Survivial Skills for Freelancers

6 top tips to find your freelance community

While there are definite advantages to working for yourself – freedom and flexibility for starters – there are disadvantages, too. Working alone means it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated and that, in turn, can leave you feeling no one understands the challenges you’re facing day-to-day.

But, as I say in Survival Skills for Freelancers, going solo doesn’t mean going it alone – and finding a community of like-minded individuals to work, collaborate and share with is a real gamechanger.

Here are my top tips to help you find your freelance community.

  1. Consider coworking

If staring at the same four walls each day gives you Groundhog Day vibes, consider renting a coworking space two or three times a week. While you don’t need to be a freelancer to use a coworking space – shared work zones attract flexible workers of all kinds – many freelancers find shared working gives them the lifeline they need to overcome the isolation that can come with the job title.

Some coworking spaces operate on a pay-as-you-go basis where you can drop in and use the facilities when you need to. Others charge a fixed weekly or monthly fee. Shop around to see what’s best for you.

  1. Get social online

Social media offers countless networks of enthusiastic, inspiring creatives just like you – and you don’t even need to move from your desk to join them! Freelance communities on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Slack are packed with information, advice, support, opportunities for collaboration… and likeminded people.

Start with thriving Facebook groups such as Freelance Heroes or Being Freelance, or look out for industry-specific communities such as Logo Geek (for graphic designers) or Freelance PRs.

  1. Give more than you take

As with most things in life, you get out of online freelance communities what you put in – so dig in, introduce yourself, browse members’ posts and engage with discussions. Resist the temptation to self-promote. Instead, engage with others, be encouraging, helpful and informed, and give more than you take. Once you’ve established yourself as an active member and become known as friendly, reliable and someone who knows their stuff, you’re more likely to attract likeminded people, which may even pay off in referrals and business.

  1. Do your research

Want to expand your network or social circle but don’t know where to start? Following hashtags on Twitter and Instagram can help you spot people with similar interests and goals. Give them a follow and reach out with a comment or DM. Many real-life friendships develop from online connections. (This happens over time, not overnight, so be prepared to invest time and effort.)

  1. Go local

Joining a local business network is a great way to meet likeminded individuals and has the added benefit of encouraging you to leave your desk occasionally! In person networking doesn’t need to be intimidating – remember, everyone was new once. Be yourself, show a genuine interest in others, and focus on making new connections rather than sales. It might take a while to find a group that feels like home, so be prepared to try a range of networking groups – from formal breakfast gatherings to casual chats over coffee – until you find the right freelance community.

  1. Build your support network

Making money isn’t everything. Sure, we all need to pay the bills, but you deserve some me-time, too! Keeping work and home life separate is super important when you’re freelance. Set firm boundaries – especially around your working hours – and refuse to let your home life come second.

A good support network of non-business friends is essential to your mental wellbeing, so never feel guilty about switching off the laptop, joining a yoga class, or meeting a friend for coffee. Switching off doesn’t just help you to recharge – it boosts focus, creativity and productivity. Your brain will thank you for it, and so will your bank balance.

You’re the boss! How to take back control of your freelance business and say goodbye to overwhelm

Remember how you loved the idea of working for yourself?

How you were drawn to the freedom and flexibility of freelance life? How you’d get to be in control of how you spend your time and energy, and to pick the clients – and the work – that inspires you?

What happened?!

It’s common to come off the treadmill of employment only to find yourself on a whole other treadmill.

You’re working crazy hours just to get by, no more in charge of your time than when you were employed, and what’s worse, you’ve swapped one boss for multiple bosses (hint – they’re not you!).

You’re not alone.

According to research by Leapers, 61% of freelancers are stressed by long hours and tight deadlines.

But there is a better way.

It’s okay to say no to work that doesn’t fulfil you.

It’s okay to admit you can’t do it all, and to ask for help.

And it’s okay – scrap that, it’s downright essential – to set boundaries that protect your energy and prioritise your mental health.

So, how do you take back control of your freelance business, and get more enjoyment from self-employment?

The empowering magic of saying no

When you’re self-employed it’s tempting to take on every piece of work that comes your way, especially when you’re starting out. Money is tight, paying clients are scarce, and you’re trying hard to build up your reputation.

Once you’ve established a handful of regular clients and a steady flow of work you have a little more freedom to ask, “Is this right for me?”.

Ask yourself:

Does it suit your skills?

If a client is asking for skills you don’t have or services you don’t offer, be honest and realistic. While you may be able to upskill in a particular area, taking on work that’s way beyond your capabilities is a recipe for stress and overwhelm

Is the timescale realistic to do a professional job?

