When you go freelance, you have the opportunity to escape the dysfunctional part of the 9 to 5 life. Think of life without your Michael Scott-like boss. The thing is, though, a lot of freelancers don’t actually escape. That’s because even though a freelancer is the boss, s/he is also their own employee. And if you want to be productive and happy over the long-term, Boss-you has got to create a productive and functional work environment for Employee-you.
I’ll admit, I was pretty bad at this at first, working around the clock in a less than productive environment. But here’s what I’ve learned that Boss-me needs to do to make freelancing work for Employee-me:
Set reasonable work hours – you’re the boss and you set the work hours. So why do so many freelancers work nights and weekends? I used to do this, until I learned to start doing some outsourcing and declining work that I wasn’t excited about. I also started taking the advice of a wise friend who told me that “things take the amount of time you give them,” and simply gave myself less time. I started cutting my work off at a certain time each day, and lo and behold, the work still got done.
Set boundaries when necessary – sometimes clients ask for unreasonable things. It can be tempting to give in because you need that client or the money. But understand that when Boss-you says yes, Employee-you has got to follow through. Really think through what you’re agreeing to. Set boundaries on behalf of Employee-you. If you wouldn’t ask a direct report to do it, don’t do it yourself. If you feel resentful and like you’re agreeing under duress, you’re probably making a mistake.
Protect your free time – related to the point above, when you make a commitment to take time off, whether it’s an hour one afternoon or a week’s vacation, protect it. I know how difficult this is, because it never fails that as soon as I go on vacation, several clients have great opportunities for me. But don’t work during that time unless it’s a choice you’re making freely and willingly because you really want to.
Set goals and review them – Freelancing can sometimes feel like your work is all at the mercy of others. However, outreach, skills upgrades and education are completely within your hands. Set quarterly goals for yourself and your practice and take them seriously. Review the outcome at the end of each quarter and, if necessary, figure out how to hold yourself more accountable.
Give yourself bonuses – High-performing employees get bonuses, so should freelancers. If all the money is coming to you, however, you may have to get creative with how you give yourself a bonus. It could be time off, a tangible item or an experience. But if Boss-you promises Employee-you a bonus, have integrity and ensure that bonus is received.
If you had the guts to go freelance, don’t put yourself in a toxic work environment where you’re overworked and underappreciated – by yourself. The key to long-term happiness in a freelance role is to respect yourself and make it a job you love.
Want my three best tips for doing business development the easy way? Click here.