Freelancing can be a lonely pursuit. Most freelancers working in graphic design, web design, social media promotion or as a freelance writer, and will spend much of their time alone in a home office toiling away. Often the hours can get both long and tedious, and every once in a while the freelancer will need to recharge.
On other occasions, they’ll need some inspiration to get their creative juices flowing again. This is true whether the freelancer is needed to come up with a creative solution to a problem that a client has just presented or provide a new creative twist on a classic design to make it fresh and new once again.
For many, being employed means having a boss. Whether the boss is literally looking over your shoulder or you just know that if you appear to have stopped working for more than a minute, they’ll be up hovering over you to see what is going on, then even for lazy people this keeps them working. The question of whether the task or project is interesting or rewarding may be discussed with co-workers, but it isn’t necessarily the thing that gets you moving; not losing your job and it’s bi-weekly income is.
Home Office, Co-Working or Café
In some ways we’re all alike, in other ways we’re very different from one another. Different people draw inspiration and motivation from different sources.
For those working from a home office, you’re locked away in a room supposed to be working, but not necessarily away from all the distractions. There’s email, web surfing, digital TV & movie content to watch, and more to keep your occupied.
Digital nomads, those workers who prefer to be location independent, have the choice of many different countries and locations to situate themselves in. Some work out of their accommodation, others pay to use a co-working office space somewhere in the world, whilst still more situate themselves in an amenable café because they like to have some company and a bit of hustle & bustle around them.
For the co-workers, often they enjoy being among other tech startups and digital nomads and find that to be a motivating factor. Oddly though, if you see co-working spaces, most people have limited room to work and a headset on their head to try to block out noise from other workers, as well as to stop random water cooler conversation that eats time. That got away their cubicles, wearing off every having one again, only to pay a business to provide a cubicle of their very own again…
Working in cafés suits some nomads who like to have a different place to work everyday to provide its own form of motivation with variety and freedom of location; others would find it too limiting with many cafés fed up with digital nomads using their restaurant table as an office desk which it was never intended for. It is easy to outstay one’s welcome in such situations.
Unlike when you are employed and have a boss, with self-employment as a freelancer you’ve got to be a self-motivated, disciplined person to make it. There is no one pushing you forward but you, unless you get an accountability buddy who’s also a freelancer and you make yourself accountable to each other.
It depends on the person whether they are motivated through creative motivation, service level motivation, ability to afford to travel anywhere or perhaps financial gain.
If you work as a graphic designer, web designer, artist, writer or other mainly creative pursuit, then one source of motivation can be learning how to produce better quality results for your clients. You can also draw job satisfaction from producing something that is useful for others.
For instance, I once helped to launch a company brand,designed the graphics and provided the copy-writing.The start-up was also very successful and this was very gratifying. Their success didn’t directly put extra money into my pocket, but it certainly was nice to see my work “out there” rather than doing a job that was more administrative where you can get to the end of the week and wonder what you really achieved or changed in the world.
Service Level Motivation
If you come from a corporate background and found yourself constantly frustrated with processes that never changed and a service levels for customers that could obviously be improved upon but nobody would listen to your ideas, then leading the charge by hanging out your own shingle and offering similar services yourself is an opportunity to do it right.
The need to do it right and do better than the big business competition can be a key differentiator between what you offer and what the competition does, so this is pretty necessary stuff too. But most of all it can be motivating to constantly expect more of yourself, to provide more, and deliver on what you believe the service level should be. If you’re motivated this way, then it can get you up in the morning to lead the charge once again.
Travel & Live Anywhere
If you have designs on being a digital nomad while you’re still young enough to enjoy it or if you’ve already set out on your own to do just that, then the ability to continue to live, see and experience new things and new locations is one of the key motivators for continuing on.
As a digital nomad freelancer it can be an especially lonely path, so one needs to remain strong and to know what you are getting out of it. Often the rewards are the new sights that you see, the new people that you meet and make friends with, and the new experiences that you have, rather than getting rich quick.
Some people are in love with money, whereas others know that money is a tool that buys more options when you need them, more stuff when you want it, and more choices for the future.
