Freelancing may be all about flexibility and freedom, but if you’ve done it for a while, you’ll know it can also be about insecurity, boredom, long hours, late payments, difficult clients and a nagging fear that you may have to hide when the window cleaner turns up for his money.
While some of these stresses are unavoidable, some we bring upon ourselves by allowing ourselves to get stuck in a rut – often one that’s full of bad habits. And if your freelance career needs a reboot, what better time to do it than the New Year?
Reboot Your Routine
It’s very easy to get stuck doing the same old thing at the same old time every day without giving it a thought. But the thoughts you should be having are: Does it work for me? Is my work routine as enjoyable as it could be? Am I working when I’m most productive, or doing the right work at the right time? Am I working in the right place?
Many writers, for instance, start their day by reading through and editing what they’ve written the day before, to get them back in the groove – and/or because they’re more creative a little later, when their brain has warmed up a bit! Others feel that their best ideas arrive first thing in the morning, so they save administrative tasks for the afternoon.
Think about the times when you’re most productive, creative or prone to interruption. Consider things you can’t fit in at present or those times when work spills over, unwanted, into your supposedly free time. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your routine in pursuit of the ideal solution or try a new time management tool or app.
Reboot Your Client List
Perhaps all your clients are regular, reliable bestowers of commissions and friendly, fantastic communicators, swift to pay your invoices and generous with their money. Wow. Lucky you. Where did you find these paragons of freelancer-hiring virtue?
It’s far more likely, sadly, that deep down in your heart you know you have a few clients whom you should say goodbye to. You know the ones: the persistently late payers, the confusing communicators, the too-brief brief-givers and the tight-fisted tyrants.
You can do better, but if you find the prospect of letting a client go daunting, you’re not alone. For tips on how to reduce the pain, take a look at Five Simple Rules for Saying Goodbye to a Client.
Reboot the Projects You Take On and/ or the Services You Offer
Consider the financial reward and enjoyment you get from each type of work you do, then make a resolution to try and focus on acquiring more of the work you want and less of the work that pays less well or bores you rigid (and please, please try to lose the work that pays less well AND bored you rigid!).
Think expansion, diversification and even extra training if you must, but strive to offer the services and take on the projects that bring you the highest financial rewards and/or job satisfaction.
Reboot Your Work Environment
Your work environment should ideally be a place where you’re comfortable and everything is to hand. Think about your furniture, equipment, lighting and heating and consider what you use your space for. Do you need to entertain clients in your workspace? Is there enough storage for your needs?
If you’re regularly using a computer, are your desk, monitor and keyboard in the right position to reduce eyestrain and prevent repetitive strain injury and other physical problems? Are you interrupted by family, friends and domestic demands too often if you work at home – or do you sometimes lack motivation because you feel isolated and alone?
Whether it’s buying a new filing cabinet, opting to work alongside a friend for a few sessions a week, working in a café or library sometimes or deciding to move your freelancing to an office or co-working space, make the changes you need.
Reboot Your Finances
Do you keep money aside in case there are lean months with no work or you’re taken ill? What would happen if a member of your family needed your care or was transferred to a hospital some distance away? Do you have critical illness or loss of earnings insurance? Taking these precautions can seem expensive, pessimistic and just too much bother, but if things start to go wrong, you will be glad of an emergency fund or insurance payout to fall back on.
Make tax returns easier by ensuring that all your invoices and receipts are stored safely and filed logically. Resolve to keep on top of your financial paperwork in future and buy any stationery or filing accessories that will make this easier (and keep the receipts!). An accountant can handle any dealings with the HMRC, as well as ensuring that you keep as much of your profit as possible and that your tax return is completed correctly and on time.
They can also advise you on a host of other financial issues such as protecting your personal finances and VAT registration, so don’t begrudge their fees; the chances are that they’ll save you more money than you pay them.
Reboot Your Prices
Never forget that you are your own small business and that like any other small business, your costs will most likely increase over time: printer paper, broadband, utility bills, fuel, your phone contract – these are all costs that are unlikely to go down, just as the cost of your weekly shop and other bills are likely to go down.
Unless you intend to let your available income go down as well, you will have to maintain your profit margin -and that means that at some time, you will have to increase your rates. Whether you choose to do this ad-hoc or at the same time each year is up to you, but the New Year is a good time to evaluate your rates and make changes.
Be brave, be professional, and approach those lower-paying clients with a polite but firm message about your revised rates.
Reboot Your Testimonials or Portfolio
Ensure your testimonials or work samples are up to date and in good order, showing the best of your work and your breadth of experience over time. Use written testimonials to demonstrate your reliability, flexibility, punctuality and ability to go the extra mile and innovate.
Reboot Your Advertising and Networking
Where do your work offers and new clients come from? Look at what strategies for attracting clients have worked and which haven’t, and consider new media and approaches, whether that be social media, newspapers, radio, websites, online or printed directories, specialist sites and forums, newspapers and magazines – or even TV? Does your website need a reboot? If so, take a look at Eight Essential Features of a Freelancer’s Website to make sure yours is up to spec.
Are there groups you could join or conferences and events you could attend to help you network? Be bold and try something new.
Hopefully, by rebooting your freelance career you will find renewed enthusiasm and success. Happy New Year!