We all know and love the benefits of being freelance.
But freelance life has its drawbacks, too, and stress from a range of causes and situations is high on the list.
So here are 9 big stresses of freelance life… along with tips for beating them.
1. “Where will my next job come from?” freelance stress.
Worrying about how you’ll get your next project can be stressful, however long you’ve been a freelancer. Illogical as it is, the feeling that, if things go quiet for a few days, you will never work again, is extremely common.
The answer is to develop and manage a proper, organised, multi-channel marketing strategy so that you know, even if it goes a bit quiet, that your marketing engine is working away in the background. With this in place, you can remind yourself, even if your phone is not ringing, that the prospecting method that has always brought you work previously is hard at it and will, soon, bring you your next assignment. Remind yourself to take a long view. We all get quieter periods and busier periods. Take a view over the last year, rather than the last month, and see how close you are to your target number of days worked.
2. “Can I turn this into a staff job?” freelance stress.
For most freelancers, freelance is a way of life and we absolutely don’t want, and wouldn’t take, a staff position again. But for some it’s an interim way to pay the bills until a new employed role comes along. If that’s the case for you, then worrying about how likely your freelance booking is to lead to a permanent job offer can be stressful.
The best way to beat this is to be absolutely clear in your own head what you are and why you’re there, so far as the employer is concerned. Don’t go in expecting your freelance position to turn into a staff job. Keep in touch with your network, and keep your marketing active all the time you’re there. That way, when you’re booking ends you’ll have somewhere else to move on to. At some point, somewhere you go freelance may indeed offer you a staff role, and if you want it you’ll be able to accept it. But if you don’t start off with that possibility in your mind, you won’t stress about trying to make it happen.
3. “Do they like me here?” freelance stress.
If you’re working in house, either at an agency or an end client, worrying about whether you’re being accepted by the staff team can be stressful.
‘Acceptance’ stress is a self-esteem thing. Worrying that the in-house team don’t like you, might resent you, or might think you’re no good, are all normal. But they need dealing with. Remind yourself of the in-house jobs you’ve completed in the past. Recall successes, compliments and feedback you’ve received. Remind yourself of tangible evidence (awards, testimonials etc) of your professional competence. And remind yourself of your successful personal relationships in past staff or freelance roles. If you’ve got along well with colleagues in all prior jobs, there’s no reason why this one should prove different.
4. “How will I live without these guys?” freelance stress.
If you’re working in house for any length of time, you’ll form relationships. These can be extremely stressful to let go of once your booking ends. It’s not that you can’t carry on seeing these people socially. But the feeling that you’ve been robbed of people you were enjoying sharing your day with can be hard to manage.
The way to beat this is to protect yourself emotionally from the moment you arrive. Make friends. But remember that you will leave and they will stay. Be professional, likeable and helpful, but look forward to moving on. Enjoy that you don’t have to worry long term about their office politics. It’s part of the pleasure of freelance life.
5. “I’m worried about money” freelance stress.
We all want enough money to pay our rent or mortgage, feed and clothe ourselves, pay the bills, have fun, take vacations and, ideally, manage to save a little. Worrying about whether you have enough, or will have enough next week, is stressful.
The best way to destress over money is to build up a healthy reserve. That way, if your income slows at a certain point, you’re not worrying about being able to pay your bills.
Almost as valuable in avoiding worrying, however, is to know you have a clear and up to date picture of your finances at all times. If you know exactly how much you have, how your bank account looks, what money is owed to you and when it should come in (or can be chased), you’ll feel in control and less inclined to panic.
If you use a cloud based book keeping platform that integrates live with your bank account (like QuickBooks, XERO – which I use, Freeagent or Freshbooks) you get the peace of mind of being able to see and manage your invoices, quotes, receipts and purchases in real time with 100% certainty. It’s very reassuring as well as incredibly empowering. More information. Less stress.
6. “People owe me money” freelance stress.
People pay late. Or don’t pay at all until you hound them. Chasing up payment is time consuming. As a freelance, you could probably do with having the cash in sooner rather than later. And you could almost certainly do without the hassle of chasing up late payers. It all adds up to a big stress.
Being methodical and keeping calm are the best ways to take the stress out of this. You will get paid. It’s not personal, and it’s not a slight. It’s simply that some companies pay late and others don’t pay until you become so much of a nuisance that it’s easier to pay you than deal with you. Don’t get angry. Don’t threaten things you can’t afford to implement. You’re in the right when chasing up an invoice that’s overdue, so be calm, confident and polite. And ruthlessly persistent.
7. “I haven’t got enough time to do everything” freelance stress.
When you are freelance, you have two jobs: running your business and doing the work. Running your business itself entails lots of different things, from looking after your accounts to writing your blog and doing your marketing. Feeling like you have more to do than you can possibly complete on time is hugely stressful.
Planning, as in so many things, is the key to destressing this. The first instinct when you have a thousand things to do is to try to do all of them at once, or a bit of lots of them all on the same day. Don’t. List the tasks under sensible headings. Highlight those that really do require immediate attention. Split the remainder into ‘Needs doing very soon’ and ‘Can actually wait a bit.’ If it’s obvious you’re going to let someone down, call or email and negotiate a time extension. Then start to clear your ‘immediate’ tasks by working through them one after the other. If they’re short, do rotating blocks of a few hours on each task at a time, so you move several jobs forward in a day, rather than just one.
8. “I’m on holiday…and I shouldn’t be” freelance stress.
Being freelance is demanding and tiring. So when you get to take a holiday, you need to be able to enjoy it. But it’s really common to stress that you shouldn’t have taken a break at all.
Stand back. Working is an element of your life, not its sole point. If you’d like to avoid stressing over this make sure, before you take your holiday, that you’ve finished everything you’d promised to complete. Check that your finances are in reasonable shape to cover not earning during the holiday and, ideally, get a task lined up for when you return. And don’t spend your holiday reading email. I restrict myself to a run through my inbox before breakfast, and another before dinner. And I reply only to emails that specifically and urgently need a response.
9. “I’m ‘always on'” freelance stress.
One huge stress, and possibly the most dangerous of all. If you work freelance, it’s easy to drift into an ‘always on’ mentality. You are working, or thinking about work or about organising your business, 24 hours a day.
Define your working day, and know when it’s over. Same with your working week. Evenings and weekends have a purpose, and if you allow your freelance work, business admin and worrying to eradicate them you have no opportunity to clear your head, chill out or regain perspective. We all sometimes work late. We all sometimes book a job across a weekend because that’s when our client needs the work done. But it’s when the background rhythm of your work life is running 24/7/365 that the stress is a danger.
Remember, one of the huge advantages of being freelance is that we are free of the stresses associated with employment.
Whatever you do, avoid replacing one set of pressures with another set of your own making!