Ten things you need to know before working as a freelancer

Thinking of becoming a freelancer? Here are ten things you need to consider first. Try as I might, I still haven’t convinced everyone that I have a ‘real’ job.

I am a freelancer and work from home but, just like you, I have deadlines and priorities, as well as the most awesome (and sometimes not-so-awesome) clients who pay me for the lovely work I do for them.

Why, then, do I struggle to convince everyone that I am working? I treat my job very much like a 9-5, where I sit at my desk and work – I don’t pop out for a spot of shopping (not regularly, anyway), I don’t spend time at my local café facebooking and I certainly don’t hang around for a chat after school-drop off.

Being a freelancer is absolutely brilliant. I do have the opportunity to be flexible (although not as flexible as people think), and I don’t have to face the dreaded commute every morning. But it does come with its challenges.

If you’re a would-be freelancer, here are my top ten things that you need to think about before jumping into this gorgeous (but demanding) freelancing world of ours.

1. Your friends and family will ask you for all kinds of favours because you are ‘at home’. I’m the resident ‘go to’ person for the surprise pop-in (‘thought I’d just call in for a coffee’) or favours (‘Can you please have Jack on Tuesday while I have my hair appointment?’). It’s interesting to ponder whether they would ask me to take three hours off if I was in an office. I’m finding that it’s vital to set very clear boundaries up front (I’m still learning) and sometimes say ‘no’ (again, still learning).

2. Your cashflow will suck. Try as we might, even asking for deposits to secure work and ensure streamlined cashflow, there are times that your finances will be up and down. Some months will be sweet, others a little tight. If you work on small projects then the trick is to keep them flowing. If you work on large projects, the key is to get into a groove and invoice on a weekly basis. But despite this, you can’t rely on pay every week like you would from The Boss.

3. Volunteering costs you money. I volunteer. A lot. As a freelancer, volunteering costs you money. In some instances, my colleagues who volunteer do their work during work hours – they are getting paid for it! But for us freelancers, very minute we are working for someone else is a minute that we can’t charge out. So set KPIs for your daily work and establish up front how much you can contribute to a cause. ‘Cause if you’re too passionate, you’ll go broke.

4. Unless you set KPIs, you’ll just float along. Pretty early on I learned that even though I didn’t have to worry about motivating staff members to hit certain targets, I had to motivate myself. Without Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), I would have just floated along without any sense of urgency and with the correlating lack of income. Now, I have KPIs for how many hours of chargeable writing time I aim for per day, as well as per week. It keeps me focused.

5. You’ll have no-one to share the highs and lows with. Sometimes it’s lonely. There is no one to high-five, and no-one to hug me when I’m down. But on the up side, I’ve found some awesome online communities who provide me with the support that I need and, hopefully, I can provide similar support to others.

6. You’ll always have lows. And quiet time. And challenging clients. Much as we wish it was all unicorns and rainbows, freelancing life is full of ups and downs. Somewhere, some time, you will have a low. And you’ll be quiet (and panic). And clients will either not pay on time, not pay at all or just be plain rude (‘let’s just scrap the last two revisions as I’m changing my business model completely’ – no Sir).

7. Clients aren’t all smiley, happy and pay on time. Just because we freelancers are smiley and happy doesn’t mean that everyone is. Some clients are having a hard time. Others are under immense pressure. Most are happy to pay on time, but others want you to conform to their payment terms. Fair enough if discussed up front and agreed on, but always be sure to have your payment terms defined very clearly in your Terms and Conditions. Always. And have a template for chasing up bad payers, because you will need it.

8. Even though you do have flexibility, you work of an evening and on weekends. You’re accountable. This business is yours, and it is your reputation that you work for. I work early mornings. I work nights. I work weekends. And it’s often not because I want to, but because I have to – I am accountable to my clients and my deadlines.

9. You need to get out to re-energise. Working for yourself is all-consuming. Sometimes too consuming. Every now and then you need to get out of your space and try out somewhere new – go to an art gallery for some inspiration, or walk through the city to feel the energy. If not, you may find yourself curled up in a corner with nothing left to give.

10. You feel incredibly guilty for every minute you are at home and not working. The best thing ever is to have a separate space to work in, but that isn’t always feasible. If you don’t, you feel antsy every minute that you aren’t working. Every minute.

Thinking of enjoying a few episodes of Game of Thrones? Forget it.

You’ve got a blog to write.




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Melinda Leyshon is a business copywriter with over 15 years experience in corporate publishing and strategy development. She has worked with some of Sydney's leading brands to deliver SEO and direct response copywriting, brand development and more. She has a huge success rate with business award applications and, throwing small business and corporate tenders into the mix, you have one of Australia's most experienced business copywriters! She also loves triathlon and has a serious penchant for licorice. And chocolate. Together.