lessons for freelancers
Day 11 of 15 Days to a Successful Freelance Business – a reality check

It’s no secret that I love the freelance life and the freedom and opportunities it brings that just aren’t possible when you have a boss, and a long commute.

However, it’s not all coffee mornings, dog walks and smiles.

Sometimes it’s stressful.

Sometimes it’s lonely.

And frankly, sometimes I wonder what the hell I’ve done.

Of course, I’m here to help make your Journey to Freelance a wee bit easier, but there are hard lessons to be learned along the way, and it does no-one any favours if I don’t at least mention them.

 

1. Your Earnings Are Likely to Drop

Yep, I’m sure you’ve read loads of blog posts about people who are raking in 6 figure salaries in part-time hours that they could never have dreamed of when they were employees. But the reality for most freelancers is that your earnings are likely to drop before they start to increase.

You are probably starting from ground zero.

You may never have had to market yourself before.

And it’s quite possible that you don’t have a ready made list of clients.

Instead of every day spent working on projects and client work – like you do in your employed life – you will have to spend huge amounts of time marketing yourself and your freelance business AND doing admin. You don’t get paid for these activities.

Of course, many of us go on to enjoy good earnings on part-time or flexible hours – just don’t kid yourself that it’s going to happen from the start (although I’m sure it does for some people, I suspect they are in the minority).

It took me 3.5 years before I was back to earning anything like I used to in my previous well-paid job. This is partly because I took the decision to cut my hours – so in fact, I was earning what I used to but in less hours – but it is mainly because I underestimated how much time I would have to spend on marketing, networking and admin.

Most small businesses spend 20 hours a week on marketing & promotion Click To Tweet

 

2. You Will Work Long Hours

I had this Utopian dream in which I only worked school hours, earned a nice amount of money, and took off all of the school holidays.

Pah!

The reality is that I started out working while the kids were at school, picking them up, feeding them, ferrying them to various activities, and then working again once they were tucked up in bed until about midnight before starting the whole rollercoaster at 6am the following morning.

I have always taken off Christmas, but usually only manage a few days at half term, and Easter and – apart from this summer – I’ve only ever taken off 2 of the 7 weeks summer vacation that they have here.

Now that I’ve been freelancing for a few years now, I don’t have to put in such long hours, but I still work at least 4 evenings per week. I work 14 hour days on a Monday (because my other half is off work and so does all the child-ferrying/dog walking activities) and I usually work while the kids are doing their homework or are at their various after school activities on the other days.

 

3. You Have to Do Stuff You Don’t Like

In my old job, I didn’t have to order stationery – the administrator did that.

I didn’t have to figure out the database – we had a database manager for that.

And I never had to remember invoices or check payments, because our operations manager did all of the financials.

Fast forward to now and I have to order the stationery, change the ink in the printer, manage the budget, market & promote the business, liaise with printers/designers, manage my website – including all of the updates, issues, plugins and problems. And I have to file my annual tax return.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the marketing and promotions side – just as well, as it takes up a huge amount of time – but invoicing and chasing those invoices. Hmm, not so much.

Until your business has got to the point where you can outsource some of these activities – and some will never be worth your while outsourcing I would say – you will have to be chief cook and bottle washer.

 

4. You Will Find Out Who Your Friends Are

Not strictly work related, but I was surprised to find so many naysayers in my life when I started my freelance consultancy business.

People who thought I was crazy giving up my highly paid ‘management’ job (I hate managing staff).

People who scoffed at my idea of writing a business blog and selling ebooks, who questioned why I used social media (as though I was some sort of saddo who needed attention from strangers rather than, you know, using it to promote my business).

People who couldn’t wait to point out job adverts for work I could be doing – instead of freelancing (as though it wasn’t a career choice in the first place).

Some of these people were good friends of mine. Or at least, so I thought.

While I’m not suggesting that I fell out with everyone who had something negative to say, I was surprised that some of these friends weren’t more supportive.

As I said in my last post, you need to surround yourself with positive people if you’re going to stay productive. So, while I haven’t had any major bust ups, there are a few people that I don’t see quite as much of these days.

 

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
Alice Walker

 

5. The Buck Stops With You

If there are any mistakes with client work that you’ve missed because you’ve been juggling work – or because you’re human – you have to take it on the chin and face up to the fact that it was down to you.

No-one is going to chase that late invoice – you know, the big one that you really need paid because it’s nearly Christmas? – except you.

And those business cards that came back with a mistake in your email address? That’s because you forgot to proof it.

Frankly, I like the fact that the buck stops with me and that successes – as well as failures – are down to my hard work (or lack of), but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there are times when it would be nice to hand the responsibility over to someone else. But that person doesn’t exist.

 

6. It’s Lonely

I work from home and, while Murdo is here to keep me company, it’s not quite the same as having a good old natter with a work colleague over lunch. Or coffee. Or in the ladies loos (gossip related in those circumstances, of course).

I really like my own company and don’t need to be surrounded by people all of the time – in fact, I need my own company. But there are still days when it would be good to have a blether with someone to bounce off ideas or have a moan or just try to figure out a problem. Of course, you can get a business mentor or join networking groups – but sometimes you just have a need to vent about something there and then. I’ve found Murdo and the cats don’t really pay that much attention. And their advice is rubbish!

 

If any or all of the above has you questioning whether or not you want to do this freelance business thing – then good.

You will have given it serious thought and consideration (probably more than I did to begin with) and will know for sure if it’s the right life for you.

Yes, there’s tough stuff and hard lessons and crap to deal with when you run your own freelance business.

But there’s also…

Freedom to work the hours you want, to choose the work you want (probably not in the early days though) and to choose the direction you want your business to take

A determination to work hard and work long hours BECAUSE it’s your baby and you want to make it work

Passion and enthusiasm about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it

New ideas, new people and opportunities to branch out and learn more skills than ever before

Control of your own destiny – much more than you ever had as an employee

Excitement of having your own business and determining which way you want it to go

And, my personal favourite, an extra 4 or 5 hours spent with the kids EVERY DAY that I wouldn’t have had when I worked full-time hours with a 1 hour commute each way. They are, after all, only ‘on loan’ until they become adults and make their own way in the world, so I’d rather make the most of it while they still need their Mum.

 

So, have these lessons from a seasoned freelancer completely put you off – or made you more determined than ever? Or, if you freelance already, do you have any other hard lessons to add to the list?

 

UPDATE: Just read this post on Work Awesome – which sums up some of the above beautifully, and also gives 5 questions you should ask yourself BEFORE quitting your job to start your business. Great read!

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