The ten things people never tell you about freelancing

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(Image credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash)

Everyone’s got an opinion on freelancers, and it’s rarely positive – people think they’re lazy, unfocused and unable to hold down a “proper” job.

Look beyond those clichés, though, and you’ll find the things that people never tell you about freelancing – the good advice, the helpful warnings and the words of encouragement. And if you’re just starting out on your freelance journey, that’s the stuff you’ll need to know if you want the best chance of success.

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That’s why we’ve stepped in to fill the gap. We’ve picked out ten of the best bits of advice that people never bring up when they find out you want to be a freelancer.

We’ve got plenty of freelance help elsewhere, too. Head here for our guide to the best freelance job boards, and click here for the best resume builders.

You’ll need money upfront 

Starting a freelance business isn’t as simple as handing in your notice, leaving your company on Friday and starting up for yourself on Monday. Even if you get loads of clients immediately it’ll take some time for that money to appear in your bank account – it might take months. And it’s more likely that it’ll take a while to build up a client base and capture an income that can replace your salary.

Because of that – and any expenses you may incur as you start your business – you should ensure that you’ve got a pot of savings to cover those early expenses and your lack of income until you’re on your feet. And, if possible, maintain that savings pot to cover inevitable periods of inconsistent income.

Make sure to get an accountant, too 

Taking care of the financial situation doesn’t just mean maintaining a decent pot of savings – any good freelancer should employ a reliable accountant, too.

A top-notch accountant will take care of the stress of self-employment tax returns so you can easily find out how much you need to pay and when. They’ll use government schemes to reduce your tax bills, and essentially pay for themselves in terms of stress reduction and money-saving.

People will try to exploit you 

If you’re a new freelancer, you’ll get sick of hearing offers of work that pay in “exposure” or “experience.” And while there’s value in getting exposed to new audiences and potential clients, exposure doesn’t pay the rent and you should never work for free.

Similarly, your friends and family members may often try to get discounted services because of your relationship. It’s tempting, sure, but this is your income, and they should be supportive of your business – so don’t be afraid to charge full prices and avoid bartering and discounting.

Expect slow, steady progress 

A freelance business is rarely an overnight success. Instead, it takes time to build a positive reputation and a pool of clients who’ll come back to employ you again and again. Similarly, it’ll take some time to get to a position where you can increase your rates and start earning more.

Freelance growth takes time, but it’s worth waiting for – you’ll often earn more than you would do on salary in the same job and with more freedom to choose your clients, hours and working practices. It’s certainly worth the wait.

You’ve got to be outgoing 

Freelancing might feel lonely, especially if you’re stuck working from home, but it doesn’t have to be – especially when it comes to landing new clients.

If you’ve left a job cordially, you might find plenty of new clients from that old network and from people you know elsewhere in the industry. When you’re just starting out it’s vital to maintain those connections to get your feet off the ground.

Don’t just rely on those, though. Get out of the house to attend industry events so you can do networking with other people in the field – many of them will employ freelancers and will have budgets to spend. It’ll stop you from feeling isolated at home, too.

Loneliness is a real issue 

Working at home might sound like a dream scenario, but even the most introverted of people need a little human contact – and freelancing is an easy way to ensure you don’t get enough.

It’s worth putting steps in place to stop this from happening right away. Attend industry events, arrange to see your friends, get out and exercise or start a new hobby to ensure that you can get some regular human contact – and rely on your digital contacts across social media networks, too.

If you do let yourself get too lonely, then your mental health will suffer – and, in turn, your work will be hindered, too. Deal with this before it even becomes an issue and you’ll be far happier.

Don’t forget the work/life balance 

Indeed, it’s worth creating routines to establish a great work/life balance from the start of your freelance career – even if you’re full of enthusiasm and want to work all hours in the day, that feeling won’t last.

Make sure you get exercise, enjoy your hobbies, take regular breaks and stay hydrated. Eat healthily, sleep well, and consider breathing exercises or meditation if you’re prone to anxiety. And, at the end of the day, turn off your devices and close the office door. If possible, don’t have your work email and social media on your personal phone.

Not all of that will be possible for every person on every day, of course. But if you can maintain a solid separation between work and everything else in your life, you’ll find your entire life easier to manage – including your freelance business.

Maintain a proper working environment 

You might think that freelance life involves working on the sofa in your pajamas, but that’s not the case for most people – especially if you want to really succeed.

Instead, find a place at home that you can dedicate work, whether it’s a spare bedroom with a desk, a proper office or just the dining table. Make it welcoming and tune it to your personality, but remember that it’s a place of work. If you create a dedicated working environment, when you enter that space your brain will be more focused and ready to be productive, and you’ll be less bothered by distractions elsewhere in the house.

Similarly, make sure you get up every day, shower, and put clean clothes on. It doesn’t sound like a big change, but it’s another step that’ll get your brain into working gear. When you work from home, most of us need all the help we can get.

There’s more help out there than you realize 

You might be working at home as a freelancer, but it doesn’t have to be an isolated job. As well as attending the networking events we’ve already mentioned, there are loads of freelance forums and online communities that are perfect for new or experienced freelancers who need a little help on any subject, from finances and lead generation to mental health and work/life balance.

And, because you’re all in the same boat, you’ll find fellow freelancers to be more empathetic and understanding that most people who haven’t encountered the same situations.

You don’t have to stick to finding help online, either. Co-working spaces are the perfect solution if you’d like to work with other people and enjoy some human contact, and they’re perfect for meeting other freelancers, establishing new connections and socializing.

You must be organized and disciplined 

There are plenty of ways to be a successful freelancer, but you’ll find some key traits are common across all kinds of business: organization and discipline.

Stick to a routine, answer your emails promptly, plan your days and make lists so you don’t forget tasks, keep a calendar so you don’t miss appointments, and make sure you hit deadlines – all of those organization tips will help you keep clients and create a positive reputation.

You’ve got to be disciplined, too, because our homes are full of distractions. Whether it’s through routine, innovative apps like Todoist or simply locking yourself away from the fun stuff, you’ve got to maintain discipline if you want to get the job done as a freelancer.

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Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.