What I learnt from my first year of freelancing
It’s been a rocky road. Nevertheless, I have never regretted my decision. It turned out to be possibly the best arrangement I could make to have a better work-life balance as a mum of a preschooler. In my view, I could only achieve a sort of equilibrium between my needs and obligations as a working professional, as a mother, as a family person and as a human, when I reduced my working hours in favour of other activities I didn’t have enough time for.
The experience I gained since I started freelancing in March 2018 has been excellent overall. Each aspect of my life, my career and personal life, has been affected. There have been some empowering moments and times which left me uncertain about the path I chose. Although I still think I wouldn’t make a different decision, I would like to reflect on my experience.
I am sharing my thoughts to support other freelancers and those thinking about going self-employed.
How to improve your working experience as a freelancer
Pick a place where you can focus and be at your best while working
I spent plenty of time exploring different co-working spaces. Here in Bristol, they sprang up like mushrooms in the last few months. They usually offer a free day to test out the facility and see if it suits you.
I currently have a membership with Framework. They have fabulous coffee (this was one of the significant factors for me) and tables that are big enough to hold all the things I need (I regularly use quite a lot of space). They have my favourite Forlife Stump teapots, fast internet and, last but not least, friendly staff and atmosphere. I enjoy the music they play throughout the day. All these factors make me feel very creative and productive at Framework.
Saying that, as much as I appreciate coming to Framework, I have days when I prefer to concentrate on a design or other piece of work at home. I believe it’s the choice I have that lets me get the most out of the time I spend working.
Not until I was receiving thirty notifications per day regarding one project I decided to switch them off on my phone. Additionally, I created a separate inbox where their emails and project management tool announcements were going by default. When I reserved a substantial amount of time and felt mentally ready to go through the never-ending conversations and requests, I could check that inbox.
When a client expects a response to an email late in the evening or very early in the morning (and not raising any urgent issues), I give an explanation about my working hours. They also should acknowledge the fact that I am potentially dealing with a few customers’ requests at a time.
While I am with my daughter in the afternoons after the nursery, I minimise the amount of time I am required to be available on emails or other communicators. I have observed that if it’s absolutely necessary for me to work when we are at home together, I can’t be at my best either as a mum or as a tech professional. Each part of my day has its focus. This is how I can make the most of my time.
Although I still have difficulties in separating my time between work and life, I believe it starts to look better.
Reserve some time off after a (stressful or not) project
While I’m working on a project, I get completely absorbed in it. I can commit to about five hours per day for my freelance work. Enough or not, I concentrate hard to deliver as much as possible during this designated time. I don’t believe part-time means you do less, but it’s a topic for another story. Whether the client is pleasant to work with or not, whether the project is fulfilling or quite stressful, I seek to have at least a few days break before I start the following job. It’s not always feasible, but recognising my wellbeing as one of the fundamental aspects of my life helps.
Aim for the best projects but if something comes up that pays the bills, take it
The first year of freelancing can be hard and exhausting because, amongst other duties, you need to build your client base. I rejected to take on new projects only on very few occasions. Yet, the work that was coming my way was exciting, accompanied by the feeling of accomplishment. There weren’t two pieces of work that would be alike.
Before I went freelance, I mostly worked for agencies. I’m aware that not all the projects that were assigned to me were the most attractive. Although there will always be websites might seem dull, it’s still a piece of work that pays the rent. Isn’t it part of life as a designer and developer to turn dullness into something compelling?
I keep in my mind a vision of a perfect project which I’m aiming for, and I’m actively looking for it.
Embrace the times when your proposals were rejected
The sense of failure is very demotivating. Although these are not the moments in my career I am proud of, I try hard to treat refusals and other frustrations as a learning curve. I keep the documents that weren’t accepted and refer back to them next time when I want to apply for a project that appears on my freelance horizon.
How about considering rejection as an opportunity to enhance my skills or expand my knowledge?
Watch out for the red flags
I have developed a list of issues that make me hesitate before moving forward with my work on a project.
Depending on the nature of the assignment, a type of client you’re dealing with, or even your personality, these will vary. Nevertheless, I believe they all reflect on matters that keep happening again.
Do you feel some pieces of information might be missed? Has your client replied to all the questions and clarified all the issues before you were supposed to start?
Be confident to refuse to do any further work if things are left unexplained.
Is your client asking you to do work that hasn’t been agreed? Are they cheekily trying to include a new feature in the scope under a masked name?
This, unfortunately, happens because people are on a permanent lookout how to get something for free. Unless you don’t object to spending extra time on a project without making money, you don’t have to agree to do it.
I really appreciate honesty. I feel more confident working with a client who states they don’t have enough budget before we start working together. We can try to find a way around, do regular yet small updates, split payments into instalments, etc. I am also happy to suggest a more customised proposal depending on the organisation.
However, if a client claims additional work was included in the plan when in fact it wasn’t, then I refuse to be treated with disrespect.
Do you regularly have to send payment reminders to a specific client?
Do you regularly have to send payment reminders to a specific client?
Last minute or late payments occurred too frequently. It is embarrassing to ask to be paid for something I have been requested to do. Do you tell the baker you will settle the bread cost when you finish eating your loaf?
There are plenty of valuable resources online with advice on payment matters: Creative Boom wrote a helpful blog post about how to deal with them, Crunch guides on chasing up an unpaid invoice, Freelance UK details how to charge for late payment.
I am planning to add a terms and conditions section for my website where I can put these details, so it’s available to those interested in working with me.
Lastly, I have my freelance business insured which gives me confidence in the conversations I have with clients. I choose With Jack because they have packages tailored to my needs.
The list could go for longer but since no one has all the time in the world to read an article, let’s keep it reasonably short. I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring.