One of the hardest transitions for new freelancers to make is the transition to be your own boss. It’s hard to deny that some people honestly work better with a structure, and working for yourself for the first time might make you feel like you don’t have one. After all, who’s going to get mad at you if you spend the workday taking a nap, bingeing your favorite Netflix shows, or playing hooky for the afternoon?
In order to be your own boss and find success as a freelancer, you’ll need to create some rules for yourself. Once you proactively work to create this structure, you’ll find that you can be your own boss… and enjoy it.
Here are 10 rules to create for yourself as a freelancer working for yourself for the first time.
Set a Schedule – and Stick to it!
When you’re your own boss, you’ll feel tempted to do whatever you want, whenever you want. But you’ll make the transition easier and more successful if you work to maintain a similar structure to how you worked at your 9-5. In fact, you’ll have more time to spend on freelancing without hurting an ideal work/life balance. If you work from home, you can use the time you might spend getting ready for work or commuting to grow your business.
Eventually, you can take advantage of the freedoms that come with freelancing, but it’s important to put in the hard work first. Your schedule might eventually morph from the typical 9-5, to 10-2, and 3-6, or whatever works best for you. Having an atypical schedule is perfectly fine if it’s conducive to finishing projects.
And while you’re creating a schedule, make sure to schedule in some time for breaks! They’re absolutely necessary to avoid burnout, and are frequently forgotten by new freelancers trying to throw themselves into things completely.
While you’re working on your schedule, make sure to clue in clients as well. Make it a habit to avoid answering calls/emails outside of your set work hours, unless it’s clear that it’s an emergency situation that requires your assistance.
If you condition clients to expect answers on nights/weekends, you’re shooting yourself in the foot as far as maintaining the ideal work/life balance. That said, if you plan on working nights/weekends, an email scheduling tool like Boomerang can help you get stuff done, but clients will get the results of your efforts during your normal work hours.
Wake up Early
This is especially important when you’re just getting started. Eventually, you can settle into a schedule that fits your own unique circadian rhythm, but the more you can mirror your past work habits, the easier (and more successful) your transition will be. If you wait to start work at 11am, you might panic at how quickly the afternoon comes and your workable time is essentially over. Freedom comes with a price!
Work on the Hardest Tasks First
As the day goes on, it’ll get harder to use your brain (not to mention a need to handle additional distractions that will inevitably come up), so do yourself a favor and crush out those hard tasks first. All of your additional tasks for the day will seem like a walk in the park in comparison, and it’s probably safe to say that your mood will get better and better as the day winds down and your to do list gets easier.
With regards to scheduling tasks, don’t try to force yourself to accomplish too much in one day. Pick three non-negotiable tasks, then everything else you’re able to get done will feel like a bonus.
Learn How to Say, “No”
When you’re just getting started on your own, it’s tempting to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself. And when it means expanding your network, like by attending certain events, you should make time for these opportunities. But when it means someone wants to take you out to coffee to pick your brain, this jam session will likely benefit the other person while simultaneously taking away from your ability to build your business—and make money!
In fact, kill two birds with one stone and cut down on wasted meeting times by charging for them. For new clients, build pricing for your time spent on meetings into the contract, and charge for any additional meetings needed past that.
This will encourage clients to communicate more over email, which you can then respond to at your leisure. If someone still wants a meeting when there’s a price tag attached, that might actually be a signal that the meeting can be good for your business.
Learning how to say no also means saying no to friends who invite you out for lunch or fun on a workday because they know you’re “free.” Again, it’s fine to indulge occasionally, but don’t make it a habit if you plan on being a freelancer for longer than a few months!
Don’t Start Work without a Contract
…And ideally, a deposit!
It’s worth saying again—when you be your own boss, you’re the only person who’s going to care what happens to you. There’s no legal department or HR person to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. You need to be the one who proactively protects yourself. Start with these essential contract clauses, and use a tool that can make sure you’ve covered every necessary piece.
Own Your Mistakes
About to miss a deadline? Not as far along on a project as you had planned to be?
Be honest with the client, instead of waiting until the problem is unfixable. We’re all human and your clients will understand as long as you don’t make it a habit, or if you’re honestly not at fault.
On that note, set internal due dates that are well ahead of the actual due date to mitigate this potential issue. Use some type of task management tool to manage due dates in an organized fashion.
Go Above and Beyond
Delivering a final project that is more than a client expected and blows them away is the best type of marketing that will keep clients coming back for more. Why hire another freelancer if you consistently deliver work that shows you’re willing to go above and beyond the basic level of expectation?
Become an Analytics Junkie
If you’re not tracking growth, how will you know that it’s happening? A few things you should create systems to measure:
- Track time and corresponding earnings to determine your rate per hour. Compare how this rate differs from client to client as your time starts to fill up, and you want to determine which clients might not make sense to keep around if there are more lucrative projects on the line that pay a better rate.
- Track earnings (both billed and paid) month over month to determine when you need to hustle for a few more jobs (although you should always be hustling since client churn is inevitable).
- Track social media growth if you’re using these mediums to grow your personal brand/drive leads to your website. Cyfe is a dynamic dashboard that you can set and forget for this purpose.
Treat Yourself Like a Client
In the flurry of trying to please clients and grow your business, it’s easy to forget/put off your own personal branding efforts. But investing time and energy into your personal brand can be a necessary tactic for attracting higher quality (and higher paying!) clients, making money with affiliate marketing, or building an audience for other passive income activities.
So don’t let your social media, blog, or email list sit complacently for too long. Every business has to do some level of marketing/sales to stay in business, and you’re no exception!
Be Discriminating with the Clients You Work with
If your gut is saying something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Be your own boss and learn to identify and listen to red flags for your own sanity. It’s not always easy to recognize these things at the beginning of a relationship, but learn how to get out of a bad situation if it’s affecting your mental health. After all, that’s the beauty of freelancing. You don’t have to work with anyone who doesn’t seem to understand the value you’re bringing to their business.
Be Your Own Boss
Be your own boss. It may seem like a pipe dream at first, but you’ll grow into it by creating rules that can be broken after you’ve created a good basic structure.
What comes to mind when you hear, “be your own boss”? Are there certain rules that you’d set for yourself that didn’t get mentioned here? Tweet @andco, and we’ll share our favorite insights.