Self-discipline is somewhat of a dirty two-word phrase to most people. When they hear it, they think of restriction, inability to do what they want and other unpleasant thoughts.
In reality, self-discipline is needed in many areas for people who largely work alone. The vast majority of freelancers work alone in a home office, in a café or restaurant, or lately in co-working offices (invariably with earphones in their ears to get some peace) from other co-workers.
In all the above cases you will need to deal with some difficult challenges along the way in your freelance career to get the best results possible. A lackadaisical attitude won’t work.
It’s partly true that as a freelancer you may be able to choose your working hours, but you’ll still have projects, deadlines and the expectation of clients that you will be quick to respond to their messages, so disconnecting is easier said than done.
It’s a little like the digital nomad image of a twenty-something sitting on the beach, in a deck chair, with his Macbook, earning money. What the popular image doesn’t convey is that the beach will be too hot for the laptop to stay operational very long, the battery won’t last, the sand kicked toward the laptop will get inside and degrade it pretty fast, and you probably won’t have a Wi-Fi or 4G LTE while your enjoy the sun-rays…
There is a big difference between the dream and the reality, and self-discipline is often the glue that brings the dream and the reality together.
What Are the Self-Discipline Traits Your Need For Success?
1. Good personal financial management. Freelance income is highly variable at the best of times. Holiday periods like Christmas interrupt the flow of work projects and often completely interrupt payment cycles. Managing your own expenses is important so as to ensure that you don’t run out of money.
2. Sound business finances. Just as important is ensuring that you have good practices for collecting payments from clients. Wherever possible, get deposits upfront to both limit your downside of not being paid at all for your work, and also to increase your cash-flow.
3. Charge what you’re worth. Find out what the going rate is for your kind of services at the quality level that you offer and then charge appropriately. If you have low self-esteem issues that cause you to undervalue your services to clients, then you’ll under-earn. Do something about that. Compare rates with others, be realistic and charge appropriately.
4. Always be closing. As the line from an old Alec Baldwin film made famous, never stop marketing, never stop closing deals. Even if you’re busy right now, the projects on deck now will be completed and you’ll be left with nothing if you’re not careful. Allocate time daily and weekly to market your services.
5. Expand business horizons. Look for how your competitors are finding new better paying clients and follow in their footsteps. Stay alert to new opportunities for finding new clients.
6. Ask for referrals. Asking for referrals from happy customers is an ideal was to get qualified new clients. It’s important though that you are charging a fair rate for your work, otherwise your cheapskate clients will only recommend their cheapskate friends and you’ll still be working for pennies.
7. Look for new directions to go into. Don’t only ever offer one service unless you are doing great at it. It’s better to expand your horizons by training in new areas and adding new products and services to the mix.
8. Stay current in your industry. Don’t let your feet go to sleep. Update your skills as a writer or add new programming languages as a programmer. Don’t get left behind.
9. Start early. If you start earlier in the day, you’ll have more energy for the tasks of that day. The later you leave it to get started (on the rote idea you can work when you like) the more tired you’ll be, the slower you’ll work and the more mistakes will creep into your finished product or service.
10. Check email regularly but not too often. Checking email every hour or two is usually enough to show that you are keeping in contact. Most businesses are used to waiting 24 hours for customer services to get back to them and running up against a “dial 1 for this, dial 2 for that, dial 3 to be ignored…” automated phone service. Your email response time is still likely to be faster than the bigger competition even if you only check email three times a day.
11. Add the personal touch. Email or phone clients to see how things are going. Make sure they feel like they and their business are valued. One advantage a small business has is that they don’t have to treat a customer as a number. Make that advantage count.
12. Keep up with social media. Monitor important social media channels and review all your own social media accounts for pertinent messages. Frustrated customers are now posting their frustrations onto social media by which time everyone else hears their grievances. Post on relevant issues and be helpful to people. It makes you look more professional and can lead to more business.
13. Take on less desirable tasks. Sometimes because of a lull in new business projects or a desire to get your foot in the door with a particular new client, don’t be too quick to turn something down. If it really isn’t a good fit for you, it’s something you’re ethically uncomfortable with or you don’t feel that you’re capable of completing the task well (consider outsourcing in that case rather than throwing away the new client contact completely), then be willing to say no. But know where the line is drawn rather than being too quick to dismiss something that might have turned out to be a big opportunity.
14. Look for regular assignments. If you’re in a business sector where you can get ongoing clients like with freelance writing, then this is more desirable than needing to find new clients every week. On occasion, even if the regular client who pays a little less than your one-off clients may work out if you can balance that out with other higher-paying assignments.
15. Ring-fence time-off. As a small business owner it’s all too easy to work too many hours, get used to a 7-day week and never take an evening or a weekend off. This is a great way to lose focus, lose discipline and deliver a poor result. Taking adequate time off is important to ensure you don’t burn out and you can deliver what your promise.
16. Never stop. When you take on an assignment, it’s vitally important that you complete the task. Your client is relying on you to deliver what you agreed to do. They have made plans for the receipt of your deliverables. It will screw up their business if you fail to deliver and they may move against you, which could affect your business negatively going forward. For all these reasons, and just because you’ve given your word, never quit on what you said you would deliver.
17. Don’t accept assignments if you don’t want them. Self-discipline with freelancing also means knowing when to say no. If you take on an assignment, you’ll need to follow it through to fruition. Therefore, you do need to consider each assignment properly before taking it on. Doing a poor job on a specific assignment for a regular client because you were too eager to please is a recipe for losing the regular client. If you say no, that you do not feel you could do well at that particular assignment, the client may find that inconvenient but they will still appreciate you not taking on something that you couldn’t do.
18. Stay polite when dealing with unpleasant people. There are some clients who are just not nice in business. They will make things unpleasant for you. Conversations can quickly deteriorate, anger can flare up and things can get ugly. In this day of instant communications, it’s just not worth letting things get that far as it’s all too easy for them to take the argument public. Whether you’re right or wrong, you’ll come off looking bad as they twist your words by taking only certain excerpts that suit their purposes. Readers will only catch the highlights and draw a fast conclusion (the wrong one), but won’t stick around to hear you correct it. Part ways with clients who are trouble, even if you’ll lose money in the process, before this affects the rest of your freelancing business. You cannot teach bad people to behave better. Stop trying.