What I Wish I’d Known About Freelancing

Working for yourself is probably the ideal life for most people, and freelancing gives you the ultimate freedom: working when you want and where you want. But it is not as easy as it sounds. There are some things that I have learned so far about being my own boss, most of which I learned the hard way. I wanted to share them here so you know, hopefully before you start a similar journey.

First of all, when you are the boss, you are the BOSS. That means every business decision is yours – and yours alone – to make. It can be difficult and exhausting, which is probably why many new businesses fail within the first year. People who have a hard time making choices are better workers than bosses. If you’re not sure if you’re a good decision-maker, you’ll figure it out really quick when you’re self-employed.

Secondly, you need to be your own accountant. You have to keep records of payments and charges, or you’ll be paying the same bills or suppliers more than once and you’ll forget to collect money for your services. You must be on top of everything – you have to know if you’re being charged fairly, and you must send payment reminders when necessary. You need to have some assertiveness when dealing with people to ensure you get paid.

When I first quit my job, it was really easy to fall into a “watch tv and eat junk food” trap every day. Dinnertime would roll around and I hadn’t gotten anything done, and there would be a scramble late into the night fueled by coffee to get my work done. Then I’d be exhausted the next morning, and the cycle would start all over again. So the third thing you need to be is organized. You have to create a daily plan and stick to it. Set deadlines and break large projects down into smaller pieces so that you aren’t overwhelmed. While you are the master of your own schedule, you need to make sure that you are setting realistic deadlines and getting things done consistently.

The fourth thing you need is the ability to work alone. Not having to smell your colleague’s weird fish stew heating in the communal microwave is a blessing, for sure. But there’s also nobody to hang around at the water cooler with and chat about the game last night. Most of your friends will be slaving away at a desk while you’re sitting around at home, and you’ve got no coworkers or bosses to entertain you. I have to make an effort to email people I worked with and make plans with friends or family every once in a while so that I am around real people as often as I can. It really helps. I definitely will miss office holiday parties, though.

The last thing I want to mention is having people skills. You’re the boss, sure, but you need to make your clients happy to stay working. Be honest with potential clients at the beginning regarding your prices, skill levels, deadlines, and strengths. Then put in the effort you promise. But no matter what you do, there will be people who are never happy regardless of how many times you try again or accommodations you make. And in that case, I suggest refunding any of the client’s money you may already have charged, and walking away. It might suck to do so, but working for somebody like that is worse!

Any other freelancers out there? Is there anything I missed?