Before I took the plunge into full time freelancing I had a romanticized view of what the job would be like. In some ways my expectations were pretty much on the mark and in other ways I was completely mistaken! Now, after nearly 15 months of being a full time freelancer, I thought I’d share some of my perceptions and how they did or did not match up with reality, along with some tips to help avoid some common pitfalls.
Perception: I’d be 100% productive 100% of the time.
Reality: I needed consistent periods of time away from the creative parts of my job to stay fresh and inspired.
I wasn’t naive enough to think that I’d constantly be busy with clients. I knew that freelancing would require a good bit of effort but I did expect to at least have a steady stream of new music flowing out of my studio. That wasn’t the case. I didn’t realize how much of my time and energy would be spent on other business and non-related business items. If I had to estimate, about 30 to 40% of my time is spent looking for my next gig while the remaining time is doing the actual work. Of course there are periods when I’m super busy and lucky enough to land multiple projects at one time and remain booked solid for a chunk of time. I’m in one of those periods right now where I’ve consistently had work to fill up my workday since May and it’s been great! But I also know that dry spells happen to everyone. The important thing is to know what to do when those deserts show up. More on that in another article.
One thing I do when I’m feeling less than inspired is focus on the administrative sides of the job. They have to be done anyway and can provide a nice break from the creative process. I’ll send out a slew of networking emails looking for new clients and more work. I’ll write articles about audio production (much like I’m doing now!) or research new hardware/software solutions to keep my gear up to par. Other times I’ll do some house chores or exercise. And to be totally honest sometimes I’ll just tune out with a great movie or video game.
Perception: I’d wake up every single morning excited to be able to work from home.
Reality: Sometimes you just HAVE to get out of the house.
Ask anyone who works from home and they’ll probably tell you that it can make you a bit stir crazy at times. This wasn’t something I anticipated at all but found myself suddenly just dying to get out of the house even though I had work to do. So I went out for a few hours, got a Starbucks and when I came home I felt better. You’re not a robot and even though your home is (hopefully) a warm and comfortable place for you – a change of scenery can really work miracles! Side note: a similar issue is always having work’s siren call when you’re supposed to be off of work. It’s very easy to slip back into your office and do a “few more things” and end up working very long hours. When crunching this is pretty much expected but when you’re not crunching do yourself (and your spouse/significant other/friends) a favor leave it until the next day. Working too much can just stress you out – even if you don’t feel the physical symptoms. Doing something outside of work for a while is really good for you. You’ll come back to your work more rested and excited to tackle the next issue.
Perception: Working in your PJs would be awesome and completely liberating!
Reality: While working in your PJs certainly is glorious, showering and dressing like a grown adult can be a nice change and make you feel more professional.
When you’re freelancing you ARE the company, right? You want to come off professional and taken seriously, right? Part of feeling like a professional is dressing like one. There were times I’d start to feel like I didn’t have a “real” job – that I wasn’t a true professional. Call it shallow but waking up, getting ready and dressing like I was actually going into an office environment instead of another room in my house helped! Suddenly it felt less like a random weekend day and more like a productive week day with work to be done. It can set the tone for the day. I know, odd. But it’s a small mental trick that I’ve found works sometimes.
Perception: Every single client would be highly professional and pay me right when the work was completed, delivered and approved.
Reality: Most of the time clients will pay you but it takes effort and, in many cases, time to get them to pay you. Even with a set pay date in a signed contract.
Alright, I’ll come clean. This wasn’t exactly a perception I had before plunging into full time freelance work. It’s more a talking point that is very important to me, especially given some recent events. Before going full time freelance, I moonlighted (freelancing on the side for those that don’t know that term) for several years and learned about clients and payment the hard way. But I’m often reminded how vital it is to keep everything legit, documented and within a contract, even when it’s a friend contracting you for work. Business is business. Keep it that way! Save yourself from the trouble later. Trust me. And when it comes time for collecting payment remember that you ARE the company. Just as you’re responsible for fixing or providing IT solutions when your hardware/software go bust and belly up and responsible behind the branding of your company, you’re the accounts receivable dept for your company. It’s up to you to follow up with clients and ensure that you get paid. We can talk in more detail about HOW to do this the right way in another article but for now the point’s been made – you’re gonna wear all kinds of hats when freelancing and being a one man company.
I think that about does it for now. Freelancing is a state of mind and it takes a great deal of discipline to be able to do well. Just as with many other things in life, listen to your body, follow your heart and give yourself plenty of opportunities to recharge. When you’re facing a hard situation, talk to other freelancers. Not only can this give you a compassionate ear of someone who’s been there, it can often provide new solutions and methods to help resolve the issue you’re having. Until next time have fun creating audio (or whatever it is that you do) and enjoy life!