Setting your own schedule, being your own boss, working remotely in your underwear… these are all perks to the freelancing for those who want it. Yet along the way the romanticized ideals that seem so appealing fall to the day to day struggles of trying to do everything on your own. For some this can lead to utter frustration, and eventually defeat.
Fortunately I seem to have overcome the initial struggles. That is not to say that some days are hard. Nobody can avoid the odd detour. But through trial and error I have learned to mitigate many of the challenges associated with a freelance career. I’m moving forward into 2017 with confidence. Now I’m happy to share some of that insight with others who might want to listen and hopefully it can help someone out there.
New year’s resolutions can be hit or miss, but from a professional perspective they can be a bit easier to sustain when you are self-employed and not dependant on others to create a new paradigm. This of course requires discipline, something that takes serious conditioning over time and comes more easily to some. It was certainly a struggle for me early on.
Many of these may seem trivial to those further down their career path. My hope is for this post will provide some good guidelines to those starting out, as well as a friendly reminder to those with well-worn habits.
So here are a few resolutions I’m setting for 2017, in no particular order:
Eradicate the Energy Vampires
We all have these people in our life, but in work it can be a huge blow to productivity. This past year I dealt with a particular client where absolutely nothing I did was right in his mind. No matter how hard I tried to address his concerns he came back to me with something new to complain about. It shook my confidence to the point that I was second guessing myself, adding unnecessary stress that crept into my personal life.
Eventually I realized that he had some major stresses in his own personal life and was basically taking it out on me… since he was the one writing the checks he felt he had the right to use me as a whipping boy. Once I realized that, I finished my work and cut ties.
Life is way too short to try and appease the unappeasable. It reminds me of the movie War Games when the computer Joshua had an epiphany when playing Tic Tac Toe:
The only winning move is not to play.
Identify and get rid of the clients or subcontractors who consciously or unconsciously try to suck the life force out of you. It will result in more productivity and sanity for the long term, even if you have to kiss some money goodbye in the short term.
A great book that has helped me is Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. It applies not only in work life but everywhere else. It’s an easy read and will be a refreshing take on what you probably already know.
Get Absolutely Everything In Writing
To some, this is a no-brainer. For me, I seem to have had to learn it the hard way.
I am an honest person. My word equals my actions. I expect the same out of others in all my relationships. However, that’s simply not the way the world works.
On smaller gigs I used to be happy to do small tasks without a contract, avoiding the hassle and expense of getting a lawyer involved. Sometimes this worked out, many other times it did not. The worst was when I helped a client secure a $250,000 contract and took his word that he would return the favor when the money came. When I found out that I was cut out of the deal, I got mad. Not at the client but myself. If the commission or future work was so important, I should have kept it professional and put it in writing.
With regular clients, and even friends and family, sometimes the formality of a contract seems unnecessary. But in those cases it is even more important to preserve the relationship. When things resort to he said / she said arguments, someone will end up feeling cheated. When it’s outlined in writing nobody can change the narrative.
A great resource is Bonsai Contracts. It is low-cost and legally binding in most jurisdictions. Once you are in the habit it will be as routine as invoicing.
Charge More Money
This is not to say be greedy, but know your value and stick to it. Freelancing sites such as Upwork are full of people willing to lowball, and if you play that game you will end up frustrated and jaded in no time.
Most times you can set a number with clients and they will be happy if it’s within reason. If you don’t know what to charge, interact with others in the same boat and see what they charge. There’s plenty of work to go around so if they feel threatened talking about rates then they probably fit into the “Energy Vampire” category. Most of my peers (in person or through online forums/reddit) are happy to discuss things and find out what works/what doesnt. Usually through dialogue everybody wins.
The worst thing someone can do is counter your offer. If they are so cheap that a small increase is a deal breaker, then you probably don’t want to do business with them anyway. You’ll end up having to defend your invoices which is never fun, and a waste of everyone’s time.
Charge Less Money, or Nothing at All
There are other times when it makes sense to do work at a discount or pro-bono. Too often I’ve been consumed by chasing the big fish that I don’t cast out a net for the smaller schools which might attract that big one. I’m talking about charities/nonprofits, educational endeavours, startups with promise, and areas of life that I’m passionate about.
By offering some work for free or at a discount you are helping organizations or individuals who might return the favor through a friend or family member with deep pockets, either now or down the line. That of course shouldn’t be the prime motivator, but it certainly is a nice bonus to consider. It is certainly one worth making time for in the new year, because it’s the right thing to do.
I would love to hear from anyone out there what their resolutions are. Whether you are a freelancer, hiring a freelancer, or working a 9-5, it’s important to re evaluate habits and patterns in work life as much as other areas. Hopefully 2017 is a year of prosperity, progress, and innovation for all. Happy New Year!