It is becoming more and more common for people to dip their feet into the world of freelancing. That usually means freelancing in your spare time, potentially juggling it with a full time job and a family.
I’m married, I have two daughters under 6, and a full time job. Spare time isn’t really something I deal in. I have tried freelancing in the past, with mixed results, and one very bad result (lots of work and no payment). Yet I felt like giving it another go.
Given my past and recent experiences; I wanted to go over some key points that I hope might help others in the future.
I’m talking communication with your loved ones. I’m not going to get into the importance of communicating with the client, because… just communicate with the client. It’s more important that you communicate with the people who depend on you to be present in their life.
It simply won’t work sneaking off for fifteen minutes here and there to work on a project, or trying to code a website when nobody is looking. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Explain what you are doing
Not everyone appreciates (or cares) what goes into the work you do, the journey you take, and the battles you undergo to win the war. So it’s on you to explain what you’re spending your time on, in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience. “I’ve got some amends from the client that I need to do before the end of the week, so that they can sign it off”, is better than, “I need to work on the website tonight”.
Giving context to what you’re doing helps in a number of ways, it brings your loved ones into the fold, and also can help give you some focus. Your target tonight is to do the amends, not just aimlessly spend some time on the project.
Is it what everyone wants?
Why are you undertaking this project? Ambition? Money? Testing the water of freelancing?
Talk to your loved ones. Explain why you want to do it. Understand if it’s the right time for everyone. It’s OK to say no to money if it’s going to put your relationships under too much strain.
2. Place to work
Don’t try and work while watching Eastenders with your partner. That’s going to lead to an inefficient use of your time, and make the whole process longer. Better still, don’t watch Eastenders.
When you are working, you need to do so with as little distraction as possible. This means having a place to work. Whether that’s a home office, or sitting at the kitchen table when the kids have gone to bed, it’s going to allow for a much more focused working environment.
My desk is in a small corner at the top of the stairs. It’s cosy and out of the way, and the benefit of having a dedicated desk means I can switch contexts from family life to work life. It’s actually incredibly hard to switch between freelancing and family life, but it’s important you work hard to not let the two cross over.
3. Set expectations early
This is a tricky area, since the client will be giving you money to do something for them. However, it’s essential for a healthy business relationship that ground rules are set and expectations are managed from the start.
There are a couple of key things you should look to clarify:
When will you respond to the client?
You still need to spend quality time with your family, and you have a duty to your employer.
Perhaps you need to let a client know:
- that you won’t be responding to messages between 7am and 7pm.
- that you will only be working on their project on Saturdays.
- that you have a 6 month old baby, and your hours will be sporadic.
On this basis, you can set ground rules of when you might respond to enquiries. You are then covered if the client asks you a question at 9am, and they will understand why you won’t reply until 8pm.
There’s no value in pretending that you are going to be working on this project full time, when that doesn’t reflect the reality. The client can only go on what you tell them. Be honest. If you are going to manage 10 hours a week, then that’s what the client should be told to expect.
You can then estimate more accurately, based on what you know about your capacity.
At all costs, avoid obvious over promising to try and secure work. It’s not fair on anyone, and if you are fortunate enough to finish ahead of time, that’s going to be a much better experience for the client.
4. Learn to say “no”
You are trying to do a lot of things for a lot of people. Sometimes you should say no, and that’s OK.
Document what you will and will not do
One of the common pitfalls for small digital projects is to complete a project, and then for reasons unknown, end up delivering free lifetime support. For that very reason it should be in black and white, in a document, exactly what you are going to deliver and what you will not.
What you will deliver is generally going to be what the client cares about. This stuff is a given, you have agreed to do something, so it may be the case that this is all the client focuses on.
Try and make the things you will not do (or things that will be an extra cost) stand out and easy to consume. Essentially, avoid ending up in situation where the client will ask you to do something in two years, and expect it be free.
5. Avoid burnout
It’s 2020. Everyone has a lot to worry about. The last thing you need to do on top of that is voluntarily burn yourself out.
Some quick tips to try and avoid burnout:
- Ring fence a set amount of freelancing time
Stick to it and try to finish on time. Don’t finish at 1am when you need to be up for work at 6:30am.
- Stop looking at your phone
I say this absolutely as a, “do as I say, not as I do”, tip. I’m working on it. I’ve even downloaded an app called Forest - whereby you plant virtual trees, and if you leave the app to look at your emails, you tree will wither and die! We all know it’s not healthy, but seriously, stop looking at your phone.
- Filter client emails or have a separate email address
Freelancing can be a lonely place, and an anxious environment. You want to avoid checking your personal emails for an Amazon delivery and seeing that your client has emailed you. You want to see those emails on your own terms. Having them automatically filter to a folder, or even better, in their own account, can help keep your focus in the right place.
- Remember what’s important
Your family is the most important thing in your life. Yes, this goes hand in hand with the need to support your family. But you also need to be present. Never lose sight of this. Your kids won’t care about you earning a few extra quid, if it means that you’re not available to them.
Freelancing is a tempting prospect, but it needs to be on your terms and a shared decision with you and your family. Remember you are just trying it out. If you discover it’s not for you, then that’s as positive an outcome as any.