I’m a die-hard freelancer—I´ve been doing it for (yikes!) almost four decades—and, even though I sometimes complain about crazy deadlines and struggle when I’m juggling several projects at once, I would never trade it for a 9-5 job at an office. People have asked me often how I manage to discipline myself and make freelancing work.
I know first-hand uncertainty, high demands and unfair pay, tight deadlines, sleepless nights and sleeping in. But freelancing has also given me the flexibility—especially since the Big Bang of the Internet—of taking my work wherever I go and being there for my kids.
I remember my twenties before faxes, cell phones and the Internet. Couriers would deliver manuscripts to my home, when I adapted TV sitcoms. Back then, I would work on a manual typewriter. If I made a mistake, I used white out and sometimes had to re-type a whole page out and use carbon paper for copies. When I was done, I would jump in the car, take public transportation or walk to the production company, with a box filled with hard copies of my work and hand over my invoice in person. If I survived that time-consuming process, freelancing in the Internet era is a walk in the park, really! We have all the tools available to make it happen! Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.
1. Under promise and over deliver. I can meet the craziest deadlines, but I’m picky about who I do that for. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by saying you’ll write four articles or presentations by tonight. Give yourself plenty of time and then surprise your client by turning your work in ahead of your deadline.
2. Be willing to adapt your skills to new markets. Many traditional newspaper journalists felt lost when the layoffs happened during the peak of the recession in 2009. It´s a huge mistake to keep trying to make it the traditional way. Adapt to the Internet, to new media, to the changing needs of the market, or go under.
Also read: Can you really make a living blogging?
3. Remind your clients that you’re available. Before you’re done with a project, let all your clients know that you will soon be open to more work. Don´t assume they will call you. People are busy, just as you are, and forget.
4. Pay it forward. If you can’t or won’t do a certain gig, pass it on to a colleague. Your client will thank you and so will your colleague who will hopefully sometime return the favor. If they don’t, that’s ok too. I believe in karma!
5. Don’t undersell yourself. A job well done deserves to be paid accordingly. If you want to do a favor for free, fine, but don’t work yourself to death for peanuts. It really isn´t worth the drain. The energy wasted on this, you can put into finding better-paid gigs or catching up on sleep!
6. Give others a hand. Don´t put on airs, and don´t be cut-throat. There really is room for everyone and if you are good at what you do, it will show. Besides, if you’re a nice person and easy to work with, you will get more work than those who will kill for a gig.
7. Understand freelancing is a lifestyle. You really have to be self-motivated and dig it. For me the alternative (a regular job) is so unpleasant, that it’s the fuel I need to keep me going!