Survivial Skills for Freelancers

How to ditch negative self-talk and grow in confidence

“I’ll never be good enough”

“I can’t do that!”

“How could I be so stupid?”

We can all be our own worst enemy from time to time – and we’re all familiar with the mean voice inside our head telling us we’re not good enough.

Perhaps, for you, the fear is that you’ll never be clever enough, funny enough, confident enough. That you’re not a good enough parent, or partner, or friend.

However negative self-talk shows up for you, it’s damaging your confidence and holding you back.

The corrosive impact of negative self-talk

Having a negative internal dialogue may seem harmless, but it’s not.

Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

Our thoughts have incredible power, and our brain has a habit of believing what we tell it.

Constant negative self-talk can damage your self-esteem and have a permanent impact on your self-worth. It even increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which dents your resilience.

That mean voice can impact everything from your relationships to the chances of grasping exciting opportunities… even how much you charge for your work.

So – how do you stop it?

Be kind to your mind

We’ve all heard the quote “Work hard and be nice to people” – but it’s not just other people we need to be nice to.

The things we repeatedly tell ourselves tend to become our reality, so the first step is to become aware of the language you’re using when you talk to yourself.

If you’re in the habit of berating yourself when you make a mistake, and you’re unforgiving when something doesn’t go to plan, make a choice to be kind to you.

Try reframing mistakes as learning opportunities. Instead of saying, “You’re an idiot! How could you let that happen?!” tell yourself, “That didn’t go so well, but I can learn from the experience. Next time I’ll do it differently.”

Learn to silence negative thoughts and turn them into positives. Instead of “I don’t fit in” say “By showing up regularly I’ll soon get to know people”.

Rather than telling yourself, “I can’t do it” break the goal into smaller chunks and focus on taking the first step.

(Readers of a certain age will know what I mean if I mention Pollyanna’s glad game.)

As a golden rule, if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.

Compare and despair

Negative self-talk can be triggered by comparisonitis. Social media is a common culprit, and time online has a habit of amplifying your feelings – good or bad.

If scrolling through Instagram leaves you feeling down on yourself – as if everyone else is smashing it, and you’re getting left behind – take a digital detox until you’re feeling stronger and more resilient.

Bye bye inner critic, hello inner coach

We all have an inner critic and an inner coach, but our inner critics are often so bloomin’ loud that our inner coach struggles to be heard!

You can change that.

Choose to be your own biggest supporter – using positive internal dialogue to encourage and coach yourself into grasping opportunities, trying new things, and growing in confidence.

It can take time to get into the habit of tuning out that destructive nagging voice, but it’s worth the effort.

Let me know how you get on.

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?

 

How to market your freelance business in 6 simple steps

Knowing how to market your freelance business can be a real challenge.

You want your business to grow and thrive – but unless people know it exists that’s never going to happen! So how do you get your name out there, find those dream clients and build your freelance business?

In the bad old days (believe me, I’m old enough to remember) marketing involved a simple choice: you sent a mailshot, took out an ad in the local paper or picked up the phone and made the dreaded cold calls.

Thankfully, those days are gone – and, thanks to the internet, you’re now spoilt for choice* when it comes to marketing your freelance business.

(*read overwhelmed – anyone?!)

So where do you start?

Here are six simple steps to get your business noticed – without sapping too much of your time, energy or cash.

1. Get your website working for you

Think of your website as your shop window to the world. It’s often the first stop for anyone wanting to find out more about your business.

According to a 2019 study, an incredible 40 per cent of UK businesses have no online presence. When you remember that a well-written, well-designed, SEO optimised website could be working for your freelance business 24/7 that’s a lot of missed opportunity!

With free web-building tools such as Wix and Squarespace readily available, there’s really no excuse for not having a website, though investing in professional web design and copywriting can help to give your freelance business the edge.

2. Start blogging

Blogging is a great way to create value for your audience and to position you as an expert in your chosen freelance field.

Think of your blog as a conversation with your audience.

  • Get clear on the purpose for each post.
  • Aim to inform, engage and entertain by sharing helpful tips and advice.
  • Remember to include a strong call to action – somewhere interested readers can go if they’d like to know more.

Don’t just rely on search engine traffic to gain readers. Once you’ve published your new blog post on your website, share a link on your social media channels to increase your audience.

Fun fact: the word blog comes from the word weblog

3. Email marketing

Business emails fall into two categories: irritating spam emails for products and brands you’re not interested in (please tell me why I keep receiving invitations to attend engineering seminars!?) and emails you actually look forward to receiving each month/week/fortnight.

Your job is to ensure yours fall into the second category.

