There are many great benefits to being a freelancer, whether you’re a writer, editor, proof-reader, designer or photographer. The advantages include the wide variety of work, the opportunity to work from home (or any location you choose), being able to set your own office hours and being your own boss.
Of course, there are also many challenges, ranging from friends and family who think your job is ‘not a real job’ to managing your time and having to do your own admin and accounting. Freelancing can be incredibly stressful sometimes. The very fact that you’re independent means that you don’t have the same support structures in place as those employed by a company.
Through my experiences, I’ve put together this list of five behaviours that I try to cultivate to keep some semblance of sanity:
1. Keep office hours
While people who work normal office hours have a routine (and possibly security staff who kick them out of the building if they turn up at 2am), freelancers may find that they get into the habit of working through the night because they’re on deadline.
Obviously, there are cases where you will have to work outside of office hours and where jobs really are urgent. But for the most part, I find that having office hours helps me to avoid burn-out.
This means that I generally don’t take work phone-calls before 8am or after 6pm; I don’t check my emails after 8pm (otherwise I lie awake all night thinking about work) and I try to keep public holidays and weekends as free as possible too.
2. Understand the true meaning of the word ‘urgent’
One must note that a client’s definition of ‘urgent’ often differs from the dictionary definition. The same goes for ‘life and death’.
Yes, there are urgent jobs, especially if you’re a news, sports or investigative journalist. But generally, delivering a piece of writing is not a life or death situation in the same way that, say, delivering medical attention, is.
Freelancers who enjoy their sanity need to learn to manage client expectations by not agreeing to take on totally ridiculous deadlines and by not letting the client’s stress and sense of urgency take over their lives.
3. Get out more often
When I first started freelancing from home, one of the things I missed most that nobody had warned me about was the day to day office banter. Suddenly I had no-one to tell about the big story I’d landed, and nobody to distract me from my bad mood. My poor husband would arrive home after a long day of dealing with people, just looking for five minutes’ peace, and I would be waiting for him, after a long day of no company but my own, just looking for conversation (and not just five minutes’ of it).
I’ve since learnt the importance of getting out of the house and out of my head. I ensure that I schedule face to face meetings instead of always opting for a telephonic interview; I go to gym and do group classes where I can interact with people; I attend Safrea (Southern African Freelancers’ Association) networking functions and I’ve joined the local residents’ association.
My husband is very grateful for this, I can tell.
4. Get support
Freelancing can be incredibly lonely if you lack support. I find that becoming a member of Safrea has been helpful in connecting me to a group of people facing similar challenges to those I’m facing, who have experience and empathy in dealing with them.
It’s also beneficial to call on friends and family who have experience in running their own businesses outside of the industry you work in. An objective perspective on things you struggle with is sometimes all you need. Asking Google is very useful, but nothing compares to support from another human being.
Join a professional network, surround yourself with supportive people and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
5. Take on jobs you love
We all live in the real world where we sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do, whether it’s eating our broccoli, paying our tax or writing a brochure on herpes. In all likelihood, some of the more boring work may pay better than the exciting jobs do.
The trick is to find a balance – to take on enough dull but high-paying work to allow you to do the jobs you really want to do, even if they pay peanuts, or don’t pay at all.
Follow Tamara on Twitter @Tamara0h
Tamara Oberholster is a freelance journalist who belongs to the South African Freelancers’ Association. http://www.safrea.co.za/
The views in this column do not necessarily express the views of the Safrea organisation nor its members.