Working Well when Freelancing can be easy to forget.

With over 2m people freelancing in the UK, more people are turning to working for themselves, but what impact might that have on your mental health, and what things do you need to consider when you’re freelancing to make sure you can work well? We asked Matthew Knight from community support group Leapers – to share his advice on looking after your mental health when working for yourself.

You know the drill – now you’re freelance, not only are you doing the work, but you’re also sending the invoices, finding the next project, chasing those invoices, accounting, marketing, sales, not to mention all of the other stuff you’ve got happening in your life, remembering to take a moment to make sure you’re doing ok can easily fall to the bottom of the list.

1 in 4 people will struggle with poor mental health at some point this year – that’s a huge number, and even if you’ve been fortunate to never have poor mental health, looking after your own emotional wellbeing when freelancing is critical. After all, there are no paid sick days, and not being able to work is not really an option for many of us.

So, we’ve set ourselves a mission: to support the self-employed and their mental health. We’re doing this in three ways:

  1. Awareness – we’re telling as many people as we can that mental health matters, and encouraging freelancers to actively think about it, before they leap into self-employment, and once they’ve moved to freelancing.
  2. Community – we’re encouraging people to join our community, a sort of ’team for people without a team’. Even if Leapers isn’t right, there are many communities which provide a support network – people who understand the experience, people you can talk to about what’s happening, and find ways to work well.
  3. Things – we create tangible stuff which help people maintain good mental health, understand their personal stressors, and put actions in place to manage them. Different people need different approaches, so we create lots of types of things, like podcasts, ebooks, chats, emails, fridge magnets (coming soon).

It seems simple, but honestly, even just the first point – helping people to actively think about the value of looking after themselves, helps people to work well. It’s the small things which have positive impact, such as journaling.

We suggest the best place to start is to take 10 minutes at the end of each day – in a notebook you’ve dedicated to this, write down 5 or 6 things you did today. Then mark each one with how it made you feel: was it positive or negative? Was it motivating or frustrating? Was it fun or stressful? A simple tick or cross. Do this for a week, and see if there are patterns. Do this for a month, and see if the patterns continue. Over time, you’ll start to understand what motivates you, and what stresses you out.

You don’t need to do anything to even manage that stress yet – just actively being aware of it is the first step.

And then, start to talk about it. 

Perhaps within a community for freelancers, maybe with peers, with friends, with your team-mates. Whomever you feel most comfortable sharing when you’re not feeling at your best – let’s face it, we all have off-days, it’s human. Share what you’re experiencing with others, and see how others dealt with similar situations. Listen and learn. Even if no-one replies with much more than an emoji hug, writing it down, putting it in to words, helps you understand the experience better.

Where you go from there, entirely depends on your personal experience, the way you approach challenges and successes, and the sector you work in – but just putting 10 minutes aside every day, to think about your own mental health is critical. We’ve got lots of tools, techniques and approaches, plus the wisdom of over 1600 members sharing the way they approach things, you can be sure to find something useful.

Over 60% of freelancers say that poor mental health has affected their ability to work. Don’t let it get to that point. Put you on your to-do list, and prioritise understanding your own stressors, sharing within your community of support, and finding tangible things to put in place to give yourself some structure and support.

Matthew Knight is a community host at Leapers, a project supporting the mental health of the self-employed. As an individual you can register as a member for free, or find resources and tools at leapers.co. If you’re an organisation who hires freelancers, there’s also guidance on working well with the self-employed via the Freelance Friendly Businesses network at leapers.co/orgs

The ethics of ‘faking it until you make it’

Many sources encourage us to ‘fake it until we make it’ in a new career path. If they’re selling coaching/ebooks or ‘growth hacking’ their social media this kind of advice is especially common. There are some ethical issues around this attitude though – both for the freelancer and their clients.

For the freelancer…

Committing to a task or project we don’t know whether we can pull off can be stressful. We’ve all got different levels of stress tolerance. What rolls off one person can cause another sleepless nights or even a breakdown. Especially with creative work, being stressed out gets in my way and reduces the quality of my work. Why add more stress to your life when it can be avoided?