We’ve all been there: “I’ll need it back tomorrow,” they say. If you don’t have the capacity to fit work in at short notice – and, frankly, most good freelancers won’t – ask if there’s wiggle room in the deadline. You can’t do your best work when you’re stretched to your limits, and most clients are prepared to wait for the right person to do the job.

Is the pay worthwhile?

Don’t undersell yourself. Knowing how to price your work as a freelancer can be tough. As a bare minimum, aim to charge standard industry rates for the job, as well as covering legitimate expenses. (Remember, as a freelancer you don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, a pension or any of the other financial benefits associated with employment.) You might find the Work Notes pricing guide helpful here.

What is your instinct telling you?

Being stuck in a cycle of attracting and accepting the wrong work takes the joy out of freelance life. But what is the wrong work? Your gut often recognises it before you do! Perhaps the client shows signs of not respecting the value you provide. Maybe they’re quick to quibble over your costs, telling you they can get the work done much cheaper elsewhere. Perhaps they’re vague about job specs or set unrealistic deadlines. If your instinct tells you to steer clear, listen to it – it’s usually for a good reason.

Takeaway tip: Being honest, professional and businesslike from the start will help to establish respect and trust from potential clients – and save you a lot of stress and aggro later.

Ask for help if you need it

As freelancers, we wear a lot of hats! It’s easy to feel like you have to be your own accountant, do all your own admin, troubleshoot your own tech, and be your own life coach.

Newsflash: you don’t.

It took me a loooong time to realise this, and I could’ve saved myself a lot of time and stress had I learned it sooner!

Outsourcing the tasks you don’t enjoy, you’re not good at, and that don’t make you money is just good business sense. Spending half your time on tasks that drain your time and energy can leave you questioning why you went into business in the first place!

The more time you spend doing the thing you love – and the thing that makes you money – the more fulfilled and happy your freelance life will be.

So, how do you decide what to outsource? Start by writing a list of the tasks you do each day and rate them according to:

  • how good you are at them
  • how much you enjoy them

The tasks that score low are those you should look at outsourcing first. Many freelancers start by outsourcing their accounts and IT support.

Finding the right person for the job may take a little while, but soon you’ll have a team of experts working for you and supporting your business while you get on with doing the thing you love.

And that feels good.

Set healthy boundaries

Freelancing can feel like a constant juggling act – between different clients, tasks, projects and deadlines. To stay on top of your game, you’ll need to set healthy boundaries with realistic expectations of your time and attention. Feeling like you’re permanently on call is a recipe for burnout.

  • Consider setting an email auto response that lets clients know you just check your email a couple of times a day – and stick to it! It reassures them that you’ve received their email, manages their expectations on when to expect a response, and sends a clear signal that you won’t be pulled off task every few minutes when you’re working for them.
  • I know many freelancers who don’t publish their phone number, and for good reason! Unplanned calls can be a real distraction when you’re focused and productive. Unless you really can’t avoid answering the phone, let calls go to voicemail and encourage the client to book an appointment at a mutually convenient time when they can expect your undivided attention. Apps such as Calendly and Acuity Scheduling are great for this.
  • Freelance life isn’t about the 9 to 5. Ultimately, your clients don’t care what hours you work, as long as you get the work done on time, so set working hours that work for you. Communicate them in your email signature and terms of business.

Takeaway tip: Setting clear, professional ground rules makes life easier for both you and your client – and helps you avoid burnout.

The bottom line…

Follow these golden rules to take back control of your freelance business and get more enjoyment from self-employment:

  1. Set boundaries
    Remember – you’re the boss! Learn to say no to the clients and work that aren’t the right fit for your values, experience or schedule. By doing so, you’ll open up space for the projects that are a good match for your skills, personality and passion – and that’s pure gold!
  2. Get clear on your process
    Communicate clear ground rules on what each project does and doesn’t cover, and on when you will and won’t respond to emails or phonecalls. When you manage your clients’ expectations, they’re less likely to micro manage, and more likely to trust you to deliver when you say you will.
  3. Ask for help
    It’s a sign of strength, not weakness! You’ll have a team of experts in your corner and you’ll get to spend more time doing the thing you love – which is the reason you went into business in the first place, right?!

Create clear boundaries that work for you and you’ll find yourself with less stress, a richer work–life balance, and a more fulfilling freelance life.

And who doesn’t want that?