The youngest freelancers usually will not be thinking about a time when they would like to be able to quit working. Working hasn’t gotten tough enough for them yet, they haven’t gotten older with less energy available for use each day, and they’ve not been stuck for years in jobs that they hated wishing there was a way out of the working nightmare.
For freelancers who are into their 30s and 40s, and whom mostly likely travel less frequently and are more career oriented, some will have acknowledged to themselves, even if to no one else, that their days are numbered. That number may extend out to many years to come, but they know already that in 10-20 years’ time, they’ll want to have enough money saved to be able to put their feet up by the pool and relax, or at least freelance part-time only in the mornings or only a handful of days a week.
Most likely they cannot afford to consider that right now. They have to put in more hours, produce a higher income and keep their expenses in check so that they can start to sock away enough money so that in 10-20 years’ time, they will have an income from their investments that can sustain them. For these financially motivated people, getting up each day, putting the work in and finding the new clients, in order to ensure they hit their numbers is what works for them.
Their income goal, spending goal, savings goal and targeted investment return is what provides the benchmark to strive for, which can be broken down to a daily income to achieve. They may also have service level goals and personal achievements to reach for too, but becoming financially independent is a strong motivator for them.
Whether your motivation comes from the ideas above, or it comes in some other form, any one of us can overdo it. Especially if you work as a freelancer for a global client base or as a digital nomad, you will likely be dealing with clients all over the world who are contacting you across many different time-zones. This can create issues in this overly connected world we all live in now, that you never switch off. Not disconnecting so not to avoid that latest follow-up email, Skype message or Google Hangout request has its downsides though.
Often clients have tight deadlines and everything seems urgent. They don’t really care what is going on in your life. If your life outside of work gets in the way of their deadline, that’s an inconvenience they don’t like. And they are quick to voice their opinion. Unlike with an employer-employee relationship, with the freedom of being a freelancer also comes the downside that a client can drop you like a hot potato just because you didn’t reply to their message fast enough and they felt ignored.
For freelancers wanting to build out their client base and increase their income, this can create a vicious circle. Every client has their own unique set of expectations, often overlapping with the needs of other clients, all of whom expect to come first. Not slept enough? So what… Saturday night? I don’t care… I need this task complete… now. A client’s consideration will likely only extend as far as the completion of their task and any consideration of a work-life balance for the service provider, you, is not their concern.
Once you understand this, you have some choices to make. If you want to create some balance, then you need to appreciate that there were some benefits to your old fixed schedule that was probably 9-5, Monday to Friday. It trapped you in having to be in the office at these specific times for your employer, with your personal life being pushed to outside of these times, however for the most part you didn’t need to take your work home with you.
With this in mind, what structure will you put in place to restrict what hours you will work and when you will not? And this includes not checking work email or immediate messages…. if you never switch off, your body doesn’t get to recover and then your product quality will suffer eventually.
There is the rule that “work expands to fill the available time”. This is certainly true when freelancing. With fixed hours, while initially feeling restrictive, it can actually be emboldening because you get motivated to push hard to complete projects in the set hours that you have available. You don’t get to slack off. Without set work hours, work can go later and later and your personal time evaporates with it. We all need time to decompress and this situation which is all too common with freelancers where the client demands at all hours never stop, make it all too tempting to be as responsive as possible. But in the end, you’ll just burn out.
If you have lost sight of why you started as a freelancer, you will need to re-examine what you are doing and why.
Perhaps you used to get validity, praise and satisfaction from the job you did before, and now there is no one looking over your shoulder or giving you “atta boys” or back slaps.
What standards do you want to uphold that perhaps you have let slip by the wayside, with client relations suffering and your self-esteem dropping because you know it’s not really good enough? What processes do you need to change in order to raise your standards?
If you are a graphic designer, have you lost that sparkle? In which case, take a look at some inspiring web sites that focus on the best of graphic design today. Look at the latest techniques that you no doubt have not kept up with. Is there anything where you wonder “how did they do that?” and you’re curious enough to want to find out and be able to do it yourself?
If you’re a social media marketing expert, how are things evolving in the space? What are the implications of the Facebook public listing and the new Twitter initial public offering for the future of the social media space? Are the top social media marketers using these networks in different, more effective ways than you, and can you emulate that successfully to catch up?
