Seven ways to bring more structure into your freelance life

Freelancing is about freedom – the freedom to choose what you do when, to sleep in one morning and get up early the next, to refuse one job and accept the next. But once you have experienced it, you will know that too much freedom can be an obstacle to productive and successful freelancing. It’s too easy for freedom to deteriorate into long sleep-ins, series-watching, eating, or just excessively tidy cupboards. It doesn’t take long to work out that some structure is useful.

Without the need to clock in at 8am, without a boss hanging over you telling you what to do next, how do you add structure to your life? And how do you do it in a way that feels better than the strictures of corporate life? Here are some ideas.

Start with a schedule. Get hold of a diary (electronic or paper), or a whiteboard, or even a blank notebook, and get in the habit of scheduling your time. Put appointments in it. Refer to it regularly. Work out a system that works for you. I keep an electronic diary (in Google calendar) because I can see it on my phone and add appointments wherever I am. But I also draw and decorate a schedule for each week on Sunday evening and use the time to plan my week. I like a visual reference and I use colour for different kinds of tasks. This shows me when my week is out of balance. Work out a system that works for you.

Take regular exercise. As a freelancer your health and state of mind are really important to your business. Exercise is good for both. Starting the day with a run or some yoga is a great way to establish a routine. If you need some encouragement, arrange to walk with a friend each evening. If self-motivation is lacking, sign up for a regular class. Having shelled out the money you may be more likely to go. The nice thing about being a freelancer is that you can attend a 10 am class, and not fight the traffic at 5 pm. Exercise will make you feel good about yourself and that is an important starting point for succeeding in freelance work.

Set aside your best time for production activities. Work out when you function best. Are you an early-bird, churning out copy at 4 am, or do you work better after a good breakfast? Block out three or four hours during that time to do your productive work – that is the stuff you get paid to do. During that time close down your email and social network tabs. Put your phone on silent, in another room. Create space to focus so that you can do your best work; after all your business depends on the quality of what you produce. Being fully focussed on a task also brings a sense of mastery, making work a pleasure.

Vary your surroundings. Working in one place can become monotonous, especially if that place is also where you live. You can try moving between the study and the garden, but actually leaving your home means having to shower and get dressed. Just picking out an outfit to wear can wake your brain up and get different neurons firing. You might be able to work at a client’s site one day a week or find a co-work space that you feel comfortable in. Having to go to work on a Monday demarcates the start of the week and helps to shake the lethargy of the weekend. Experiment with what works for you. You may find some work is easier to do in a different location, while some work is best done at home. I like to paint in my home studio but doing admin is more cheerful at Better.

Meet people regularly. Freelancing works for people who enjoy their own company, but if you are spending all your time inside your own head you are missing out on ideas and perspectives that could enrich your work. You need to have regular contact with other people. Think about the kinds of people who will support your freelance business. If you can find a group of people doing similar work to yours, try to meet at least once a month. These kinds of networks are great for sharing ideas about how you price your work, how to deal with client issues and to swap work when you get a deluge or a drought. You also need to keep contact with clients and prospective clients, so think about events where your best clients gather regularly and how you can get involved. Come along to the freelancer’s social at Better on the first Friday of every month.

Stick to regular admin time. When you create your weekly schedule build in a few hours for administrative tasks. Keeping financial records or completing your tax return is not the most fun part of freelancing, so you are likely to put it off and end up disorganised. Set aside time at the end of the week, or first thing on Monday morning to clear your work-related emails, invoice clients, follow up on outstanding payments, pay your bills and update your financial records. If you do this regularly the work will stay manageable. Keeping an admin to do list and clearing it weekly will also free you from that distracting little voice in your head reminding you of the outstanding tasks.

Take a day of rest. It’s hard to shut down, especially if you are trying to build your client base and the money is tight. You may find yourself working through weekends (what day is it?) just to get the next job done. While the attitude is positive, it’s not a good strategy. Freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint and your freelance business depends on you: your health and your state of mind. So taking a break is really important for your long-term success. Schedule one day a week to do something far removed from work: sleep, read a book, visit family, do pottery, bake, watch sport; just make sure that it is downtime.

As a freelancer you get to craft the life that works for you. What do you do? What works? Share your comments below.

