Ah, the freelance life. Working in your pajamas, penning brilliant copy by a pool in Bali, being supermom/dad and spending gazillions of hours of quality time by the pool. Sounds good, right? Also sounds kind of…unrealistic? Let’s talk about what a freelancer’s day really looks like. Read on…
Today’s question comes from Thad N. who asks, “I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d like to focus on freelancing, but what does that entail? How do I actually work? And structure my day?”
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not going to tell you that freelance is all about living in your pajamas and writing from a chateau in Europe. I mean, those are possible outcomes of freelancing, but that’s really not what freelancing is all about.
So, first, what is a freelancer? (Just to make sure we’re on the same page.) Well, a freelancer is someone who writes for clients, but is not employed by them. Whereas contractors aren’t employed by a company but work in that company’s office, freelancers generally work from home. Freelancers tend to work on a project-to-project basis and, as self-employed people, have to remember to deduct taxes from payments made to them.
But this is also kind of a simplification. Sure, a freelancer’s not going into an office and they don’t necessarily have to work from 9 to 5, but there are other things that make freelancing different.
The successful freelancer has some very specific traits, habits and schedules that set them apart. Whereas it seems like a freelancer’s day is very loose and fluid and free, that’s very often not the case.
Without external systems or even external reminders (everyone in the office heading to the kitchen at noon), freelancers need to keep careful track of their schedules and To Do list. After all, it can be very easy to get lost down a rabbit hole when you’re working by yourself.
Successful freelancers also often spend just a much time prospecting for new work as they do actually writing copy. Unless or until they’re in high demand, they have to make sure that there’s always a next project coming in…or there’s no next pay check coming in.
They have to be meticulous about tracking their time and tracking their income. And they have to make sure that they’re available by phone, by skype, by join.me (or whatever screensharing program the client prefers). Don’t forget: Just because you’re not working in for a “boss” doesn’t mean you’re not still working for someone.
So, what does a day look like? Well, as opposed to lazing around and then gradually getting down to business, it’s much more likely that they get up at the same time the rest of us do (or earlier), shower, get dressed, get breakfast and get down to work.
They’ll probably spend the first part of their day checking their emails to make sure there aren’t any emergency requests from clients and addressing any if there are. Since morning is a fresh time, it’s likely that they’ll get down to work and start pounding through a project until lunchtime.
They may break for lunch, but they’re just as likely to eat in front of their computer. Midafternoon is when most of us tend to slow down, and they may take a break (or even a nap), unless they have client calls or meeting scheduled. Bear in mind, too, that if they take a break during the day to run a few errands or to pick up the kids, they’ll probably work into the evening.
And those afternoons and evenings are probably devoted to prospecting, with a bit of catch up on other copywriting projects when they need to. Do they work into the night? Sure, sometimes: If they want to keep a client happy and a client needs something fast, you’d better bet they do.
The thing is, contrary to popular belief, freelancers work just as much as—if not more than—on-staff writers do. Remember, when you’re on-staff, you don’t have to put in the time to find the next client. And having multiple clients often means that their schedules and deadlines conflict…and it’s up to the freelancer to just make it work.
That said though, as a freelancer, your schedule can be more flexible. Your location can be more flexible. You can decide how much work you want to take on. You can create more variety in your workload. You can impact when you want to make more and when you don’t mind making less. Is freelancing complete freedom? Absolutely not. But does it represent a different kind of freedom? Absolutely.
Going freelancing is hard, but it has its benefits. Your day might not be quite as pajamas-sun-and-pina-coladas as you’d hope, but for the right kind of writer, the rewards are almost just as good.
Your turn! What are your questions about freelancing? Let us know in the comments below!