With web design, have you gotten left behind on HMTL4 and CSS2 and hand-coding sites while most everyone else switched up to HTML5, CSS3 and the WordPress blogging platform when developing new client sites? There are a lot of innovative new designs possible with these new technologies that you won’t be enjoying playing around with if you don’t keep up.
Reading widely on a range of subjects can also help. It doesn’t have to be specific to your chosen profession. Not quitting on yourself is a key to getting through courses and there’s a good lesson there that can be applied to life too.
Lots of things we do as a freelancer are not fun or pleasurable. A lot of tasks just have to be done. Some of it is grunt work. But as a freelancer who probably works for themselves, unless you outsource some of the tasks to a virtual assistant (VA) or a colleague, then you’ll need to be a “jack of all trades,” gut it out and get it done. You don’t have to like it, but do you do have to do it if you want to be successful.
The process of continuous learning is an important one in order to stay relevant. Most industries are changing rapidly and the needs of clients continue to morph to meet the changing needs for their own businesses. The services a freelancer offers also need to be updated to keep pace.
Rather than being a drag, a freelancer should see continuous learning as a way to keep their mind in the game. Getting left behind is no fun. Not understanding the latest developments means other people will be ahead of you and you’ll appear out of touch. Then you’ll feel out of touch and your income will start to drop off as clients realise this and prospective clients can see you’re not on the leading edge and go elsewhere.
As a freelancer, clients expect you to provide a better service than they can receive from a large conglomerate where they feel more like a number than a valued client. Your service needs to be more personalized, more innovative and more relevant. By continuously adding new skills and new service offerings, you will be attractive to clients who ultimately want to know whether you can get done what they need to get done.
Exercise and Fitness
There are two sides to fitness for freelancers.
Some freelancers spend so much time in front of the PC that they never get out anywhere. They put in so many long hours, late nights and overnighters, that their eating habits suffer with poor food choices (and eating too much too), and they tell themselves that they don’t have time to exercise.
Other freelancers understand that having a life outside of “the office” is essential if you work for yourself. You often need time to clear your mind. And to think. When outside the office, you can think at a different level about your business going forward, rather than the current workload which is often all you can think about when sitting in front of a hot laptop slaving away.
Exercising and getting fit helps to clear the mind. Whether it’s a long walk, going jogging, taking a yoga class or lifting some weights, the process of exercise is extremely good for your body and also your mind. The exercises release feel-good chemicals into your bloodstream rewarding you for doing the right thing and the time away can also be instructive.
Outside Pursuits Away From Work
If you have no life outside of your freelancing, the problem is that you’ll go stale and you’ll fail to see the bigger picture.
To see the big picture, you have to step back from the day to day operations. This is why CEOs are not there in the trenches with the workers answering phones and dealing with queries. They need to see what’s happening with the business overall, where things can be improved, what services need to be dropped and what new ones need to be added. They need to understand the larger market too.
If you were a buggy whip company in the early 1900s when the first auto-mobiles were being produced, then you should have seen that the days of the horse and cart as the transportation of choice were coming to a close. For those business owners, if they had only focused on the daily challenges of running the factory or managing the workers, they would have failed to see the road-block ahead that would eventually put their company out of business…
With some foresight and an eye for the big picture, freelancers can also pivot their offering away from the products and services whose days are numbered, and develop new skills and offerings to meet a new demand. This way, the freelancer can stay relevant and not see their income drop off eventually to close to zero when they don’t see the writing on the wall early enough.
Get a hobby. Get two. It is important to have some focus outside of work. Having something to look forward to when you stop work provides balance. That balance can add to overall happiness because if you enjoy your free time, you feel refreshed enough to get stuck back in with your freelancing. You see things that need improving. You notice what isn’t working and can set about fixing it. You take more pride in your work and it shows to clients who may order more or recommend associates to you which can boost your bottom line.
So, how do you decompress? Do you love to see beautiful scenery or animals or live theater? What inspires you and replenishes your soul when it feels like you’re tank is running on empty? These questions are important – even you guys reading this! – because only when you know what satisfies you, can you actively pursue it.
Take the time to refresh, renew and seek out what your find both inspirational and motivational in order to continue being a successful freelancer. You’ll be rewarded when you take these steps.