Before they start freelancing, many imagine themselves rolling out bed at midday, doing a couple of hours work from a banana lounge, and being paid so handsomely for it that they can knock off at 3pm, in plenty of time for a surf/ski/margarita.
You and I know the reality is different, but for me, at least, there remains a ghost of that expectation. I saw freelancing as a path to the sort of freedom that I could never attain while I was a tenured employee. Every day I’m conscious of enjoying that freedom, yet between client meetings, deadlines, and deliverables, I can forget to look beyond this, to (cue: dramatic music) The Bigger Picture.
Let’s face it: we freelance because it’s meant to be more fun. The question is, do you simply want your work to be more fun, or do you want your life to be more fun, too? Freelancing doesn’t only affect what you do between the hours of 9 and 5 (or 9 and 9. Or 9 and 12, perhaps?) — it impacts your whole lifestyle.
Or it can, if you let it.
In the early days, it can be difficult to believe this, as you focus on keeping your head above water and getting the work you do land done on time, to a high standard. You may also have unconscious carry-over behaviors from regular employment — thinking you need to work the same number of hours every day, that you can’t take holidays, and so on.
But as you find your feet as a freelancer, and you relax a little, it’s a good idea to check every so often to make sure this gig is living up to your expectations: to make sure you’re living your dream (or close to it). To give you some examples, here are a few of the aspects of my approach to freelancing that I’ve rejigged in recent months, to more closely align my life with The Dream.
1. Projects, or days?
Initially, I saw myself as freelancing full-time. I was at my desk eight hours a day, which, I eventually realized, was eerily like having a full-time, tenured job. Now, I see myself as a project worker. I work on projects — in chunks of hours — rather than x days a week.
A key reason I wanted to freelance was to get away from the office environment, yet when I started out I spent all my time at my desk. I almost felt guilty when I wasn’t there. This is no recipe for joy. These days, since I see my work as projects, I can — and do — work anywhere I like, whenever I like. So long as I can get my projects done to the standard I want to achieve, the choice of workplace and time is mine.
3. Clients or colleagues?
This is one I still struggle with. I freelance because I want to work with people, not for them. Although I didn’t realize it, breaking out of the client-supplier mentality was part of the dream for me. Nowadays, I prefer to think of myself as working with contacts, rather than for clients. Adopting this philosophy has made my personal and professional lives much less stressful, and far more enjoyable.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t have ambitions to build my freelancing into a world-beating super-business. I just want to do cool projects and enjoy life. Knowing that, I recently made a conscious decision not to work full-time, and to plan a few holidays. Purists will gasp: Holidays! What person who’s serious about working for themselves can afford to take a holiday, let alone a few of them?! But, well, that’s part of my dream.
What about you? What’s in your freelancing dream? And are you living it?