I Freak Out When My Inbox is Empty: The Trials & Tribulations of Freelancing

How to Handle the Ups and Downs of FreelancingIt’s been about two months since I quit my full-time job in order to pursue my dream of being my own boss. As most of you can tell from March’s insane income, things are going quite well. I’ve written about how I have a plan to keep moving forward and how I have framed all of this with the mindset that online income is highly variable.

I’m literally taking it week by week, but I haven’t really mentioned the other side of freelancing; the side that causes me to freak out a bit any time I check my email and find my inbox to be empty.

The Dark Side of Freelancing

While it sounds amazing to be your own boss on the surface, there’s a dark side to all the new-found freedom that comes along with being a freelancer. Of course you understand that if you’re not working, you’re not making any money. What might be a little harder to understand is how it actually feels to strike out on your own. Here’s a bit of what a typical week feels like in terms of the emotions and stressors that are packaged with the great opportunity to be the boss:

Monday morning (checking emails after unplugging on Sunday): Yes! Look at all these emails! Time to respond to that, time to negotiate this, make a note to get to work on project A, send off final approval for project B. Etc, etc, etc. Wow, my to-do list is huge!

Monday evening (after checking email about 30-50 times throughout the day): Damn, why don’t I have any emails about work in here? Great, another email from Pinterest to remind me that I have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to using that site. Refresh. Ugh…nothing still?

Tuesday morning: Yay, the UK emails came through!  :)   Rinse & repeat Monday morning’s routine.

Wednesday afternoon (despite having a busy AM): Sheesh! It’s sure quiet here today. Check budget. Hmm…I need to make X dollars if I want to fulfill that goal. Time to reach out to some people in hopes of drumming up work. What if I don’t make any money this month? What if I can’t pay my bills? Ahhh…I’m spinning! Time for a run to clear my head. Come home to an empty inbox and proceed to freak out all over again.

Thursday: CRAZY day. Close enough deals to make an extra $2,000 this month. Life is good. Why was I worried yesterday?

Friday: TGIF! Yesterday was awesome. Now it’s time for the weekend. Things will continue to pick up next week…or will they?

Freelance Work is Up, Down, All Around

What I’m trying to illustrate here (perhaps not so eloquently) is that freelance work is up,down and all around. No day is the same, which is why I love it so much. Unfortunately, no day being the same can also mean insane amounts of wondering and questioning–even when things are going well.

If you’re considering becoming a freelancer or striking out on your own in some way, you need to have a solid foundation to ensure you’re able to withstand the roller coaster ride that even a typical week entails. This means taking care of both yourself and your business.

How to Handle the Ups and Downs of Freelancing

You need to have a plan–one that’s in place far before you pull the trigger on your decision to become your own boss. Your plan should include aspects of self-care, networking, professional development and much more. Here are some tips for how to manage the ups and downs of freelancing in the best possible way…

Take Care of Yourself

First and foremost, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t ever reach your full potential. You need to be exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep. Doing so will mean you’re better equipped to deal with all of the challenges headed your way. I know that when I’m not sleeping or not exercising, it’s far too easy to “get in my own head” about what’s happening with work. Practicing consistent self care helps you keep more of an even keel when you find yourself on that roller coaster of confidence and second-guessing your efforts.

You also need to ensure you’re maintaining your social connections, especially if you’re doing most of your work online. Isolation might be a by-product of the first few months of striking out on your own as you adjust to new schedules and new demands, but it’s not a sustainable way to enjoy your life. Make sure to schedule time with your family, friends and acquaintances. Sometimes all it takes is a quick run or dinner with a friend to recharge your batteries and refocus your efforts but don’t discount taking a vacation, too!

Take Care of Your Budget

My budget is the largest source of stress for me as a freelancer. Months ago when I was contemplating making the jump, I started budgeting for what I anticipated my income would be. I also paid off almost $16,000 of my student loans to free up more of my monthly cash flow, and I pushed myself to save as much as possible so I’d have a nice e-fund to smooth the road should it become rocky.

