How to Conquer Freelance Life

Transparency as the new currency to win when you work for yourself

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Don't let self-employment tie you down by knowing when and how you work best.

Working for yourself is liberating – except when it’s not. Self-employment can feel as confining as any corporate cubicle if you’re constantly tied down to client schedules, jumping through hoops to meet unpredictable last-minute requests, or making friends-and-family trade-offs in the name of your business.

I know this life all too well. While running my own freelance business, I regularly worked on projects for my own clients, but also for a number of agencies to support their customers. Once I delivered my part of a project on-time and made a point to review it in-person. Unfortunately, my client spent half the time we were together chatting about their life outside work, and the other half fumbling through emails, promising to review my work later in the day. Two, three days passed, and after checking back in for feedback, still crickets.

Finally, the night before the deadline, they contacted me just as I was wrapping up bedtime for our girls and enjoying some time with my husband. First, they called, we talked through it, and they worked on it a bit more. Then, at 10 p.m. as I was back in the nursery and no longer responding by phone or email, they reached out via IM and text. While fielding a barrage of pings from this particular client, long after regular business hours, it hit me. I was long overdue to put some structure around when and how I worked as a freelancer. Their emergency should not have become mine, infringing on valuable personal time.

Sound familiar? If so, I urge you take time this fall to reset. As the on-demand economy and technology reshape how we work, transparency has become the new currency to thrive in self-employed life. By 2020, freelancers, gig workers and the more traditional ranks of the self-employed will represent 43% of the economy. To succeed, you don’t have to give up on “you.” However, you must begin to open a dialogue about what you need and set expectations up front – whether it’s with clients or customers, family or friends.

Following are four tips to implement this fall that will make transparency work in your self-employed life. Trust me, you’ll want to master these by Halloween, so you’ll be ready once the hectic holiday season gets into full swing.

Flex Your Fees. Working for yourself involves getting paid what you’re worth. Your time is money, and your clients should be willing to pay higher rates for “rush” delivery of your services – especially once they see the value you provide. You don’t have to work all night just because your client isn’t organized, or if they demand project-based work that is difficult to plan around. But if you are willing to take on the work, you might as well make an extra $10, $20 or $25 per hour. Set your prices firmly and deliver your rates with confidence. Reminder: if they want an always-on team ready to jump at any moment, an agency may be a better fit, but they come with higher average rates too. You can’t get something for nothing.

Avoid the Time Trap. You’re a working mom trying to set a schedule around childcare, but it’s 6 p.m. on Tuesday and you’re answering a client email while holding a toddler in the grocery checkout. This is not what success looks like. Learn to say “no” and establish boundaries around your schedule. Be clear that you work 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with the intent of leaving yourself some “me time” and “family time” while also setting expectations with clients so they are not disappointed. When considering a job, ask yourself if you are set up to do it right Answer this question keeping your other commitments and goals in mind. And then stick to it.

Take Your Vacations. Is getting away important to you? It should be. It’s OK to have a personal life when you’re running your own thing. Just schedule it, be clear about it, and declare it in your contract. If you have an agreement that runs through the end of the year, and you always take time off before the New Year, call it out in your agreement, stating that your practice is closed the final week of the year, available as needed for emergent issues at your rush rate – see above. Or make a commitment to connect your client with a fellow contractor who is available while you’re out and share the plan in advance. You’re human, after all, and deserve a break too.

Don’t Give Up on Family & Friends. It’s easy to get annoyed with a significant other or best friend who doesn’t understand that you can’t spend as much time with them now that you’re running a business. Well, that’s right and wrong. It’s a matter of balance – and transparency. You still need to invest in yourself. Just like skipping the gym, skipping out on your personal life as you’re starting a new venture will leave you feeling depleted. If your friends get together for Sunday brunch or the big game, join them every other week. Money tight because it’s being funneled into the business? Ask your friends if that alfresco lunch can be a potluck at a park – you’ll be surprised how much they will appreciate you being up front with them.

A former freelancer and full-time working mom, Kimmie Greene is a business mentor for QuickBooks at Intuit.

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