 

The freelancing fear that strikes terror into the self-employed

It’s October, Halloween is approaching… it’s the perfect time to focus on one of the biggest fears that paralyses everyone from the newest of newbie freelancers to the most experienced of small biz owners.

The fear of failure.

EEE!

We all know how the fear of messing up can keep us stuck.

But it’s a fear that keeps you firmly in your comfort zone, stops you taking risks, and prevents you from doing things that are good for your business.

So, whaddya do about it?

“But what if I fail?”

Here’s a thing – what if you don’t? You can’t make a success of self-employment unless you try. You may fail big, you may fail often… but failure is how we develop as both individuals and business owners.

We fail, we learn, we grow.

Whether you’re in a steady job you hate, thinking of making the leap into self-employment, or you’re an experienced freelancer tackling something you’ve never done before, show that fear who’s boss!

As Nike would say, just do it.

“But it’s not quite right!”

To quote Winston Churchill, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

You can always spend more time polishing that presentation or sharpening that course content but often done is better than perfect.

You can tinker, you can hone, you can faff, you can refine… but hey – semantics!

It all adds up to procrastination.

Whatever it is that’s getting in your way or keeping you stuck, remember – it doesn’t have to be life-changing or world-class or revolutionary. There will never be a perfect time, and you will never be truly ready.

Sometimes you just need to put your big girl (or boy) pants on and put it out there into the big wide world. Because only when it’s out there can you get feedback, improve, rinse and repeat.


HOW IS IT FOR YOU?

Experienced journalist and founder of Freelance Feels, Jenny Stallard, describes herself as a ‘threelancer’. She’s dabbled with self-employment three times – and even now she admits freelance life can be full of fears

“When it comes to freelancing, something scares me every single day,” says Jenny. “Taking the leap into self-employment was the scariest thing, but that’s not all. Freelancing can feel like we are on a cliff path, constantly negotiating the steps between falling off and the softer grass to our other side. From money worries and finding new work, to how much to charge and what to post on social media…”


Make fear work for you

Despite the potential pile-up of panic, Jenny admits the heady mix of fear and excitement is one of the best things about self-employment.

And she’s right.

It’s easy to feel the fear and freeze, like a rabbit in headlamps – but the flurry of butterflies that descends when we step outside our comfort zone reminds us we’re alive.

Any time you have to do something brave and uncomfortable, like a talk or presentation, remember that being nervous and being excited feel just the same.

Tell your brain you’re excited to be doing something new – something bold – and you’re more likely to enjoy it, and to do well.


HOW IS IT FOR YOU?

Author of How to Be a Well Being, Dr Andy Cope studied happiness for 12 years and now delivers keynote speeches on the subject to audiences around the world. “I deliver and teach wellbeing, yet before I go on stage I’m racked with nerves and panic and wonder why the hell I’m doing this, every single time.

“Everyone thinks they’re the only one that’s terrified of stepping outside their comfort zone, but everyone has the same insecurities as you do. The realisation that we all feel uncomfortable, and that we’re all waiting to be found out is, in itself, quite comforting. It’s perfectly okay not to be okay – it’s part of the human condition.


If you never try…

It’s easy to feel like you’re alone with your fears but you’re not. There are hundreds of thousands of small biz owners out there just like you.

The secret to facing – and embracing – your freelance fears is to find those likeminded people.

When you find them, reach out, connect, learn, support, collaborate and grow.

What’s the worst that can happen?

If you fail so spectacularly that you decide freelance life simply isn’t for you, that’s okay! But if you never try, you’ll never know…

 

Tips and tricks for a happy, healthy freelance life (an interview with ProCopywriters)

I recently took part in a live, one-hour interview with ProCopywriters, the professional association for copywriters in the UK.

We chatted about the wellbeing aspects of freelance life ­– dealing with the ups and downs, as well as the importance of boundaries, community and asking for help – and I shared tips to help freelance copywriters become more successful with less stress and burnout.

The interview touched on some of the tips and topics that are covered in my new book – Survival Skills for Freelancers. Here’s a transcript.

Q Welcome to #ProCopyChat, Sarah! Please tell us a bit more about yourself.

A Hello! I’ve been a freelance marketing copywriter for over 20 years. I love freelance life, but I reckon it took me the best part of 15 years to get good at the business end of it – and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.

I’ve now written a book for freelancers – Survival Skills for Freelancers to share my experience and help freelancers reach their definition of success a whole lot quicker than I did!

Q Sounds great! Can you tell us a bit more about the book for freelancers, and how it came about?

