Look at that couch. It’s right there, only a few steps away. You could nap for 20 minutes. Maybe watch that movie that’s been in your Netflix queue for a month. Maybe flip on the gaming console over there and check out that new game you bought. Or hey, that new novel came in the mail. You’ve been waiting all summer to read it.
Some people think that’s what freelancers do all day – and it probably is what some of us do. When I first left the structured nine-to-five framework of my editorial job a year ago, I thought for sure I’d have loads of free time to do all of those things.
And you can have as much free time as you like as a freelancer – if you don’t want to make any money or retain any clients. If you can’t accept the fact that developing a work/life balance still means you have to work, perhaps freelancing isn’t for you.
I’ve learned a few things as a freelance writer that I’ve decided to pass on here, because this life isn’t for everybody. Below are seven things you’ll need to be if you want to operate a successful freelance business:
As a freelancer, you are your own boss. While you ultimately answer to clients if you want to get paid, the client only provides a task for you to perform. Because you’re a contractor rather than an employee, it’s completely up to you to decide how and when your work will be done. If you have trouble getting things done without having someone to answer to, the nine-to-five grind might be more your style.
2. Able to Communicate
No matter what industry you decide to freelance in, you’re going to spend a lot of time sending text messages, writing emails, and making phone calls. Because your clients have no direct control over you, you’ll need to stay in touch with them so they know how your work is progressing – especially early on in the relationship. If your clients are worried that you aren’t making any progress or taking your assignments seriously, they may outsource the job to someone else or bring it in house – and you’ll find yourself out a paycheck.
3. Okay With Being Alone
You don’t have to be a recluse or a loner to do freelance work, but you do need to be okay with spending a lot of time by yourself. It’s just the nature of the work. This is one of the biggest struggles people who thrive on interactions with other people face when converting to remote or freelance work.
You aren’t just working on a couple of projects for one company anymore. You’re juggling several clients, all of whom have different requirements, contractual obligations, and deadlines for you. On top of that, you’ll need to withhold taxes from every paycheck and make sure you pay them quarterly. You’ll also need to keep track of business and personal expenses and keep them separate. And unless you have a very steady client base, your income is going to fluctuate dramatically, so you need to be able to plan ahead.
Freelancers don’t get annual reviews. You won’t have a boss to give you feedback about your work. More often than not, you’ll get a thank-you and a paycheck from the client without ever knowing what they thought of your work. If you are the type of person who needs others to affirm your talent, stay in the office.
Every client is different. Some will give you very specific instructions about what they need from you, but in my experience, most give you base requirements or ideas and leave you on your own to figure out the best way to make it all happen. You’ll need a healthy dose of creativity and critical thinking skills to meet the needs of many of the projects that land on your desk.
Some clients don’t get back to you with answers as fast as you’d like. Some will pay you the same day, and others won’t pay you for two months. Sometimes you’ll spend hours doing research for a client you bill at a low rate. Other times, your client will ask you to re-do something or will reject a completed project entirely. Without a healthy dose of patience, freelancing can turn frustrating very quickly.
Freelancing is a great experience. There’s a freedom to it that you won’t find in an office. I often joke that “I’m the coolest boss I’ve ever had,” and it’s true to an extent. After all, nobody knows what you need to be happy in your work environment better than you do. If you’re looking for something different, and none of the above seven qualities gives you pause, freelancing could be the right move for you, too.