Right now, I’m concentrating my efforts on aggressive annual goals that will help me continue to build a strong financial foundation. While I’m still traveling and living my life, I’ve cut back on dining out and other frivolous spending in an effort to trim my expenses as much as possible. I also have set my monthly budget sheets for the remainder of the year based on the guaranteed income I will receive.

This way, if I get too freaked out on a particular day, I can easily open Excel and reassure myself that even if nothing “extra” comes in, all of my bills, my retirement, and my long-term savings are covered. Having a plan for the future months puts me at ease and helps me sleep at night!

Mind Your Network

I’ll write some future posts providing more details, but I’m fortunate in that most of my work and projects have been secured through people I’m working with or those who I’ve worked with in the past. I’ve cultivated a small yet strong network of bloggers, freelancers and website owners over the past two years, and I’ve been able to tap that network to market and communicate about my services.

If you don’t have a strong network and you’re planning to strike out on your own, make some changes and hold off on taking the leap until your network is in place.

Quality Over Quantity

I pride myself on my ability to deliver high-quality work on-time and at (or under) the budgets my clients set. I’ve been told that I’m true to my word and dependable and those are honestly some of the best compliments I could wish for as a freelancer. I know my limits, and I’m careful to openly communicate with each person about any scheduling conflicts or surprises that might pop up along the way.

Sure, I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve done some bone-headed things (how about getting distracted on Facebook one day and forgetting to send someone the link for their post? Oy!), but I am prompt with an honest explanation and I work hard to not repeat the same mistakes.

Find what works for you and stick with it–your clients will appreciate a person who deliver high quality work a day or two slower than someone who pumps out horrendous articles or posts without a second thought.

What advice do you have for freelancers?

Increased Productivity = More Money in My Pocket

Bust a MoveThis Thursday marks my 3 week anniversary of quitting my full-time job. While I’m still somewhat adjusting to the new schedule (and freedom!) this choice has brought, I’m also navigating the waters of being semi-self-employed. This means figuring out how to maximize my time, learning to turn down opportunities that might not be the best strategic fit for my overall efforts, defining times of the day where it’s all work and no play and getting my network on.

Given the increased flexibility of my new professional life, I’ve also found myself more motivated than ever to tackle various projects around the house. Given my status as a bona fide HGTV junkie, it’s been difficult for me to set clear hours for the DIY disasters projects I attempt while also making sure I keep up with all of the extras that will help my online efforts (I’ve got the assignment/deadline part down, but I’m sorely lacking in the commenting and social media departments).

After some careful contemplation, I realized one very obvious, smack-myself-in-the-face correlation:

Increased productivity = more money in my pocket.  Duh.

Those extra hours spent DIYing, running or catching up with friends are fun and are doing wonders for my quest to have a better sense of work-life balance, but they aren’t going to pay the bills. I’m a natural planner, so it’s time I define some rules around how I want to maximize my time, productivity and income generation.

If You Hustle, They Will Come

One of the easiest reminders of how hard work pays off is the influx of opportunities I’ve been presented with since testing the waters back in November (it was a calculated, carefully planned choice to make this transition). It’s really a quite simple formula, but for so many of us including me, it’s easy to forget the power of simply working your tail off.

I need to step up my game to ensure that I’ll still have future opportunities, and I need to make sure I’m doing so in a sustainable manner that will allow me to capitalize on the best options I’m presented with.

Stay Organized

I’ll admit that I waver in between a Stepford Wives-ish organized neat freak and a hot mess that needs ten reminders to keep her head on straight (attractive description/range, yes?). But the key to navigating my sometimes scatter-brained existence is to know this about myself; to know that I need an iron-clad organization system that will keep me on the straight & narrow.

My solution is an old-school approach: I love me some Post-Its. And while you might wonder how I can keep them all straight, I’d say that I’m not sure how but it just works for me. If something goes on “the” Post-It for the day, it will eventually be crossed off even if it means staying up until 1AM to do so.

