A few years ago, I found myself a victim of a classic burnout. I had grown bored, tired and annoyed with my 9 to 5 office job as a content marketer. I took a couple of weeks off to travel and recharge, and when I returned, I realized I didn’t want to go back to the office anymore. I handed in my notice and made a list of potential freelance clients.
I spent a good chunk of time on polishing my sales pitch, pimped my portfolio, and started spreading the news I was available for freelance gigs. Throughout the years, I had worked with many different people in various industries, so it wasn’t that hard to land my first project. A few more followed, and soon enough I had enough work to maintain my comfortable lifestyle – at one point, a happy client even got me on retainer and this added extra security to my freelancing.
The experience was a wonderful one – I finally had control over my time and was able to work when I was really productive and not when my contract mandated me to work. I could run errands, meet friends for lavish lunches, select the clients I was working with, and so on, and so on.
Nonetheless, I did face some difficulties that were easier to identify and much, much harder to overcome. Eventually, I returned to the office environment, but I learned valuable lessons freelancing. Here is a list of my five biggest challenges, and the insight I have on overcoming them .
I am a social being. Even when I work on my own, I like to be surrounded by like-minded people so we can talk concepts, bounce ideas off each other, pick each other’s brains, give and get feedback or simply be silly when we need a break.
I was working from home, and it got lonely sometimes. By which I mean that it got really, almost unbearably lonely most of the times.
How to avoid it: You can rent a desk at a coworking space or spend a few hours a day/week working at a coffee shop. It’s not the same as working with your own team but it’s close enough to help you get over the sense of absolute loneliness that can drive you mad working only from home.
Join professional forums and message boards to discuss concepts and ideas with other professionals in your work sphere – this way you would have people to run your work by and get meaningful feedback and opinions.
#2: Time management
I’ll be dead honest with you: I am really bad at time management. While freelancing, I could never find a balance between work and play times, and I was unable to fit my work into a healthy regime. I would either procrastinate like a boss, spending half a day looking at funny videos on YouTube, or spend 15 hours a day working on a particularly interesting project. I was getting my work done, and always on time, but that wasn’t a healthy approach to my work life and life in general.
How to avoid it: Set a schedule for your workdays and follow it religiously. You can use a special app for that (lately, I particularly like Plan) or do it manually by setting alarms on your phone as reminders that your workday is over and it’s now time to clear your head and chill a little.
#3: Dealing with unpleasant customers
When you work in an office and you are unable to handle an overly-capricious or simply unpleasant client, you have a support system to fall back on: you can always ask your co-workers for help and advice, or – if worse comes to worst – ask your boss to step in as a mediator. This is not an option when you are both the boss and the employee, so you’re on your own.
How to avoid it: By communicating! Customers are often being fussy when there is a problem either with their business or your work or the communication between you and them. Try and figure out what’s the reason, so you can solve it and work better together.
Occasionally you would need to deal with a client who is simply an asshole. Sadly, I have been there myself, and I found out that the best way to deal with such customers is to fire them; as simple as that.
Being a freelancer, you often work with clients from different countries, languages and cultures. A lot can get lost in translation so you need to be meticulous in your communication in order to get the job done, and done right. What’s more, most of the communication is written which means that it is not immediate and leaves loads of room for interpretation – or misinterpretation.
How to avoid it: Exchange as many email/chat messages or phone calls as necessary to make sure the assignment is crystal clear and you and the client are on the same page. Spend extra time on your written communication to make sure everything is explained as clearly as possible.
Delegating wasn’t a big issue at the beginning of my freelance career – I was still used to working in an office with a team, and I was used to delegating tasks. The more time I freelanced, however, the more I trained myself to be self-reliant, which is a great thing… unless you need to delegate a task to a subcontractor. In that case, I would lose my sleep, second-guessing my choice of a subcontractor, worrying about deadlines, wondering whether the person would deliver what I commissioned, and so on (I’m a bit of a control freak anyway, so there’s that). This would get me so preoccupied that the quality of my other work would actually suffer. Yikes!
How to avoid it: Carefully pre-screen partners and subcontractors. Try and work with people you have worked with before. Communicate actively. And most importantly – trust that the other people you have chosen to work with are professionals, and they probably won’t let you down.
Are you a freelancer yourself? Do you face any challenges? We would love to hear from you in the comments!