Career Advice

5 Habits For Successful Freelancers

By Kelly Woo May 12th, 2014

Being your own boss is the dream, right? Well, when you wake up, you realize it’s harder than it sounds.

The freedoms of freelancing — a flexible schedule, an eternity of sweatpants — are offset by certain stresses — no benefits, fluctuating compensation. However, some manage to make the pros outweigh the cons.

Here are five habits successful freelancers swear by:

1. Stick to a routine

Without a nine-to-five, you can devise a custom schedule that suits your strengths. Perhaps you’re most productive at night, or maybe your creativity surges during an afternoon walk.

Almost all successful freelancers have some kind of routine that blends work with domestic obligations. If you go to yoga every Tuesday at 6 p.m., don’t skip it when a client calls. Just because we’re freelancers doesn’t mean our time is less valuable. Call the client back later.

2. Treat yourself like a business

The best advice I got as a freelancer was from a life coach, Rustie MacDonald, I once met in an airport bar. After mentioning the guilt I felt for hiring a cleaning service to tidy my apartment, MacDonald explained how her business doubled after she hired a personal assistant. She encouraged me to invest in myself as a business — and if that meant hiring someone to clean my apartment so I could focus on work, then it would be worth it.

So, consider how you can continue to invest in yourself by, say, upgrading your computer or purchasing a new wardrobe. The expenses may seem unnecessary, but they could also end up fueling your career.

3. Take a vacation!

Taking time off is the hardest thing for freelancers to do, since we can’t receive paid leave. And yet, studies have shown workers are susceptible to burnout if they don’t take vacations. A holiday will recharge both your physical and emotional batteries.

Think of it like a store choosing to remodel — sure, there’s a temporary hit, but when the business reopens, the new offerings and layout are likely fresher and more appealing, which can lead to greater revenue in the future.

Vacations, like any personal expense, can fit into your budget. It may take time and effort to save up, but it’s worth it.

4. Say no without saying “no”

Sounds like a contradiction, right? What I means is: Turn projects down, but without uttering the word “no.” Learning how decline work is a skill every successful freelancer develops. Maybe we’re short on time, or the rate isn’t high enough.

You don’t want to close the door completely on a contact, however, because circumstances change, and rates can increase over time. Say something like, “I’d love to take that on, but I have a conflict.” Even better, help the situation by suggesting another freelancer who would be a worthy candidate. Speaking of which …

5. Pay it forward

My freelancing career began when another writer recommended me to a client, and I’ll always be grateful for her support.

Naturally, when I haven’t been able to accept a project, I try to recommend someone else. It’s easy to be petty and exclude competitors when you’re in a position of power, but if you pay it forward, the client could reward you the next time a job opens up. Plus, it could help you make (and keep) friends, which is always important when you spend your days in sweatpants pretending your cat is your colleague.


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