9 Lessons from 9 Months as a Full-Time Freelancer
In April last year, I made my grand escape from the corporate world and have since settled into a great routine and lifestyle as a full-time freelancer. While I am learning new tips and strategies every day, I have learned a lot of lessons freelancing over the last nine months. Here are nine of my favorite tips I learned, and some surprising comparisons to my old life in a grey cubicle that any freelancer or office dweller may find useful.
I Can Earn More in Fewer Hours
At my old day job, I earned the same salary regardless of how productive I was. Whether I spent my time in the office in a massive burst of productivity or clearing out my email on a slow holiday week, I earned the same paycheck every two weeks.
As a freelancer, I can earn a heck of a lot more while working fewer hours. But that means there are some days I earn more and some days I earn less. I used to work with a goal to make as much as I did at my old day job five days a week, but have increased that to $500 per day, or $10,000 per month, and have been able to reach it most days while working fewer hours than I had to at my old day job.
I Still Have a Boss… A Few Actually
I used to have a boss, and a boss’s boss, and so on. I no longer have to deal with the corporate hierarchy mocked in one of my favorite business novels, Company, but I do have a Peter Gibbon’s like experience on occasion.
As a freelancer, I don’t have a clear chain of command. I’m the boss of my day-to-day schedule, where I work, and when I work. But I still have to deliver a high quality product to all of my regular clients. Some clients I have one contact, others I work with multiple people. Then there are the one-off jobs. Needless to say, I have more bosses than Peter did.
Most Other People Still Have Regular Jobs
I used to wonder what type of people could be out at restaurants, malls, and running other errands during the weekday business hours. Now that I am one of those people, I have realized that most people still have a regular job. Even if you can go catch a matinee movie on a Tuesday afternoon, most of your friends won’t be able to join you.
Because most other people are working regular hours, I end up doing the same. I still typically work Monday through Friday roughly during business hours. That is when my clients are working and I need to be available to respond to emails, and it makes sense that I would work then as well. Plus it gives my family a better ability to predict when I’ll be free. But, even during regular work hours, I never say no to my wife if she wants to walk to the ice cream shop up the street!
I Can Structure My Time to Maximize Productivity
I find that I do my best work in big spurts when I “hit my flow” some mornings and afternoons. Because I know I’m most productive right after getting out of bed, I can skip the morning shower and dive into work. Take a shower and breakfast break an hour or so into my day, and so on.
I no longer have to work just because those are the hours everyone else is in the office. If I hit a mental block and don’t feel like working, I can take a break. If I feel like I’m getting into the zone at 3:00pm on a Sunday, I can open up the laptop and get things done. But there is no forced work time when I wish I was doing something else because I can focus and get a lot done in short periods of time when I’m in the zone.
I Can Work Anywhere, But Rarely Do
When I left my job, a couple of weeks later I was on a plane to London and Paris, where I worked and played simultaneously. While I dreamed that my lifestyle would be filled with constant travel, glamor (or glamour if you’re on the other side of the pond), and adventure. It turns out that I rarely work in places as exciting as a travel blogger’s Instagram feed.
I tried working out of a coworking space for a while, but found that I worked at home more than anywhere else and ended up cancelling my membership to save a few bucks. If I wasn’t going anyway, no need to pay for it! My real dream is an office shed in the backyard, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work from a coffee shop or the library every once in awhile.
Working in Your Pajamas is an Awesome Perk
Work from home experts suggest getting up in the morning and getting dressed just like you have a regular office job. While I do that some days, it is not an everyday occurrence. I often work until lunch in my pajamas. Sometimes I throw on men’s Lululemon pants, which are amazingly comfortable even if you’re not into yoga. Most of the time, I’m in jeans and a hoodie doing my thing.
But for those days when you are not feeling your best, having the option to work in pajamas is sweet. Even better, sometimes on a slower day I’ll work from bed for an hour or two.
Sometimes I Have to React at Odd Hours
While I don’t have the constraints of a regular corporate work day, some of my clients are in the world of startups and I have to be on call nearly 24 hours per day. I still maintain a small website support business, and if a client website goes down while I’m cuddling with my wife on the couch watching Stranger Things at the end of a hard day, I’ll have to jump into action and get the site back up and running.
Emails and social media don’t sleep. While I do sleep, during my awake hours I’m always on call to some extent for emergency assignments and last minute opportunities.
Setting Daily Goals Helps Me Succeed
When I started working online, I used Asana and desktop sticky notes to keep my productivity and to do list organized. While that worked fine, I have fine tuned and improved the process. The free app Fabulous helps keep me on track.
Now I start everyday by reviewing my to do list, setting my priorities for the day, writing down my three things that I will complete before the day is over, and bucketing my to dos into an immediate, medium term, and long term action list. Keeping organized has been key to my success.
Overall, It’s an Awesome Lifestyle
The last lesson I’ve learned is that freelancing is an awesome lifestyle. As a freelancer, I have so many freedoms that I didn’t enjoy before. In the old days, taking a 15 minute break to stretch my legs and walk outside felt like a risk that I might not be at my desk when my boss comes by looking. Now, as long as I meet my deadlines and produce an awesome result for my clients, I can work where and when I want.
Even though I typically work regular hours, having the ability to be flexible and not worry about my PTO balance is amazing. It is something I wouldn’t trade in even for a modest raise. It would take a lot for me to give up the freelancer lifestyle. With only nine months under my belt, I’m just getting started. Here’s to the next nine months and beyond. I love my job, and I’m sticking with it!