No freelancer is perfect — not me, not you, not even the best of us. We all make mistakes, all the time, and if we’re smart, we learn from them.
Some mistakes, however, are more crucial than others, and if we can correct or avoid those mistakes, we’ll survive. We’ll still make other mistakes, but they won’t hurt as much.
Let’s take a look at some of the most essential mistakes that freelancers, new and old, often make, and how to avoid them.
Missing deadlines. I wrote more on this topic in this post, but basically, your ability to put out quality work and meet deadlines is what makes your reputation. And as a freelancer, your reputation is all you have. If you miss deadlines too often, you will soon see your clients going elsewhere. How to avoid: Make deadlines one of your top two priorities (along with putting out great work), overestimate how long it will take you, break the project into smaller steps, and be accountable every step of the way. Continue Reading
By Leo Babauta
Ever have a day go by, or week go by, and wonder what you got done? And how the day went by so quickly without any real achievements?
We all have days like that, of course, but not every day has to be that way. Learn to make your days great, and get the most out of them, by applying a few simple tips.
Should you follow them all as if they were a step-by-step guide? Not at all. Take the tips that will apply to you, and give them a shot.
1. Purpose your day. This is my most important rule. I start out each day by listing the three things I most want to accomplish today — my Most Important Tasks (MITs). And I do my darndest to accomplish them. This post was one of the things I wanted to get done today. Almost there!
2. Start off great. Create a morning routine that will allow you to greet the day and get off to a great start. Your morning routine will vary from mine, but the important thing is to think about how you can create the best start to your day. Design your morning. And then try to make it a routine. Some ideas could be exercise, eating a healthy breakfast, enjoying the sunrise, doing meditation or prayer, doing some writing, or getting an important task done.
By Leo Babauta
Telecommuting is a regular employee’s dream, for many obvious reasons. It’s also a great way to combine a day job with a freelancing career, if you can manage to juggle two jobs at once.
However, telecommuting often turns out to be less of a dream job for many people who are not prepared for the hazards of working at home, and many people will see a drop in productivity if they don’t take steps to ensure that they firewall home from work.
It’s not impossible to be a success as a telecommuter, but it takes a bit of commitment. But think of it this way: it’s worth the effort to make telecommuting work, because your worst day working from home is pretty much better than any day at the office.
What follows are some of the best tips I’ve found that work for me, and have worked for many others. Your mileage may vary, so choose those that will work best for you.
By Leo Babauta
There isn’t a freelancer alive who doesn’t get stressed out, trying to juggle projects, trying to meet deadlines, trying to deal with difficult clients, trying to have a life while working multiple jobs.
It’s not the easiest job, and although we probably wouldn’t trade it for anything, freelancers need ways to cope with the stress of the job and ways to avoid becoming a burned-out, ex-freelancer.
Today, let’s look at ways to deal with stress. You’ll never eliminate stress completely, at least not while you’re alive, but there are ways to keep it manageable:
Don’t overcommit. We often take on more than we can actually do. That leads to overwork, stress, and missed deadlines. Take on only as much as you can handle without too much stress.
Learn to say no. In order to avoid overcommitting, we need to learn to turn down projects and requests. Many of us have problems with this. Practice makes perfect. Turn down as much as you can afford to.
Work on small tasks, not large projects. Tackling large projects can be overwhelming. Instead, focus on one small task within a project — something you can easily do in a short amount of time (10-20 minutes is perfect, but a little longer is OK). If a task takes longer than that, break it down some more. Now just focus on that little task.
Don’t try to control others, or the world. This sounds obvious when written down, but in reality, we often try to do both. You cannot control other people, and trying to do so will only result in frustration. So will trying to control everything around you. All you can control is yourself — focus on that, and you’ll stress out less.
One of the most essential skills that a freelancer can have is the ability to say “no”.
Without that skill, you will be overloaded with requests and assignments, and continuously overworked and missing deadlines, the quality of your work will slip, and you will take on assignments that you don’t enjoy and that don’t pay enough for the time you spend on them.
By saying “no”, although you might feel that others will feel offended or hurt (and it’s possible), you are also sending a strong message that you value your time, that you have priorities, and that you also respect the person to whom you’re saying no, as you don’t want to commit to something and then do a lousy job or not do it at all. Continue Reading
By Leo Babauta
As a long-time freelance writer, I know that marketing your freelance work isn’t always an easy proposition.
In fact, marketing is anathema to many of us … but if you want to survive as a freelancer, you’ve got to learn the wily ways of marketing.
Luckily, marketing skills aren’t that difficult, once you learn some basic ideas, and for those of us on a tight budget, there are some free or cheap ways to do that.
