Holy cow, you guys!
February 17 marked my one year anniversary as a self-employed freelance writer!
I can’t believe it!
Cue the poppers and celebratory sip of wine! (A little late, but better late than never.)
I remember my first day of self-employment when I woke up and didn’t have to get all ready for work and drive a half-hour to start my day.
I simply rolled out of bed and walked five feet to my office. Okay, I worked out first, showered, and had some coffee first, but….then I rolled into my office.
I sat down at my desk like, whoa! This is my life now.
It was weird and exhilarating and against everything I’ve ever been taught about “how careers are supposed to work.”
I followed a rough schedule I’d made for myself and got to work. Since I’d been freelancing on the side for awhile already at this point, I had plenty to work on.
But I was also able to hold my little girl for a few minutes in her adorable “I-just-woke-up” haze before sending her back out to grandma. I was able to have lunch with my family at my own table, grab a few more snuggles, and head back into the office.
A few days in, it snowed. Like, a lot. And I didn’t have to try and attempt the treacherous roads. I just looked outside, shrugged, put my slippers on over my cold feet, grabbed my warm coffee, and snuggled in to work.
It’s a weird experience after spending 12 years in the corporate working world with no more than 15 days off in a year, long morning commutes, early mornings, dress codes, and nearly every summer day spent inside with barely a hint of sun.
It’s still surreal now, writing about it right now!
I can’t believe this is my life now!
So, now that I’ve made it a year, I want to gift some of my insights from my first year of self-employment to any of you that may be jumping off the corporate wagon or simply toying with the idea. These insights will help you make it through the first year with a little more grace.
Find your bearings
When you jump the corporate ship, you feel a little…off. It’s kinda against everything you know or have been taught. But it only took me a week to say, “I don’t think I could ever go back.”
You may feel a little clumsy and out of place at first, but once you settle into a routine, you feel “at home” again. Like I said, I created somewhat of a schedule for myself before I ever left corporate, and it worked pretty seamlessly. I made sure I included time for journaling/Bible time/exercise and enough “working hours.”
Even with the schedule though, some things came up. Friends called, family chatted, Hubster requested a few errands. Which brings me to my next point…
Put boundaries around your time
I had a hard time finding a good work-life balance at first and to an extent, still do. However, I have much more strict rules around my time than I did when I started. Instead of answering friends’ phone calls, I text them that I’m still working, and they’ve gradually stopped calling during normal business hours.
I’ve also heard the ole “Since you work at home now…” line, and I shut that one down immediately. No, I can’t do your taxes for you or watch your kids because I work at home now. This career involves the same amount of commitment and responsibility, if not more, and I’m still not available from 7 to 4.
Expect bad days and bad experiences
When you learn to expect things to go wrong, you can handle them a whole lot easier. If you don’t expect things to go wrong, the wrongs will hit you a whole lot harder. And they may make you want to give up.
Things will go wrong. Most things will go right, but some things go wrong. This doesn’t mean you’re a horrible writer. This doesn’t mean you need to go beg for your job back. This just means you’ve hit an inevitable snafu. Deal with it. Move on.
Every client wants something different. Every personality is different. Here’s a perfectly good article I wrote for a client that got rejected. It happens. Turn tough situations into positive ones by posting articles like this on your own blog or pitching them elsewhere.
Try to make it right
One of the best ways to get past these bad experiences or dissatisfied customers is to do everything you can to make it right. In my experience, this approach changes everything.
After submitting one particular writing assignment, I got the dreaded reply: “This isn’t what I was expecting.”
Don’t ever just walk away at this point and say “I’m sorry.” Always ask what you can do to fix it. Always ask more questions about what they were expecting. Don’t get defensive, simply say you want to get it right for them.
Usually, after you discuss the expectations more clearly and make the requested revisions, your clients come out trusting you even more. That’s the type of relationship you want to come out of bad experiences. A better one!
Keep track of what you accomplish daily
Keep a “to-done list” of what you accomplish each day and keep a running tally of your weekly income. This tactic has been a huge motivator for me. It lets me know if my income is on track for the month and gives me a clear picture of where my time is going.
