true.

Perhaps another good tip to add to the list is consider hiring a VA to take the load off some of the more routine tasks, leaving you do do what you’re good at – be it writing, design or coding.

Trista

This was a great reminder, especially about editing what we read. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the shiny headlines and thinking that this will have the gold ticket we are looking for! Will need to start using Pocket more 🙂

Kevin

I’m with Jeremy. Being ruthlessly protective of my personal time is my most important survival tactic. Some good things on the list here.

Ignacio

Very good article! thank you for the tips.
It help’s me a lot to wake up early in the morning (like 4 / 4.30 am) insted of keep working late hours. I work at home so there are many advantages: the home is quiet, no tv distractions, no phone calls in or out, and with energy because is the beginning of the day. At 10.30 am i already have my
6 hour session…and i feel like my goal is almost done.
Saludos!

Jack

Just wanted to chime in and say I agree with Jeremy. I’m not sure if it’s cause or effect, but the clients I have today are so much more reasonable about respecting “business hours” when it comes to phone calls and even emails now that I’ve set a clear boundary regarding it — and the boundary is just in my mind, I’ve never said anything about it. Could be coincidence also, but when I was first starting out as a freelance web designer I had clients who would ask for (well, essentially demand) things to be changed on their sites immediately on the weekends and all times of the day and night (even getting emails from 10PM – 1AM requesting work to be done in the next few hours!) I’m so glad that period is over, and I recommend anyone starting out as a solo web designer or starting an agency do the same.

I also like to do like Ignacio said above, and start my work day early so the work day is presumably done earlier. The trick (for me) is knowing when — or perhaps rather, having the level of self-control — to call it quits. Like others of you, I’m sure, I’ve had so many days this month where I’ve woken up and started working, and worked until after midnight, and done the same the next day, and the next… et cetera. I need to figure that out before my health suffers (more)…

Great article, Christina!

April

Ahhh.. I certainly need reminded to give myself more space! Thank you 🙂

Norton West

Great guidance. Thanks. I have been researching back-office software for solopreneurs and small business for two years with the idea of offering that and cloud accounting / consulting services to this market.

Do you have any feedback from freelancers as to their biggest roadblocks in organizing and growing their business? Feedback anyone?

Luana Spinetti

Love this, Christina!

I’m an eternal student, so it can be tough to turn down interesting readings, but I try to keep my browser clean or it will crash or worse, trigger an anxiety attack from seeing too many tabs open, so I save the links under a To-Read section on my private forum.

And being sickly doesn’t help, so sometimes I try to at least network a little on Twitter (via mobile) or jot down ideas for work on a sheet of paper while I’m in bed (actually, it helps me not get bored!).

~ Luana

esta

Wow, GR8 post! Nailed it. Information overload is my biggest challenge. Because I work independently I find I need to know everything about everything, when in reality, even the best has a hard time keeping up. The difference is that I can’t share challenges or share weight with a team. Thank you for super tips Christina! esta @sheconsulting

Christina Gillick

Hi everyone,

Thank you for your comments!

@Jeremy – Great boundary!

@Matt – Thank you – I also have to keep reminding myself of these tips. Maybe some day it will come naturally to us. ☺

@Laura – Great suggestion! (If I were a superhero I’d want my superpower to be having all my thoughts transcribed (free of typos). ☺ You?)

@Trista – Agreed – Pocket has saved me from info overload. Hope it does the same for you!

@Kevin – I like the way you worded that ☺

@Ignacio – Thank you for the compliments! Wow – I wish I were able to drag myself out of bed by 5 a.m. Kudos to you!

@Jack – Thank you for commenting. I’ve had that experience also. It seems the more experienced we get, the more we value our skills. It’s interesting how clients can pick up on that even without us saying anything.

@Norton West – Interesting question. The biggest roadblock that I hear of is “not enough time.” I think “saving time,” “automating more,” and “outsourcing” are all areas that freelancers seek advice on. I hope that helps.

@Lori Newman, @April, @Luana Spinetti, and @esta – Thank you for commenting!

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