I also love Excel and my iPhone calendar, but I prefer a gigantic wall calendar. I’m still toying with the idea of painting a huge rectangle on the wall with white board paint and creating a life-sized calendar to map out my projects. While I love the idea of this, I’m not so sure the BF would love a 12-inch reminder in bold, red letters for me to “COMMENT ON THE BLOGS, DAMNIT!”  (these are the most effective reminders for me)  :)

Turn Off Distractions

One of the best ways I’ve found to increase my productivity is to turn off distractions when I need to get my work done. Such is the case right now as I have the FB and Twitter off, my Gmail minimized and the office door closed. By reducing the amount of outside noise that competes with my attention, I’m more easily able to slay my to-do list and stay focused while crossing things off of it.

If you ever need to get some work done and have a tight turnaround time, shut off the email and cell phone–you’ll be amazed at how much you can bang out in a short period of time (five, 600+ word posts that aren’t garbage in 2.5 hours, check!).

Get Up and Dance

Seriously. Whatever you’re doing right now, even if there are witnesses, get up and bust out, at the very least, a little shimmy. Revel in the silliness of doing so long enough to forget the task you were working on (yep, forget it entirely–especially if you were stuck).

Now sit back down and be amazed at what that 20 second timeout just did for your focus. I find that when I randomly take breaks, whether it’s to dance, sing (horribly) or just daydream out the window for a minute or two, I have a renewed sense of focus and my productivity soars.

At the very least, I get a good laugh out of how ridiculous I am when I think nobody is watching…that is until I hear a random snort of laughter because my BF caught me (again) in the act.  :)

I chose the photo above because it best depicts what would happen in this scenario–I’m attempting to dance (more like just thrashing around wildly because I have no rhythm to save my life) while my BF just stands there, covering his face & shaking his head….

What are your tips for increasing your productivity?

 

Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

I Quit the 9-5…Forever

Follow Your DreamsThat’s right!

As of Thursday evening, I will no longer be working the typical 9-5 job that I’ve had for so many years. In fact, I’ll only be “working” four hours/day in a traditional role. What will I be doing for the remainder of my time?

Working for myself.

My Choice to Can the 9-5

It’s no secret that I’ve been (consciously and subconsciously) planning this leap of faith for quite some time. Last year as I was transitioning jobs, I wrote about my back-up plan and why it’s important to always have options for yourself. I’ve also written about how to start a business while keeping your day job,  I’ve challenged my readers to critically evaluate if they’re using their time wisely, and I’ve discussed why it’s paramount to not sacrifice passion in lieu of paying the bills.

What do all of these posts have in commons? They’re all paving the way for strong foundation that would allow someone (me in this case) to venture off on their own professionally.

Evaluating the Past

As I was reading through my archives in an attempt to write this post, something jumped out at me: I’ve switched jobs two times in the last two years. Despite my initial love for each position, eventually the “honeymoon phase” was over and I returned to the idea of starting my own business.

Looking back, I’ve realized it wasn’t the change or the new, exciting nature of each job change that kept me happy in the beginning–it was me lying to myself. I was avoiding the nearly insatiable desire I had to chart my own course; to make a go of employing myself by forcing myself to “love” what I was doing. The truth was that I’ve never been happy in a traditional 9-5 marketing or office role….

Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Decisions

Essentially, I was letting fear rule my life. I was fearful of what striking out on my own meant. I was fearful of the potential for epic failure. And I was fearful of not living my life in the conventional manner I’ve been groomed to be accustomed to (go to college, go to grad school, get a good job, climb the corporate ladder, blah, blah, blah).

Thanks to some surprising events at my current job that I felt uneasy about (lots of restructuring, people shuffling and strategy changes), I came to the conclusion that it was high time I faced my fears head-on. This is my life, those are my bank balances and I’m ready now more than ever to be successful in my own way.

Staying Realistic–and Positive

Of course striking out on my own isn’t a rash decision, despite the lack of disclosure I’ve had about it here on The Happy Homeowner. For the past few months, I’ve been testing the waters with my new business–and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results.

As of this month, I’m making more money with my new endeavors than I am at my full-time job. And it’s certainly not all about money; I love every second of what I’m doing–from the mundane to the seemingly impossible tasks I’m faced with.

I have been burning the candles at both ends with transitioning out of my job and simultaneously building the business. The funny thing is that when I get home from the office and start the other work on my to-do list, I find myself more motivated than ever. It hardly feels like work even when I’m up past 2AM!