Planning your freelance career

There is a lot to like about freelance work: being your own boss, control of your time, chosing your customers. But making the transition to freelance work is difficult and scary.

If you have been thinking about it, or have made some steps towards freelance work, but are not sure whether to commit fully, here is an opportunity for you to think it through.

The course is very hands-on, working through exercises. We work with small groups so that there is time to listen to each person’s story and discuss specific strategies and solutions for you.

 

The workshop runs over three evenings, discussing:

Session 1: Where are you now?

In this first session we assess where you are, your skills, opportunities and challenges and why you want to freelance. We also look at the kind of person you are and how suited you might be to a freelance life.

Session 2: Where you want to be?

In our second session we get creative, and you imagine your perfect freelance life. How much time will go into work? How much money do you want to make? What will your working day look like? We also take a sober look at what might be feasible in the next year or so.

Session 3: How will you get there?

In our final session we discuss strategies for making the transition. What needs to be in place before you can make the move? Whose buy-in do you need? We look at strategies that have worked for other freelancers and discuss what might work for you. Then you craft a plan and map out the steps you need to take.

 

Does it help?

Donna Chiang had this to say after attending:

“Please could you pass on my thanks to Judy and Andrew for hosting such a wonderful workshop? I really enjoyed it and felt that I could propel myself in a practical and inspired manner towards the things that I enjoy doing. And make an income doing so.

We spoke about things that were so relevant to me and they gave such practical tips to apply in my current situation and things to think about when I’m eventually where I am where I want to be. The 3 days spread over the 3 weeks, helped solidify my learnings.”

 

Judy has a background in business strategy as well as experience of freelance work and Andrew is a long-time freelancer. This workshop shares what they have learned and the resources they have collected in their freelance journeys.

  • Who: Those contemplating freelance work or in the process of making the transition
  • Cost: R400 (R300 for members of Better) (for all three evenings)
  • Time: 6.00pm to 7.30pm
  • Dates: Wednesday 8th, 15th and 22nd November

Maximum 6 places. Booking and prepayment essential. E-mail Candy at  patience@better.joburg or call 011 327 6098.

Find our EFT details here.

 

 

Dreamcrafting (strategic planning) for freelancers

Strategic planning is something that big businesses do, right? And you left all that behind you when you shifted to self-employment or freelancing, right? Maybe not.

If you have been freelancing or self-employed for some time and are struggling to make it work, or if you are doing OK but want to take your freelance career to the next level, take some time out to think strategically about what you are doing.

Close your eyes for a minute and think about what you want from your freelance business. Happiness? The joy of creating? Fame? To make enough money to stay unemployed? More time to spend with your kids?

Dreaming about the future is a great way to clarify what you really, really want. It can also help you to know what you don’t want. These dreams can help you to

  • identify what is and is not working for you,
  • move in the right direction towards a better situation,
  • choose what work to take on and what work to say no to,
  • clarify where to spend your time and what you shouldn’t be doing,
  • decide when you need help and
  • feel more relaxed and secure.

Dreamcrafting is the process of turning your dreams into reality.

In this workshop you will dream about your freelance business using fun, creative tools. You will learn to listen to your emotional responses to help you decide what really matters. Then we will take some of the lessons of strategic planning that businesses use and apply them to your freelance mini-business in order  to craft that future. You can pick from a basket of tools those that you think will work for you.

The course is very hands-on, working through exercises. We work with small groups so that there is time to listen to each person’s story and discuss specific strategies and solutions for you.

Take away a pack of creative dreamcrafting tools, your own personal vision for your future and practical steps for moving towards that future.

Judy Backhouse has taught strategic planning at business schools and universities and has adapted what she taught there to the context of freelance or self-employed businesses.

This workshop is for established freelancers who want to take thier careers to the next level. If you are just starting out as a freelancer you should consider our Planning your Freelance Career workshops instead.

Next workshop: Tuesday 24th October

  • 2.00pm – 3.30pm: Dreaming, feelings and introducing the toolset
  • 3.30pm – 4.00pm: Tea break
  • 4.00pm – 5.30pm: Working with selected tools to craft your dream

Cost: R400 (R300 for members of Better). Our EFT details

Maximum 6 places. To book your place, e-mail Candy on patience@better.joburg or call 011 327 6098.