A Sure! So, most of us decide to go freelance because we have a skill we want to share. But in most cases, we’re unprepared for how relentless the business end of freelance life can be, let alone the challenges it can present to our mental health!

The book is designed to help freelancers become more successful by working smarter, not harder. I’m hoping readers will learn from the things I’ve done that worked as well as the things that didn’t!

It’s a combination of heart-on-your-sleeve anecdotes and tried and tested advice based on my own experience, backed up by research, resources and quotes from the freelance community.

Q How and why did you become a freelancer?

A I was working as an editor and account manager for a magazine publisher in Clifton, Bristol when I became pregnant. I knew I didn’t want to go back to full-time work, and liked the idea that I could fit freelance work around family life. My employer promised to provide the odd piece of work, so it seemed like a good decision.

I worked on my brand and sent out cold enquiries while I was on maternity leave, then worked three days a week while my daughter was at nursery. My business grew as my family grew. And here I am – now with grown-up kids – still loving freelance life.

Q4 What do you believe are the most important qualities to make it as a freelancer?

A Good question! I don’t think you have to be a particular type of person to make a successful freelancer. There are always exceptions. But there are traits that help and others that hinder. Skills and talent alone aren’t enough to guarantee success.

It helps if you’re determined, motivated, organised, ambitious, disciplined, confident, outgoing, flexible, reliable, personable, patient, thick-skinned… it’s a pretty long list!

Q What would you say to anyone reading that list who knows they don’t have all those qualities?

A I’d say don’t worry too much. No one will tick off every quality on the list. If you don’t have any of them, you might struggle more than most, but I’m neither patient nor thick-skinned and I haven’t let that hold me back!

Q Isolation is a real challenge for many freelancers. How do you recommend we deal with it?

It absolutely is. So many of the freelancers I’ve talked to loved the idea of working from home but found themselves completely unprepared for the loneliness! It’s easy to feel like no one understands what you’re going through – but they do!

Connection is vital when you’re freelance, and there are three fundamental ways to find it:

  • online communities (like this one, or the many Facebook groups that exist for freelancers)
  • networking groups and events
  • coworking spaces and coffee shop working

The great thing about the online community is that – under normal circumstances, at least – it spills out into real life with events and conferences. This means it’s possible to make great real-life friendships with people who are in the same boat as you, and who really get it.

We may be facing a temporary ban on face-to-face networking and coworking, but many groups are already taking their meetings and events online and getting great results. And, of course, we won’t always be facing the unprecedented situation we’re in right now, with COVID-19.

Q How have you dealt with the unpredictability of freelance life over the years?

A I don’t think you ever really get used to the peaks and troughs of freelancing. Quiet spells are pretty rare for me now, but I still keep a list of projects I want to work on, blogs I want to write and books I want to read, in case work does drop off.

Having too much work can be just as problematic as not having enough, though. Either you work yourself into the ground, boundaries go out the window and your mental health suffers as a result, or you can do what I do – have an arrangement with a small team of trusted freelancers who you can pass work on to when you need to. You’re solving the problem for your client and helping another freelancer into the bargain.

Q There’s a lot of talk about imposter syndrome. Do you suffer from it, and how do you deal with it?

A Yes, absolutely – even now! Self-doubt can hold you back if you let it, so don’t let the fear of failure get in your way. Celebrate your wins – even the little things – so you can see how far you’ve come. And don’t compare yourself to others!

It’s easy to put things off if you keep striving for perfection but know this: there’ll never be a right time and you’ll never be completely prepared. Just do the best that you can do. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

Q You have a chapter in your book about avoiding burnout. Can you share a few tips here?

A Of course! This is something I feel very strongly about and I go into a fair bit of detail about it in the book. In a nutshell, it’s about setting boundaries, asking for help, learning to say no, and taking simple steps to look after yourself.

It takes time to learn what works for you, but most people need fresh air, exercise, a balanced diet and decent quality sleep as a minimum. It sounds obvious, but if you’re not feeling your best you can’t do your best work.

Above all, it’s important to know it’s okay not to be okay. You’re not alone, you’re not the only one who feels this way, and you are perfectly normal. Respect your boundaries, prioritise your own wellbeing, and keep talking!

Q When and where can we get hold of your book? And will you be promoting it at any freelance events in the future? (Coronavirus permitting!)

A My book for freelancers, Survival Skills for Freelancers launched on 18 June, and is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and soon to be audiobook formats.

As for events, I have a few podcast interviews lined up and I’m always keen to do more. Ultimately, I’d love to speak on wellbeing and mental health for freelancers. (Spread the word if you know any event organisers who might be interested!)