Rita Rudner said, "I work for myself, which is fun. Except for when I call in sick—I know I'm lying."
Communication consultant and teacher Les Potter recently offered some good tips for dealing well with "The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Sole Proprietor."
To which I can add only a few, all of them having to do with what I believe is the key to being a happy freelancer: Emotional endurance.
1. You need structure. A freelancer without a daily routine is lost. Every day will be different enough from every other day: Your ambition, your courage, your energy, your mood—they'll all vary, sometimes wildly. Something must be solid. You need a standard lunch time, maybe a regular workout routine, a nap—or all three.
I say that every workday here at Murray's Freelance Writing is two work days and a personal day. Work Day One in the morning, 6:00-11:00. Personal Day—for workout, lunch, shower, catnap—from 11:00-1:00. Work Day Two in the afternoon, 1:00-4:30.
Those times vary—and sometimes the personal day doesn't happen at all—but they're the loose agenda that holds things together around here and keeps us from having to hire a human resources person.
2. You need to monitor and manage your emotions constantly. When you work by yourself, there's no office banter to crowd out the existential questions. Some days you'll be happily cranking out work. Other days you'll be searching in vain for flattering references to yourself on Google.
On those days you need to either: Get the hell out of the office and play golf; or, better yet, do something you're a little afraid of, like finally pitching Sports Illustrated on that gonzo story you've been boring people about at cocktail parties for two years. On days when you're excited, write.
On days when you're glum, edit. When you're angry, clean your desk. When you're nervous, do some marketing. And when you're happy—and this is important—enjoy it.
3. Accept that this may not be the life for you. There's a kind of tyranny in some circles, that says independence is necessarily better than working someplace. Yet, I've seen freelancers return to corporate life like fish thrown back in the lake.
Some people need forced socializing. Some people prefer team sports. Some people worry too much to run their own shops. Freelancers get tired of asking the draining job-seeker's questions every day: What do I want to do with myself? And: Who cares?
I'd love to hear from other solo pros, about what works for you, what doesn't, and what you do when you suddenly realize you haven't seen your wallet in four days.
Sue Horner says
You are right that some of us are cut out for the solo life and some are not. There is no shame in being the fish jumping back into the corporate lake! But those of us who aren’t that fish know that even on a day when the phone is not ringing, there’s no check in the mail and someone has picked apart the article you thought was pretty darn good, being the boss still beats the alternative.
I’ve gotten better at taking advantage of a slow day to run errands, meet a friend for lunch and generally waste time without a backward glance. On the other hand, I work hard when when a deadline stares me in the face. It all balances out. And having a dog requiring two daily walks smooths out the moods.
David Murray says
“I’ve gotten better at taking advantage of a slow day to run errands, meet a friend for lunch and generally waste time without a backward glance.”
A key freelancer’s skill, Sue. If you don’t have it, you wind up wearing yourself down more on slow days than on busy ones.