Three things I wish I’d known before going freelance
Going freelance is a big deal, especially if you’re planning to swap the luxury of being in full-time employment with becoming your own full-time boss.
Many people think being your own boss is easy – you don’t answer to anybody, you no longer have to think about things, such as appraisals, and you can come and go as you please.
These points are all very true, but if you want to go freelance and never have to go back to being employed by somebody else, then you have to be prepared to work at it. In most instances, this involves working even harder than if you were working for an employer.
Running a freelance business isn’t easy, there are big decisions to make and challenges to overcome pretty much every day. And there are pressures too, such as client acquisition and retention, chasing overdue invoices, submitting your VAT returns and recording all of your financial affairs accurately and on time. Basically, it’s all of the things your employer used to have to worry about, many of which didn’t even occur to you. Now these responsibilities rest on your shoulders.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t ever think freelancing was going to be plain sailing, but because the freelance journey is different for everybody and I’d never done it before, it was difficult for me to precisely know what it would involve.
There are so many things I’ve learnt since taking the freelance plunge, and there are many more things I wish I’d know before going freelance, here are three of them:
- It’s not just work that takes up your time
I’m a freelance copywriter and PR consultant, so I thought I’d be spending most of my days working on content and PR briefs, which is largely the case.
However, what I didn’t anticipate, was just how much the admin and financial side of my business eats into my time. From calculating and submitting invoices and following up leads, to scheduling my daily social media activity and creating time reports, these tasks may all seem like trivial things, but they all need to be done properly, which obviously takes time.
One way in which I limit how much time I spend on these tasks is by staying on top of them. So, I check my invoices once a week and log any payments as and when they come in, I record my hours electronically every time I start and finish a job and I schedule my social media posts one to two weeks in advance and then add to them with topical posts in between.
- Work-life balance doesn’t come just like that
Whenever people ask me what I do and I tell them that I work for myself, most people tend to say something along the lines of, ‘It’s alright for you, doing your own thing – you can start and finish work whenever you like…’ and if they don’t say it, then they tend to give me a look that says that sort of thing.
Having a better work-life balance was one of the reasons I decided to go freelance. But the truth of the matter is, almost two years into full-time freelancing, I’m still striving to achieve that healthy balance between work and my personal/home life.
From the moment I went full-time freelance, I’ve been flat out busy with work, which I’m absolutely delighted with. It also means I’ve been spending even more time at my desk than I ever thought I would.
I’m not complaining, as I love what I do and I love working with all of my clients, but I didn’t realise I’d be logging on quite so much as I have been. I don’t work evenings, that is one thing I am strict about, but I still have to fit those hours in somewhere, which usually involves starting early and working weekends.
- It’s ok to give yourself a break
When you work for yourself, you’re your own employee, but that doesn’t mean you treat yourself as one. I know I don’t.
What I mean by that is, when you’re employed, you make sure you take advantage of your employee rights, such as using up all of your 25 or however many days of annual leave within the given timescales.
But when you work for yourself, you aren’t given X amount of annual leave days at the start of each year. This means you can often forget to take time off, which sounds crazy, but it’s easily done. And then when you do book time off, unless you’re actually going away or specifically doing something with that time, you have to be really disciplined about sticking to it, which means not agreeing to do that piece of work that’s just come in.
At the start of last year, I mapped out all of the annual leave days I was going to take and, apart from my week off in August, I failed to take pretty much all of them! From now on, I’m going to make sure I take at least one day off a fortnight and when I book any longer time off, be firmer with myself about sticking to it.
I love freelance life and really wish I’d ventured down this path sooner. Yes, it’s incredibly hard work at times, but it’s also incredibly rewarding too. I’m truly in control of my own destiny and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re planning to go freelance, then I hope these three points have provided you with some useful insight into what it involves. And if you’re already freelance, then what are the things you wish you’d known before starting out? I’d love to hear your thoughts, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.