I wrote 5 Lessons for the New Freelancer last month and since then, I have added another 5 new lessons that I have been slowly learning into my foray as a freelancer.
1. Your Time is Precious, Value It
That’s not to say that when I had a full-time permanent job that my time wasn’t precious but I didn’t think about it too much.
There were always meetings I could postpone as some of my scheduled meetings were not organised by me. About 60% were directly related to my clients and my work (therefore critical and my first priority), and the rest were others as an invitee therefore I didn’t have to go (or that’s what I thought) if I had pressing client work.
As the majority of meetings were postponed or cancelled at the last moment, I viewed my diary as a mere ‘guide’ to what my day ‘may’ look like. In the early days, this annoyed me as it disjointed my day going from one meeting to the next, waiting for others to attend; finding meeting rooms; losing details to the teleconference or video conference; running around the floor looking for people who had to be in the meeting…. it impacted my work and it made me resentful of others who would block up my calendar with pointless meetings. I am convinced that attending meetings and constant interruptions made me unproductive but what’s worse, impacted my ability to properly think, reflect and pay attention to the task at hand especially when I was devising a strategy or developing a program for my clients.
In the end, in an open plan environment of constant interruptions, I did what I had to do. I booked myself into the smaller meeting rooms on another level in another part of the same building (so people couldn’t find me) or simply worked from home just get through my planned work. I refused to work after hours. I reasoned it’s unfair for employers to expect you to attend constant non-value add meetings and on top of it, demand productivity and quality work and burden you with administrative tasks that only took you away from the job that you were paid to do. One or the other had to go. So yes, there were many meetings I declined as apology.
There was also a part of me that arrogantly thought, “if someone is in constant back-to-back meetings, then you’re not producing any tangible outcomes so where’s your value to the organisation?”
But I digress…again.
Recently, I was chatting to a fellow freelancer and she said to me openly after a very short telephone conversation, “my time is precious as is yours. I can sit and chit chat all day here but we both have important client work that we need to do” which was the signal that the conversation is coming to an end.
I thought about her statement after the phone call and mulled it over in my mind. She was right. My time is precious and it’s even more valuable to me now as I juggle client projects. Requests to meet for social coffees and lunches make the same impact on your time as did those pesky meetings when you could be working on paid work.
In a way, I’m disappointed in myself for having to think like this now but the way I overcome these guilt feelings is for one day a week, to be flexible. Build a morning, afternoon or a whole day where it’s all about relationships. For me, one day a week is my co-working day; my ‘coffee or lunch’ social meeting days; or my own ‘research and product development’ day.
After all, I didn’t leave full-time work to continue to be a robot in my own time – the social element is just as important to building client relationships but find a way that you can still include these in your week because these add value to your work as a freelancer.
2. It’s Okay to Say No
In the last few months, I have turned down ad hoc requests from people and this included paid work if what they were paying was too low. Other times, people made all sorts of different requests and approaches (which I didn’t mind at all, in fact, I quite liked it).
At the time, I listened to their request and got as much information about it to make an informed decision on whether it was aligned to my vision of how I wanted to work and what benefits it would provide to me or my business.
Each time, it pained me to turn the request down and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel awful about it. My response always started with thanking them for approaching me and to give me time to consider the invitation and get back to them in a day or two. I always responded but when I declined the invitation, I explained why because I believed that they would find it valuable to know how and why I work the way I do but it also could also open up the conversation to explore alternatives that may mutually benefit us.
A simple example of this is that I have now started to personally reply to LinkedIn requests from people and before I confirm or deny a connection, I send an email asking where they have found me and why they have connected. In all of these, they have sent back an email and to my surprise, many of them mention my blog or tweets. So even though they haven’t personalised the generic LinkedIn message, by me sending them a quick email to start a conversation with them, they let me know that they acknowledged my blog or my work. In one case, it turned out to submit a proposal for work and in a couple of others, I told them about Third Place (a social networking and co-working group for Australian Learning and Development professionals) which they ended up joining.
