By this time of year I’ve usually received a handful of calls from people wanting to chat about my strange freelance existence. Last month I received my fifteenth call so I thought maybe it was time I lifted the lid a little wider and let you all in on a few of my freelance secrets.
I’ve been extremely lucky to list my occupation as ‘freelancer’ for nearly twenty years, so I guess I can’t blame people seeking me out, but I still find it a little baffling as the lifestyle now seems quite normal to me. The calls usually go something like this.
‘Hey why don’t we catch up for a coffee it’s been months, I can do next week, anytime, my company’s started restructuring so I’m going to use up as much sick leave as I can?’
Or the slightly more honest …
‘I’m pretty sure I’m about to lose my job, can I pick your brain over a coffee?’
When we meet up the person across the table from me usually arrives with starry eyes about mornings spent lying on the beach, lunch in front of Dr Phil and afternoons at the movies with the odd bit of work thrown in. Reality is a little different.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia has the largest proportion of people starting up small businesses compared to almost anywhere else in the world, aside from the US. In 2013 – 2014 Australians started over 280,000 small businesses, no doubt many of these began as sole traders or freelancers.
Sadly, nearly two thirds of all small businesses shut up shop within the first three years of operation. Combine this with the well-known Forbes finding that eight out of ten businesses fail, and it’s clear that the good old Aussie ‘have a go’ attitude isn’t enough. So what can help you survive?
As I pondered this a few weeks ago I ended up with twenty questions that’d show me whether freelance life was for you. Being the good researcher that I am I kept pondering and ended up with enough ideas to fill three eBooks, the first of which sets out an introductory Action Plan to get you started.
So whether you dream of jumping off the corporate treadmill and running free into the freelance life as a designer, writer, artist or management consultant, here’s an extract from the first eBook – four home truths about what it takes to live a successful freelance life. The book is ON SPECIAL for about 7 days over at Amazon.
What are your expectations of freelance life?
As I said earlier most people have unrealistic expectations of days spent in their pyjamas. The first thing to do is make sure your expectations are realistic. Freelance life usually involves more hours, more responsibility, more stress not less, especially when you’re starting out. Okay some of you may not read any further, that’s fine, but I’d rather be honest up front than have you yelling at me later on. So first up talk to people already doing what you plan to, but please offer them more than just a coffee.
How good are you at setting limits?
While freelance life conjures up images of freedom, the reality is this won’t happen if you don’t set limits for both yourself, and your clients. Would you think of calling your mechanic, accountant or hairdresser at 8pm on a Sunday night during MasterChef? No?
Rightly so, and yet when I started out many of the clients knew that I worked from home, consequently some conducted all their work during business hours, always leaving me until after 7pm or the weekend. While you might be thinking ‘how rude’, years later I realised that I only had myself to blame. I should have set limits at the outset just like any normal business would. What will your business hours be and how will you ensure you stick to them, especially when you’d willingly sell your first born to get that first client?
How much do you need to earn to survive 12 months?
It’s highly likely that your initial years will be a case of feast or famine, and not just your initial years. The famine can happen at any time, making it essential that you have a clear idea of your annual expenses. What does it cost you to live each year after all, and I mean all, of your expenses have been taken into account? Be honest there’s no point lying to yourself. What is your magic annual expenses figure? And whatever you do don’t forget including a decent birthday present for your partner who has, maybe unwittingly, joined you on this journey.
Do you know who to listen to?
Perhaps you’ve already started telling people your plans, if you haven’t you should, but that’s another chapter. Perhaps you’ve noticed that everyone has an opinion. If so, the issue becomes one of, who do you listen to and who do you ignore? This issue continues throughout your freelance life. There are two groups of people to avoid.
First up the naysayers. They like to tell you you’re mad and point out all the things that could possibly go wrong. If I’d listened to them I’d never have tried half the things I’ve attempted and come to love. Be wary of their intensions. Are they the type of person who’s negative about everything, or do they usually provide well balanced opinions? Be incredibly thankful for any well-informed negative advice you receive, but don’t get sucked in by negative Nancy.
On the flip side there are the cheerleaders out there who no matter what your idea is they ‘like totally agree’ with you. While it’s nice to have your ideas accepted they might simply be people pleasers. Their own need for social acceptance outweighs their duty to tell you their true feelings, that your idea is actually really stupid. Ask yourself will they be there when you’re standing in line at the soup kitchen having lost all your savings?
Hopefully these four points have given you an initial look into freelance life. More importantly, I hope they haven’t turned you off. A lot of people dream of getting off the corporate treadmill, and I can tell you that the absolute hardest thing to do is to take that initial step. Once you do you’ll make adjustments along the way to keep you heading in the right direction, if you really want it.
So stop day dreaming about what could be. Have faith in your idea and yourself. If you’ve completed the groundwork, the research, been patient, flexible, prepared to take a risk, put in the effort and really want it, it will happen. You won’t regret it and remember you can always go back to your old life as long as you haven’t burnt your bridges. That’s another secret to freelance success, your current boss could be your best client in the future, seriously.
As an example of how strange and exciting freelance life can be, I’m amazed to say that the first introductory eBook created from this pondering has led to me now running workshops and mentoring on this topic, who knew that would happen?
For 16 more questions check out the eBook on Amazon Freelance Life: An Action Plan To Help You Become A Successful Six Figure Freelancer. It’s on SPECIAL for about a week starting June 10th (first time I’ve used this promotional system so hope it works).
Or use the contact form to talk to me about workshops, mentoring or when the other books in the freelance series are due out.