For their clients…

Clients are hiring us to get a job done for them, because they don’t have the skills, time or inclination to do it themselves. They may be looking to us for our expertise and skills. If we ‘talk a good fight’ but don’t actually have the expertise or skills to carry out that task, then in my opinion that’s unethical.

Clients may see or find out that you don’t actually know what you’re doing. This can also lead to a late task or project, or in some cases outright failure. Clients are unlikely to be happy with any of those outcomes, which can result in damage to the relationship or even the reputation of your business.

You can still learn on the job

An easy way around this situation is to be honest with potential clients and tell them we’re not very experienced at this task and seek their consent to give it a go on their project. They may well say go ahead anyway and you can learn together, but some will decline. Either way, the client is aware of what’s going on and you’ll be less stressed about things.

Another solution is to do a test piece of work before committing to the client project if you have time. This shows you the effort required (which will make your quote more accurate), and the piece can possibly go on your portfolio too.

Summary

As we’ve seen, there are some issues around ‘faking it until we make it’ for both the freelancer and their clients. I’d strongly recommend you’re honest with your clients if you’re new to the game or trying out a new skill/tool for the first time so you’ve got their full consent, don’t get stressed and don’t let people down.

Coping with quiet periods in freelance life

It’s just been the summer holidays here in the UK, when a lot of small business owners and company staff are off work to be with their kids. This can cause a bit of a slowdown for freelancers over August, which can delay projects, affect morale and limit cashflow. This can also happen around Christmas or New Year with similar results. The same can apply if you’re in-between contracts or larger jobs.

Here are some tips on how to handle these quiet times as a freelancer.

Have A Holiday

If you can’t beat them, join them. If people aren’t getting back to you on projects, maybe take some time off. During the summer break is a great time to work shorter hours and make the most of the sun (especially in the UK). It doesn’t have to be the whole month, but consciously having a rest while things are quiet can mean you’re raring to go when everyone gets back off their holidays and wants to pick up on projects again.

With prices being high in school holidays, a stay home holiday can work just as well, hanging out in the park or visiting local places.

Work On Your Side Projects

I’m sure we’ve all got side projects on the go that get neglected when we’re busy with client work. A slowdown from clients is a great time to get on with these projects, sharpening skills (or learning new ones) and restoring motivation.

A side project could also become a source of income, and if it makes enough, maybe even be a way of not doing small client projects at all!

Work On Your Website & Marketing

Maintaining our own websites and doing our own marketing often slides when we’re busy with client work. Natural breaks in projects are a great time to update your website and plan your next marketing cycle, working on strategy and creating marketing materials for the coming months.

Plan Ahead For The Next One

It’s a bit late for this summer, but if you know you often have a slow period over Christmas or other times during the year, maybe plan ahead and book in work for these times so you have paid projects to be working on. You can then deliver the work and get feedback/paid as soon as your clients are back in their offices.

Summary

We’ve looked at a few ideas here to help smooth out the peaks and troughs of freelance life or make the most of times when clients might not be available to work on their projects.

Reader’s letters: How do I find clients and get paid?

I received this message via Facebook and will answer it here so everyone can read the reply.

“Hi, I need your advise and thoughts. I am a SharePoint trainer cum Consultant. I have been working since 2006 and started freelance in 2015. It was a terrible ride. In my country, many trainers are not paid by institutes who force the trainers to do hectic training. I was lucky to get paid though the payment came after 45 days. It was very difficult. Many many clients from USA used to make me work very hard and some forget to pay. I used to put police/lawyer in cc and somehow got my money from various clients. Some did not even listen to police and abused me who used to ask to me to work and never pay.

Things have not changed much in 2019 also. Many students are terrible who do not even do assignments. I have tried Udemy which is little ok, however the pricing is terribly cheap and many students are getting my content for almost free and I am struggling to get needs met. I am pained. I do like making self paced videos, blogs etc, however, slowly I want people to pay. Also, I tried consulting and again one client in USA did the same thing of not paying and making me work.