How? Put yourself in your client’s shoes. What do they want to read about? (Send a short survey to a handful of trusted clients and ask them!) How can you solve their problems, make their life easier, add value or even just brighten their day with an inspiring story?

To help you get the tone right, think of your email marketing as a direct conversation with a client. And make sure it sounds like you! Business speak and jargon are far more likely to turn people off.

Want to see how I do it? Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. It contains a mix of news, advice and useful tips for freelancers and business owners and a no hard-sell guarantee.

Pro tip: keep it short, keep it helpful, keep it regular (but not too frequent).

4. Build your network

When it comes to spreading the word about your business, support can come from unexpected places. Don’t discount friends, relatives and former colleagues. They may not be in the market for your service, but with a little encouragement they may be happy to help you spread the word.

Keep an open mind when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t appear to be a potential client – you never know who they’re connected to!

As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Aim to make a great first impression. You never know where it might lead.

Pro tip: remember, networking is about being part of a mutually supportive community so skip the hard sell!

5. Use social media: don’t let it use you!

How many times have you reached the end of the day and wondered where on earth the time went? When you learn that the average person spends around 2.5 hours Every. Single. Day. on social media, it’s easy to see why.

While platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can be great ways to build your network and spread the word about your business, they’re also a huge distraction – sapping your time, energy and productivity.

Instead of trying to conquer all platforms, pick one or two where your target clients hang out and focus your attention there. Resist the temptation to check for updates every two minutes and turn off those notifications – your brain will thank you for it!

6. Ask for recommendations

When you need a plumber or a decorator, you ask your network for recommendations, right? The same applies whether you’re a graphic designer, photographer, chiropractor or copywriter. In fact, 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that’s recommended by someone they trust.

Five-star reviews are the best free marketing tool your business has.

Let that sink in.

Testimonials tell people we know our stuff. We deliver. We’re credible. We’re creative. We add value. We make their lives easier. We’re fun to work with.

So make the most of them!

As soon as you’ve completed a project, ask the client if they’d be willing to review your service for LinkedIn, Google or Facebook. Chances are they’ll be happy to help. You could even build your testimonials into project profiles or case studies to showcase your services and the problems you solve for your clients.

Check out this post for more on using recommendations to build your reputation.

Pro tip: find more stats on the importance of reviews and recommendations here.

The last word…

Many freelancers feel uncomfortable with the idea of selling and marketing their business – but you won’t succeed as a freelancer without it!

If this sounds like you, focus on the end result you deliver to your clients. Perhaps you save them time, or help their business become more successful.

Either way, you provide a valuable service and people won’t know about it unless you tell them! So, don’t be shy about promoting your business. A little marketing can go a long way.

 

Strengths, weaknesses… and the key to freelance success

If you want to rock the socks off self-employment you need to play to your strengths and ignore your weaknesses – right? Wrong. Here are 6 reasons why knowing your strengths and your weaknesses can play a big part in freelance success.

  1. Know what makes you special

In business speak, this is known as your USP – your unique selling point. It’s the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd, and the reason clients will choose to work with you over your competitors.

Perhaps you offer a unique or unusual service. Maybe your strength is an ability to work quickly and efficiently. Perhaps working alone means you can provide a tailored, personal service to your clients. Or perhaps you’re highly experienced in a particular niche or market.

When you’ve identified your USP, reframe it from the perspective of your clients. What pains do you solve for them? What benefit will they get from working with you? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to shout it from the rooftops!

  1. Play to your strengths

What qualities and strengths do you bring to the table? Perhaps you’re great at listening to your clients’ needs and coming up with creative solutions to their problems? Or perhaps organisation is your superpower, and you’re great at managing projects, timetables and budgets?

If you find it hard to recognise your positive traits, ask a trusted friend – or, if you’re feeling brave – ask clients why they’d recommend you (the answer may not be what you expect!).

Knowing your strengths – and what they mean to your clients – can help you recognise the clients and projects that are a good fit for you (and the ones to avoid!).

  1. Reframe your weaknesses

In the process of writing Survival Skills for Freelancers I asked the self-employed community on Twitter for the one quality they thought was vital to become a successful freelancer. Two answers that came up again and again were patience and thick skin.

I have neither. And that’s okay. Because being aware of the qualities you lack can work in your favour. Most weaknesses can be reframed as strengths. For example, impatient people are driven. They get things done. And my sensitivity makes me a great listener – an essential skill for freelancers.

Would life be easier without weaknesses? Sure, but they haven’t held me back, and they shouldn’t hold you back either.

  1. Know your personality

Are you naturally outgoing and extroverted, or more of the shy and retiring type? Being aware of your personality type enables you to develop working patterns that suit you.