I just keep a simple Google Doc to track my “to-done list” like pictured below (with client names blocked for privacy) I write the date, what writing projects I worked on that day, and the total income earned from that project. I then tally up the income at the end of the week to come up with my weekly income. It’s really gratifying to me to see what I’ve accomplished each week.
I also use a separate Google Sheet to track all income and expenses as they come and go from my bank account. This document is necessary come tax time, but it also gives a clearer picture of cash received.
Perform regular audits
Speaking of taxes…hire an accountant right away. It’s not worth the time and pain and suffering to try and “figure it out” yourself. Trust me. While you’ve got your financials in front of you, perform a business audit on yourself (or with the help of your accountant).
You have to tally up your income and send out a tax check every quarter anyhow, so use that time as an opportunity to perform a quarterly review. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Just answer a few questions such as:
- What’s going well in my business right now?
- What’s not going so well?
- Where is my best earning potential?
- What can I do to make next quarter even better?
- What are my big-picture goals?
- What are my quarterly goals?
Get even more picky about who you work with
After a few months of freelancing, I started to get overwhelmed. Suddenly, I didn’t have enough time in the day to get all my writing projects done. When this happens to you, your first inclination might be to try to organize your time better, learn how to write faster, start delegating tasks to others…
However, this is actually an amazing opportunity to level up your business. This means you get to start to choose who you want to work with. You can choose the work that lights you up the most! You can choose the work that pays the best.
Don’t dread it. Celebrate it.
Be true to yourself
Once you start to find the work that lights you up? You feel like you’re being truer and truer to who you are as a person. You feel more and more like you’ve found your true calling. There’s no better feeling!
I have never felt more like myself to the core than I have in the past year. I get to write about subjects that I’m passionate about (Related: finding the freelance writing niche of your dreams). I get to work with other amazing passionate business owners doing good in this world. I feel more connected to my work. The work feels more meaningful. I get to work outside, where I feel most energized. I get to be a bonafide introvert. I don’t have to drive around as much.
I feel more at home inside what I spend my energy on every single day.
That being said, make sure you’re taking on work that feels aligned for you, that’s ethical. If it makes you feel icky, skip it. If it makes you feel passionate, run with it!
Yep, I attribute a ton of my success to my daily journaling habit. Though no actual money comes from my journaling, the power it has over my mind is instrumental in my earnings. I use journaling to refocus on my goals every morning (so I don’t go goal blind), to change damaging thought patterns, and to explore what lights me up and what holds me back so I can harness them.
I might ask myself questions like “Why have I been having such resistance toward finishing this project?” The answer might give me insight into my natural inclination to drag out the last 25% of every project, so I can overcome that next time.
If I’m feeling incompetent one day, I might handwrite some affirmations about confidence to change how I’m feeling. I sometimes write out lists to explore all the ways I could fix a problem. The self-imposed challenge to come up with 20 possible solutions may be the catalyst I need for a breakthrough.
Don’t burn bridges
I never felt like “take this job and shove it” with my last employer. I left on super good terms, with a cupcake and a cute poster to boot. I still teach barre class at my previous employer, meet friends there at lunch, and keep in touch with the content team.
First of all, that job was an important catalyst in my career and the people there still have a valued place in my heart. Secondly, every person I knew there is naturally a part of my network now. People there could potentially refer me to their friends, put in a good reference for me, or come back to me for content work.
Before I left, I even pitched my employer as a potential client. It may seem like a really out-there idea, but pitching your own employer before you leave may lead to lucrative work. I personally know several people who have done it and now do freelance work for their former employer.
I’ve said before that I plan for 2018 to be the year of “explosion.” Now that I have my bearings, I have compiled a ton of work experience, and I know where to find work, I can start building my business upward. I can leverage what I’ve already built this year to increase my prices, handpick my clients, and expand my network. I can start working more on projects I believe in and my own personal passions, like my forest bathing site.
I want to explode my business more by:
- Going to a big business-related conference
- Learning everything I can about online business and setting up more passive income streams
- Building my connections with other freelance writers
- Helping other freelance writers build their careers
- Reading everything I can get my hands on about being better at freelance writing
These goals are all part of my quarterly review, by the way. I’d love to hear about your business goals…
How about you?
Where do you hope to be one year from today? What are your business goals for 2018? For quarter 2?