So you’ve managed to escape the rat race and strike out on your own. Congratulations! In many ways, the freelance life can redefine you for the better. In some ways, however, it can be rather detrimental, including having negative effects on your health.
While being a freelancer comes with several unique challenges, you don’t have to let them inhibit you from being happy. With a little effort, you can take steps to ensure your freelance life is as professionally productive and personally rewarding as it should be.
Here are eight tips to help you on your journey towards being a better and happier freelancer.
1. Do What You Enjoy
Sounds pretty basic, and it is, but it deserves reminding.
If you’re going to walk the freelance tightrope without a safety net, the only thing that will get you safely to the other side is your passion. Fortunately, self-employed workers tend to be more satisfied with their jobs than regular employees.
According to the Pew Research Center, 39% of self-employed workers say they are “completely satisfied” with their jobs, compared to only 28% of all wage or salaried employees. On the other hand, only 5% of self-employed workers say they are dissatisfied with their situation, whereas about 10% of other workers say the same.
On top of that, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows that business owners—people who are their own boss—are the happiest workers in America.
2. Create an “Office” You’d Like to Work At
There is science behind this. Studies have shown that the layout and style of your workspace directly affects your psychology and productivity:
- Rounded furniture triggers more activity in the brain regions associated with reward and aesthetic appreciation.
- Lighting and color schemes can affect everything from brainstorming, attention to detail and analytical thinking.
- You can never have too many plants. Research has shown that indoor plants can prevent fatigue during attention-demanding work. Indoor plants in a work environment can also boost productivity by as much as 12%, clean the air and even reduce office noise by buffering sounds.
3. Get Dressed
Just because you can work from home in your underwear or bathrobe doesn’t mean you should. There is a direct psychological link between what we wear and how people view us. Just a few of the snap-judgments people make based on first impressions include:
- Social position
- Economic level
- Educational level
- Moral character
Furthermore, how you dress also affects how you feel about yourself. When you dress for success, you’re much more likely to achieve it—even from your den.
4. Choose Your Clients Wisely
When you’re first starting out with your freelance work, there might be a temptation to take any client that comes your way. But unless you’re facing eviction or other financial emergencies, try and resist this urge. The wrong kind of clients can make your life miserable, so it’s crucial that you develop some kind of screening process before ever signing any contracts.
- Are good communicators
- Are committed to quality work and willing to wait for it.
- Know what they want (and articulate it too!)
- Pay on time
- Are disrespectful (don’t respect your business hours)
- Are inconsistent (go days or weeks without responding to calls or emails)
- Don’t know what they want (change their minds halfway through a project and don’t compensate extra for this labor-intensive pivot)
- Don’t pay on time
When you screen clients, make sure you clearly lay down your expectations regarding compensation and communication. If they don’t seem like they share your values, have the courage to “Just Say No!” Keep in mind that when you reject an opportunity, you are making room for a better one.
5. Don’t Go It Alone
Many freelancers operate under the misconception that because they are working for themselves, they have to work by themselves. And while you will ultimately be responsible for most of your day-to-day business, the fact remains that no one can do everything all the time. If you know how to be a team player, delegate tasks or even hire help, the better off your business will be.
On top of this, knowing when to ask for help will be crucial to getting through the tough times. Whether it’s a professor from school, a friend or another business owner, being open with the issues you are facing will allow you to grow personally and professionally.
You will also find that most people are happy to help you, especially if they appreciate that you are working for yourself.
This may seem obvious, but the boundaries between “work time” and “down time” may be blurred when you’re a freelancer. Unlike corporate employees who have a regimented routine, you may actually find it harder to set aside time to exercise. But putting in the extra effort is worth it. Exercising has been proven to boost your brainpower and, thus, your productivity.
So whether it’s taking the dog for a walk around the block or striking a few yoga poses, make time in your day to burn a few calories, reduce your stress and stimulate the creative parts of your brain by being active. There are plenty of quick exercises that you can easily work into your day, so you have no excuses!
Many freelancers find themselves holed-up in their home office working around the clock on their clients’ projects. And even if you can be mobile and, say, work from your local coffee shop on your laptop, there is a big difference between being surrounded by people and socializing with them.
There are proven scientific links between having a social life and reinforcing your mental health. Unfortunately, freelancers are prone to be more depressed than the rest of the workforce for a variety of reasons, including:
- The work/home blur
- Financial concerns
- Unpredictable schedule
- Social isolation
So do yourself and your business a favor, and invite a friend out for coffee, lunch, a movie or a party. Get outside. Have a life. Constantly thinking about work is a surefire way of achieving fatigue, not success. And besides, the more you socialize, the more apt you are to meet new potential clients.
8. Organize Your Finances
Make sure to forecast incoming client payments and outgoing expenses every month, including what you pay yourself. This way, you can see what you need to earn each month. Once you reach that number, anything leftover carries into the next month accordingly. Visualizing your earnings and expenditures will be like an EKG line for your financial health.
Financially, self-employment isn’t as drastic of a change as you might think it is, but it’s still a change nonetheless. That said, one of the hardest parts of being a freelancer is staying on top of all your accounting, including paying taxes. Therefore, having a system to manage your cash flow and track your spending is crucial to owning your own business.
Remember the Why
When trying to improve your freelance workflow, remember why you set out to work for yourself. It’s all too easy to get caught up with the hard bottom line of your day-to-day business, and anyone who’s tried knows it’s not easy, but it’s crucial to remind yourself to enjoy the path you are on. By following the tips detailed above, you are giving yourself permission to be happy as a freelancer. And at the end of the day, that’s what being your own boss is all about.
For more tips on being an effective freelancer, read our article on what it takes to be your own boss.