Extroverts like me may benefit from building time into their day to chat to friends or colleagues online. Sharing ideas, advice and laughter with others can give extroverts the energy – and the productivity boost – to smash through an afternoon of deadlines with ease.

On the flip side, introverts may need to build in quiet time to recharge after a morning of online meetings or networking as, for them, being around other people can be draining. Spending the afternoon focused on productive output can be a great way to achieve this.

  1. Know your market

Before you spend time and energy on marketing your business, make sure you understand what your audience needs.

A little research into your target market – and some time spent asking the right people the right questions – can give you a valuable insight into the challenges that potential clients face.

Put yourself in their shoes. What are they struggling with? What pains can you solve for them? How can you make their life easier? Where are the gaps you need to fill? Use this inside information to market your services.

  1. Offer solutions

Essential purchases aside, people don’t make buying decisions based on facts and logic – they buy based on emotion.

Instead of focusing on practicalities such as your level of experience and qualifications, try answering your client’s primary question: “What’s in it for me?”.

How will working with you make them feel? Will it bring a sense of order and control? Will it provide peace of mind, knowing an important project is in safe hands? Will it help them meet their deadlines, and make them look good to their boss? Build this into your sales pitch.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

As a freelancer, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your own company! The better you know yourself, the better positioned you are to work on your weaknesses and play to your strengths. Get comfortable with who you are and you’re more likely to find freelance success. Go for it!

How to kick self-doubt to the curb and become your biggest cheerleader

When was the last time you went outside your comfort zone? I mean, really? Or do you – like many freelancers and small business owners – shy away from opportunities for fear of messing up or looking daft?

It’s a common problem – and it’s holding you back.

Many years ago, I watched a Derren Brown show about luck. His point was that people who thought they were unlucky were closed off to opportunities. Like stepping over a stray £20 note on the pavement, they simply didn’t see them. Meanwhile, those who thought they were lucky spotted opportunities All. The. Time.

I decided there and then that I wanted to fall into the second category.

And it works. It really does.

How?

Opportunity knocks

When you open your eyes – and your mind – opportunities are all around you. Whether you grasp them with both hands and use them to develop your skills, your network and your career depends on your mindset.

Perhaps there’s a chance to collaborate with another business owner on Instagram, you’re invited to take part in a live event, or there’s a niche that’s begging for an online course that’s just your speciality.

Without the right mindset, these opportunities will pass you by.

Why?

Because of fear, self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

You know imposter syndrome. It’s that nagging feeling that you’re inadequate, incompetent, and generally undeserving of success – and it runs deep in the world of self-employment.

Sometimes imposter syndrome shows up as a mean voice in your head: “You think you can succeed in business? Who are you kidding?” or “You can’t charge that! Who do you think you are?!”.

Sometimes it’s the crippling anxiety that accompanies the start of a project for a new client. The fear of failure, of disappointing people, and of not being good enough.

Sometimes it’s a feeling that you’ve been faking it and you’ll be exposed as a fraud at any moment. That you don’t deserve success, and you’ve only got where you are today by sheer guts and chance.

Imposter syndrome and self-doubt stem from a fear of being found out or not measuring up – despite evidence to the contrary.

Of course you know what you’re doing. On a good day, you might even admit you’re damn good at it. Yet still they lurk around the corner, waiting to stop you in your tracks when you least expect it.

If you’re not careful, these powerful feelings will keep you stuck.

They position you firmly in your comfort zone, stops you taking risks, and prevent you from doing those things that are good for business.

The perfection connection

Imposter syndrome’s big sister is perfectionism. As Winston Churchill once said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress,” – and it’s easy to see why.

You can always spend more time polishing that presentation, faffing with that website or sharpening that course content but remember – done is better than perfect.

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

Sometimes you just need to put your big girl 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.

So just do it.

“But what if I fail?”

Here’s a thing – what if you don’t? You can’t make a success of self-employment without taking risks. 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.

Make fear work for you

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.

Show that fear who’s boss

Being aware of the situations and circumstances that trigger self-doubt can help you feel more equipped to deal with them. A few simple strategies – described in detail in Survival Skills for Freelancers – can help you keep self-doubt and imposter syndrome in check:

  • Accept mistakes
  • Stop comparing yourself
  • Keep negative self-talk in check… and keep talking
  • Reward yourself for taking risks
  • List the things you’re good at
  • Celebrate your successes

You’re not alone

It’s easy to feel like you’re alone with these 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 – them is to find those likeminded people.

And when you find them? Reach out, connect, learn, support, collaborate and grow.

You’ve got this.

This post first appeared as a guest blog for the female entrepreneur community, Found & Flourish.