1. Blog. This one’s my favorite, of course. But it’s not enough to create a blog and hang up your shingle. You’ve got to work at it. Commit to writing one extremely useful post every day on your blog. If you do this, eventually you’ll get some readers. Other blogs will want you to write for them. You might hit it big on one or two of the social bookmarking sites. And then, my friends, your name will begin to spread. Be sure to have an “About” page on your blog that tells exactly who you are, what you do, and how to contact you if they want your services.
By Leo Babauta
Let’s face it: email has become the default way for freelancers to connect.
We use email for nearly everything: contacting potential clients, we discuss assignments and projects, we submit completed assignments, even doing research.
Sure, there’s chat and IM, there’s the phone, and a number of other connection tools. But email is the most important for most freelancers, and as such, your email skills shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Here are a few of the most essential that you should polish:
Limit email checking. One of the problems of being connected all the time is that you’re being interrupted all the time. You can’t get work done if you’re constantly checking your email — your time then becomes at the mercy of anyone’s request. Turn off your email notifications, and focus on your work when you’re trying to get something done. I recommend setting two times a day for processing email of 30 minutes a day — once at mid-morning, and once by the end of the day. This keeps you in touch enough to conduct business, but leaves you with large chunks of time to actually get your work done. Keep your email processing times short, and restrict yourself from email at all other times. It may sound impossible, but trust me — it’s doable.
By Leo Babauta
I don’t know about you, but I always assumed that working as a freelancer would be the dream job — no boss, no lazy co-workers, no headaches.
Well, I still love being a freelancer, but the no headaches part was certainly wrong.
At least, it was until I learned a few essential steps that don’t take long to complete but that can save you tons of time and some pretty major headaches as you go about your work — and without the headaches, being a freelancer really is a dream job.
1. Find great clients. Every freelancer has had clients that are a major pain in the … neck. They are negative and critical, they are never happy, they are rude, they want things right away and to specific yet unknown specifications … they are major headaches. The problem comes when you continue to work with them. Ditch them, and find better clients. Your life will be so much better. Look for positive people who are genuinely fun to work with — and be sure that they’re professionals. Cyan and Collis from FreelanceSwitch.com are excellent examples of great clients — they’re fun, extremely competent, professional, and enthusiastic. Find people like them to work with.
2. Be clear about terms. When you’re entering into a freelance relationship with someone, it’s best to spell out, right away, what the terms are. Email them with a list of questions — rate, scope, payment terms, any specifications, format for submission, deadlines, etc. If you get this stuff clear up front, you won’t have headaches about it later. It’s good to come up with a list of this stuff so you can ask each new client the same questions.
3. Set deadlines. Work with deadlines, or things could sprawl out much longer than necessary. It’s best to overestimate how long it’ll take you to complete the entire project by at least half, but to set a sub-deadline for the next step in the project that you’ll need to complete. Submit each step along the way, setting deadlines as you go for each step.
If you’re like me, and you have a full-time job but do freelance work on the side, it’s difficult to find the time for that freelance work — and still have time to actually, you know, have a life.
It can be done, however. You just have to know where to look for that time.
Actually, the important step is not finding the time, but designating that time as sacrosanct — it’s for freelance work, and nothing else. Make it a commandment: Thou Shall Do Nothing But Freelance Work During This Hour. And never violate it, or you’ll never get any work done.
But how can you make that time in the first place? Here are some ideas (and I’ve done all of them):
1. Wake Early. I like to get up at 4:30 a.m., but that’s not necessary to find time in the morning. I find mornings are the best way to concentrate, but they’re not for everyone. The early morning is a quiet time, and can be very productive, as the craziness and chaos of the day hasn’t set in to destroy any of your best-laid plans. For tips on becoming an early riser, see my article on Zen Habits.
2. Lunch break. Take a brown-bag lunch to work (it saves you money and is cheaper anyway) and eat while you work. Or, if you’re not able to do work at your day job, take a laptop somewhere else and do your work, or go to a public library and use their computers and Internet connection. This may be the best option for people who don’t want to wake early and want their evenings free.
One of the things about being a freelance worker is that it is so free.
By Leo Babauta
Every freelancer can get better, but only a handful are at the top of their field — the best writers, the best designers, the best marketers, the best tech guys, the best artists, the best photographers. That’s where you want to be, if you want to succeed in your field.
Be the best, and someday others will be emulating you.
For now, if you’re not already at the top of your field, there are some essential steps you can take today to get there. Whether you’re just starting out or even if you’ve been doing what you do for over a decade (like I have), there’s always ways to improve.