I have stopped the client search till July. I get disturbed by many though who want my help and have no sense to pay. At least Youtube students were thankful and the udemy students are very abusive. I am planning to use Thinkific. I am totally angry with majority clients and students and I just like my work and want money for my work and no clients. Good clients are/were there and one is free and other busy.

I still am positive and hope that good clients will come. I want to consult once I finish all my books and not really interested in selling/sharing all my codes. I want to do many apps and sell there again will people buy apps. I am pretty sure that there are clients who need my works and can pay. I used to get all I want in my life before. Very strange that the right clients are not able to reach me. I am expecting few or 1 long term. I am determined to make clients/students pay in full first.”

First off, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had trouble getting paid. That can be a major issue for freelancers. One of the best ways to avoid clients that do this is to use a contract where you receive a large portion of the fee up-front and the rest before delivery of the final deliverables. This will filter out the time wasters who don’t have any intention of paying you for your work. It can be scary reducing your number of clients, but you’re better off not working with people where you stand a chance of not getting paid. You can then spend your time finding better clients and doing good work for them.

It’s sadly the case that many business people will play ‘hard ball’ and will either stall payment, need to be threatened to pay up or never actually pay at all.

The second point I get from your message is that while you have some valuable you’re trying various things and none of them are paying off. It can be hard to find your market, but changing approach or platform constantly means you’re always starting from scratch. Leaving bad platforms or changing tactics isn’t a bad thing if it’s not working however. The market is out there – you’ve just got to reach it!

I started off by doing a couple of websites for cheap and paying people to refer me. This mushroomed into a full time business within a year without having to spend a lot on marketing. If I was starting again, I’d specialise in one thing, build a portfolio, use a blog/book/YouTube channel to build credibility and then start marketing to the people I wanted to work with. More tips on how to become a freelancer

Choosing clients is very important so you do good work, get paid and get good referrals. I’m skeptical about online freelance marketplaces, but if you want to work with people in different countries that might be the fastest way to get started.

Nick

Daily routine and how it can help your freelance career

Read on to find out the benefits of having a daily routine, rather than winging it.

I’m not a morning person. Every day I have to coax, persuade or downright trick myself out of bed to start the day. Whether it’s good coffee, bacon or an hour of gaming before I start work I sometimes have to get creative to escape the duvet. Once I’m out of bed, it takes a couple of hours to warm up enough that I can work effectively. Trying to start too quickly results in mistakes and frustration.

A good routine is vital to my productivity, as is setting a focus for the day and working towards medium term goals like the website redesign projects I often do. We get tired and distracted as the day goes on, so working on important things first makes it more likely they get done. Getting my thoughts in order is vital before I start work so I can focus.

After some experimenting and some mentoring, I settled on the following for my freelance life:

8am – Alarm, quick walk, breakfast, shower, get dressed in proper clothes
9am – Meditate and journal, set priorities for the day
10am – Begin focused, scheduled work
11.15 – Short break, move around
1pm – Lunch
2pm – Check emails and phone messages, admin, meetings, smaller tasks
4pm – Short break, move around
5-6pm – Finish work, log time and go to gym/run/socialise
10pm – Stop using screens
11pm – Sleep

Weekends off

This routine ensures enough sleep, gets everything done and has space for exercise and socialising. Sitting down all day means I need to make sure I move around during the day and get runs or workouts in regularly to keep some kind of fitness. Working from home a lot of the time can be lonely, so planning social things in is vital. It also focuses me on paid, priority work instead of opening my emails first thing and getting waylaid with bitty tasks (more on email management here).

Some of us might tend towards being night owls. I’m curious if that could work – it’s tempting but there are definite benefits to sleeping when it’s dark and being awake when everyone else is too.

We all have fluctuating energy and focus levels during the day, so being freelance can be a great chance to work at our best times rather than when our boss says so. Being able to enjoy the sun/daylight in the UK (especially during winter) could result in a different routine that allow you to be outside during the short day and get your work done around that. If you’re an early riser, you could have a few hours racked up before us night people are even out of bed!

What does your daily routine look like? Let me know in the comments below…

Nick