My New Gig(s)

So what exactly is my new business? In a nutshell, it’s a freelance writing, consulting and blogging support operation. While this description runs the gamut of online offerings, it’s important for me to diversify my income-generating options so that in case one thing dries up, there are others that can replace that income stream.

Also, because the nature of online work is highly variable, I’m not quitting the part-time job that I’ve had for the past 6.5 years. Having this job for so long has allowed immense flexibility and I basically work remotely on my own time. There’s a certain economy of scale built in after having a position for so long and I’ve become incredibly efficient with the time needed to perform the tasks of the job.

Additionally, I’ve picked up another part-time job, which is why I’ll still need to be in an office for 4 hours/day (I wanted to make sure I still had a stable, reliable income to cover all of my bills including my mortgage as well as retirement funding and health insurance).

Let’s just say that my new boss has been incredibly flexible with my scheduling needs and has allowed me to create a schedule that I could have only dreamed of in the past–my work day now “ends” by noon unless I want to change up the schedule to fit in other needs. The rest of my day will be spent on all things online, from the comfort of my home. Somebody pinch me!

The Future of The Happy Homeowner

No matter these new endeavors, I will always have The Happy Homeowner as my home base. I look forward to growing this blog bigger than ever now that I have dedicated, consistent time to do so, and I am so excited to have readers like you (both new and old) to be here with me every step of the way.

Viva la Work-Life balance!

 

Photo credit: renaissancechambra

Why it’s Important to Always Have a Back-up Plan

Prosperous Life Motivational QuoteI’ve always been a fan of having a plan. Whether it’s an annual plan of what I’d like to accomplish over the next 365 days or a plan to get me through the day, I’ve found that planning is a vital component to any organized, hard-working person’s success.

But what about when the best-laid plans go awry?

My solution is to always have a back-up plan.

What is a back-up plan?

Just like a back-up dancer lends support to the main performer, a back-up plan gives you support when you need it most. It is your ticket to a less harried existence when your first plan is forced out the window.

It’s also a way to keep your stress at bay and regain your footing when the universe seems hell-bent on knocking you down. And when it comes to finances, it can often be your best friend when the plan you’ve been working towards suddenly gets washed away.

Why do you need a back-up plan?

Anyone who’s lived past the age of 12-13 knows that life doesn’t always move along according to our plan. When setting out on its various paths, nobody originally plans to lose their job, get into an accident, come down with a serious illness, get divorced, etc.

But these things happen and when they do, you need to be prepared!

How to make a back-up plan

It really couldn’t be easier. Write down your main plan, then below each piece of that plan, list some details about what you would do if you could no longer follow the original plan.

For example, if your plan was to go back to school this year but you found out your pregnant, what would you do to still keep working towards your original plan despite a longer timeline?

My back-up plan

It’s no secret that I’m currently between full-time jobs. While I could sit back and just wait to see what happens with all of these interviews (for one company I’ve already had 9 interviews for one position and have just found out I’ve been invited back for the 10th–and final–meeting tomorrow; a daunting process, indeed!), it’s not in my nature to remain stagnant.

Therefore, I’m putting together a back-up plan for what I’ll do in the event that none of these jobs pan out (when I say this it means that either they don’t think I’m a fit or I don’t think they’re a fit–I don’t want to settle this time around!).

For me, the plan is to finally bid adieu to the 9-5 grind and set off on my own course. If I can’t solidify a new full-time job by July, I’ll officially be concentrating all of my efforts on opening my own business.

While I’ve mentioned this before, it’s been a bit of part-time endeavor for me. This is because my full-time schedule has necessitated a smaller focus on getting the business off the ground. But without the 9-5 responsibilities, I will be able to direct my efforts to making it a success.

That being said, I know it will be an immense challenge, but I also know that this is something I’m passionate about. If these new jobs don’t pan out for whatever reason, I may take this as the universe’s sign that I’m not supposed to be in an office anymore.

At the very least, I have a hell of a back-up plan that will keep me motivated for years despite the potential lean times ahead of me!


Do you have a back-up plan? If so, what is it?

 

Photo credit:NicoleAbalde

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