You just quit your job! Congratulations, and welcome to the freelancer club. Before you put on your pajamas and enjoy trashy TV, though, you need to set yourself up for success.
Fear. Excitement. More fear. A desire to eat a lot of carbs. The emotions you’re feeling if you’ve just handed in your notice are complex ones. And tempting though it might be, now isn’t the time to sit back and relax. Self-employment, small business ownership, or freelancing isn’t as simple as putting an ad in the paper and watching the money come in. Done right, freelancers are significantly happier. Done wrong, freelancing can burn you out, burn out your bank account, or both.
How do you avoid that, and make the learning process of becoming your own boss as easy as possible? Here are the first five steps you need to take. Not tomorrow, or next week, but now. Which brings us directly to the first point.
1. Commit All the Way
Setting yourself up as a freelancer often requires preparation. If you begin your business or freelancing career with the mindset that it’s just something to try, you will never succeed. Resist the urge to send out resumes, or look at other options. Right from day one, you should throw your Plan B out of the window. Having a backup will only hold you back from taking the risks you need to take in order to succeed. If you find yourself not fully committing to your plan, then ask yourself if it’s something you really want to do.
It’s like Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Whether you’re a writer, a developer, a designer, or a Jedi in the making, actively deciding that you want to make it work no matter what life throws at you is the only way to ensure you won’t quit. No matter how rosy the future is looking at the moment, hard times will be coming. There’s no such thing as ‘getting lucky’ and landing that million dollar dream contract in week one, so get mentally prepared now to fight through.
2. Track Your Time, for the Sake of Your Work and Your Life
Do you remember that feeling before you left your job, when it would suddenly be 9p.m. on a Sunday — and you didn’t have a clue where the weekend had gone? That’s about to be your life. Going to get a cup of tea suddenly takes an hour because you became distracted by calling a friend, going for a walk, or opening Facebook.
If you invoice at an hourly rate, then you’ll probably be tracking already. If not, then it’s good to get into the habit of time tracking anyway, so you know how long you’ve been working on different projects. A common mistake when you leave the 9 to 5 is just that — you leave the 9 to 5. Suddenly you’re working everyday from 9a.m. till 1a.m., and you’re not sure where the time is going. If you feel like you’re burning out, read our article on how to rescue your work-life balance. Timing is the perfect app for finding out where you’re losing time and what your days really look like. It will also help tremendously with billing your hours.
3. Learn to Say No
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given when starting my own business was ‘try to only work with people you like.’ It’s been so useful to remember; I should get it tattooed on my forehead — or maybe just framed above my desk. Working with people you like, and saying no to those you don’t, will help cultivate long-term working relationships, make work a pleasure, and save you the stress and anxiety of people who micromanage, ask for things you can’t do, or cause you a headache in some of the numerous ways unique to bad clients. If you’re not sure what constitutes a bad client, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is normal treatment, but do some research on what you should expect.
Saying no from the beginning will save you a lot of time and stress in the long-run. Whether it’s working to a deadline you know you can’t meet, work you know isn’t your strength, or a client offering too little money. It’s extremely tempting to say yes to every offer when you’re just starting out, especially when rent and bills are looming. Start saying no without feeling the need to justify your reasons (it’s your business, after all), and you’ll be setting yourself up for a stress-free and profitable future.
4. Know Your Value and Your Limits
Imposter syndrome is something that afflicts most entrepreneurs at some stage, especially when you’re just starting out. Take time to read about what it is, and you’ll suddenly realize that the voices in your head telling you that you’re not good enough or that you’re a fraud, etc. are something perfectly normal — and definitely not voices you should be listening to. If you’ve started down this road, then it must be because you have a specific skill or are passionate about something, and that’s not insignificant. You’re not going to know everything at this stage, or ever.
Warren Buffet, the most successful investor in history, has one main piece of advice: “You are your own best asset.” Never sell yourself short or accept payment you know is less than you’re worth. Similar to knowing your value, knowing your limitations from the start is important. Trying to diversify too much, or too fast, shoots many freelancers in the foot early in their careers. It’s far better to pick one thing and specialize than to branch out into too many things, disappointing your clients and yourself.
5. Invest in the Right Tools and Software
Even if you’re just working from your laptop, start-up costs are never zero. The right software from the beginning can help set you up for a profitable future. From an effective time tracking app like Timing, to productivity software, bookkeeping tools, or writing tools, these all cost money and are an investment you shouldn’t be scared of making from the beginning. If you were setting yourself up as a masseuse, you wouldn’t buy a kitchen table to massage your clients on, so this isn’t the time to be cutting corners.
There’s also an element of fun and excitement to this stage, as it can help make the steps you’re taking feel real. If you’re even half as nerdy as I am, paying for a new type of software is exciting — I like learning all about the tips, tricks, and integrations involved, and if I’ve paid for it, I’m far more likely to dedicate the time to learning to use it.
Don’t let yourself rush into things; take time now to set yourself up properly using the steps above. It’s worth checking in regularly, too, since a lot of this advice isn’t valuable just at the start of your freelancing career but for years to come.
Have you downloaded your free Timing trial yet? It’s the fastest way to begin working on this list, and making sure you’re developing healthy habits that will last for years.