This is not a complaint, I have thoroughly enjoyed this last 18 months and I am so appreciative of the opportunities that have come my way. It has flown by, and I have worked on exciting projects. I have established myself well with my customers. I repeatedly have work flowing in. I have the flexibility I needed in my life and I am earning over twice the money I was in my previous full-time job.
It is time to reflect. And to see where I go from here. How I can work more efficiently and ensure I create a routine that is manageable long term.
In the process of doing so I have pulled together some tips that I have picked up, based on common themes that seem to occur for the self-employed in their first couple of years in business. Tips that will help you make sure you don’t burn out. That you don’t miss family time, social engagements, or misplace your sanity.
After all that is why we work for ourselves. To have flexibility, take time back and gain a sense of control. To make work fit around our needs.
Giving your all, without giving it all
So here are 7 tips to help you step back a little: Take a breath. Take holidays and time off. Not work weekends.
1. Put boundaries in place
Boundaries for you AND your customers.
Do you reach out for your phone, or switch tabs every time there is a bing that announces a new message or email? I know I do.
But you don’t have to answer your phone if you are in the middle of something and don’t feel it is a good time. Stop responding in the evening and at weekends. Set yourself working hours and let your customers know what they are. And stick to them.
This doesn’t stop you then doing ‘over time’ if and when needed, but at least that will be on your terms, and your decision. Rather than being an expected habit. Or become a routine.
I have seen some great auto responses to emails lately that let you know the person has set hours that they check their email and respond. What a great idea – it stops your customer sitting there pondering if you received the email or it went to spam, then sending you a WhatsApp or LinkedIn message to check, or phoning you. It sets expectations.
Remember: You don’t have to answer to everybody, all of the time. Or do all the things right now. Just be clear on your boundaries, and communicate them effectively.
2. Use contracts
So far, the projects I have done through recruitment agencies have all had contracts, but I haven’t put them in place for customers that I am dealing with directly. I have been lucky as no one has legged it without paying yet, (apart from one chap a few years back when this was just a small side hustle) but I need to protect myself now it is my only source of income.
It is easy to think it is not needed maybe due to the size or length of a job, and wanting to trust the contacts you have built a relationship with, however I have had many projects lead to ongoing work with lots of repeat business. As they have become a much more significant part of my income and I can see how I should have a contract in place. It also protects you with the inevitable scope creep that can happen and make sure you are getting paid for that extra time and work.
There is some great advice out there from @worknotes, ProCopywriters and the Being Freelance Community so let’s use them!
3. Put your pricing on your website
There is much debate about this, and I am not entirely sure which side of the fence I come down on yet, but it is something I am considering, or maybe testing for a while. It would certainly help with the despised, awkward money conversations, and also stop me letting imposter syndrome get the better of me, and lowering my prices mid chat as I frequently do. It also weeds out those who want to pay peanuts for some all singing, all dancing fabulous design work that takes days.
On the other hand, I have also been advised that you should make sure you have discussed the value you will bring to your customer before dropping your price into the convo. And I can understand this, as many would run for the hills once you spout out that magic number.
Hmmm, something to consider. Maybe there is a middle ground.
4. Manage expectations
This comes back to the boundaries, but warrants a point of its own. Be assertive in managing expectations, especially when it comes to deadlines and turnaround times. There is often an expectation from customers that you can turnaround their work in a day/immediately. It’s ‘only a quick job’ after all. But you need to make sure they understand that you have other work on too and even if they are also ‘quick jobs’ it all takes time and others were booked in first.
Also, if you are in a creative industry like I am, you cannot guarantee that at 2pm on Tues you will have the divine inspiration and your best work will pour out of you. It is not a switch that can be flicked on. Sometimes you need to start a job, go away and come back to it. Sometimes you need to delete it and start again. Maybe the best idea will come to you in the shower on Thursday morning. Who knows? But we are perfectionists by nature and so will not produce something crap in the next 30 mins just to crack it out.
Depending on what you have on, they may have to wait for weeks to even fit in your schedule. But hopefully if you have built up a good relationship with said customer and they can see the value you can add for them, then they will wait or a compromise can be reached.
5. Schedule time to work on your own stuff
This is quite a biggie for me at the moment, as this is also something that goes by the wayside when busy. There is so much self-development I want to do, and many of my own projects I have in progress. But they do not get done as customer stuff is always the priority. And there is always more to do.
This is often the case for freelancers and self-employed, with many exclaiming their frustration at never quite getting on with their own stuff as there is always something else to be done.
For a while I scheduled in half an hour of writing in the morning, and that worked fabulously. It meant that I did my stuff first, then could concentrate on customer work for the rest of the day without constantly wondering when I was going to fit it in. I need to go back to this, not just for my writing, but also for developing the content for my new website which has been lurking over my shoulder for months. I am desperate to get it done. So I need to prioritise it.
In the Being Freelance podcast Hilary Weiss discusses how she does her own work in a morning – the work that will move her forward;
<“…most mornings I am sitting down, I’m doing my own writing and I’m focusing on my own…. I don’t even take client calls normally before noon, because, in the morning, it’s just when I work on stuff because that’s when I tend to be my most creative and when my mind is the most open”
It is not a bad thing to prioritise yourself sometimes, and it could actually lead to more efficient working. And more customers if you have spent the time to get your promotions right.
6. Have a resource library
Social media and promotion can be time consuming. Especially in the initial stages of building a business and getting your name out there.
You can save yourself some time and stress by having a library of resources – knowledge to share, articles to fall back on or repurpose, handy references to useful info, ideas for getting out of creative blocks, prompts to get discussion going – anything that you think can provide value to your audience.
Batch write some blog or short form posts in any downtime (!) you get, or at least capture some bullets out that you can flesh out later. Keep a list of topics and ideas you could write about in your promotions.
7. Get a routine
I don’t mean a strict, restrictive one as that doesn’t help creativity.
But having some sense of regular routine in your day, especially for the admin type tasks and daily habits which you can block out in your diary can be really beneficial – for example, dedicated time to work on your own stuff, self-care or exercise, catching up on email and social media. It gives some structure to your day, stops you going down the rabbit hole we are all guilty of in endless social media scrolling, and still allows flexibility with the rest of your work.
For some great ideas, listen to the Being Freelance podcast with Diane Laidlaw who has some fab tips for getting in self-care, even going as far as having ‘self-care Wednesdays’ where her boundaries are set to the clients and she takes time out. I love this idea! Even if it was just half a day a week. It would really maximise your productivity for the rest of your week.