It’s okay to say no to work that is not aligned to what you want to do….and don’t beat yourself up over it.
3. Practice Saying Your Daily Rate in Front of the Mirror with Confidence
Before I moved into the world of freelancing, I had to decide on my daily rate and I used a formula below to work it all out. Is it right? I have no idea but it works for me at the moment. I also have asked a few people who I trust and who have been working as consultants for some years to help me out here.
I have come up with a range (min to max) which is the price that I am comfortable to negotiate if people start to question my rates as well as list some benefits.
I also practiced it in front of the mirror so I didn’t flinch when someone asked the dreaded question, “what do you charge?”. You can’t help but have doubts about your value and you start to ask yourself…. “what if they don’t accept it?” “Do they think it’s too expensive?” “What if this is my last opportunity to get a new client?”
As a Performance Consultant, some clients will align your rate against market rates for say, facilitators or instructional designers in corporate learning but the work is actually quite different.
My value is also that I can do strategy and needs analysis as well as design and development and I have knowledge, skills and experience in the new area of social learning so it’s difficult to find a comparison in the Australian market at the moment. The closest job is a Learning Development Consultant but then I have to consider my 24 years experience and also experience and applications with social learning (which is relatively new in the Australian market). I can’t compare myself to someone in the social media space either but I do this too. So in the end, taking into consideration my rates, my experience and my value and my networks, I have come up with a rate that works for me. Of course, I always have my doubts but ultimately it goes back to what your vision for your freelance business is about. For me, it’s always about the collaborative and respectful client relationships and partnerships.
4. Be Professional But Don’t Lose Your Personality
This is an interesting one that I have been mulling over in my head for a while as I reflect my online persona versus my physical self. I may come across as an extrovert online because social tools have allowed me to have a voice but in reality, I’m an introvert. I get energy and motivation from having time to sit think, reflect and focus. Only when I have ‘a plan’, do I start to explore the world and get out there to talk to people because I already have formulated something in my head that I can articulate and commit to. Also, I like the quirkiness and comedy in certain situations and yes, I do blurt out things that may be awkwardly phrased or mix my metaphors. But you know, that’s just me.
Regardless of all that, we all have our quirks and personalities and it’s important not to lose these when you become a freelancer. If anything, it’s important to not change your style (or at least be mindful of the situations) where it would help you.
Having a presence in the online world has already made some people make a judgement of what you whether you like it or not. That judgement may be positive or may be negative but you can’t control what people think of you.
One of the ways I have been grappling with this “digital self” versus “just me” has been to connect with members of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) in person. For a few months now, I have been making first contact to Skype with various people to just have a chat and finally, meeting virtually in person. In this way, I have found that it’s given me a greater appreciation for the people and their work in my PLN and in a way, I have also shown them a bit of my own true personality on camera.
Professionalism to me, means working in a respectful and collaborative manner with your clients but not losing or changing your own personality through the process.
5. Take Time Out!
I am not a sports-mad fan. You won’t find me running a half-marathon, climbing mountains, cycling long distances or swimming Port Phillip Bay but I do realise the importance of simply getting out of the chair in front of your computer to go for a walk or have a stretch. I under-estimated time I was going to be in front of the PC while a freelancer and I seem to be thinking or working on something at all hours of the day. It’s not uncommon to find me working more than 12 hours per day. If I’m not in front of a screen, I’m thinking about work.
My relaxation is to go for a walk for an hour every day to clear my mind (without any technological device) or to pick up my knitting to knit a few rows or to strum the ukulele. Other times I just stare out the window and watch the walkers-by or go outside the front garden and pick at a few weeds here and there. Recently I have also started to go back to reading novels ‘physical books’ and not on the Kindle as a way to force my mind to become ‘slow’ again.
Doing something creative or simply taking a break from your thoughts about work, where your next client is coming from or your products and services is critical and factor it into your day. You’ll be surprised how energised you’ll feel afterwards!
So what are your lessons and tips for freelancers? I’m always interested to learn about how others are going on their journey too.