This is one of the most valuable tips I have to offer young or inexperienced freelancers. It’s an endeavor with a low barrier to entry, but also one with a high rate of failure.
Many people are attracted to freelancing because of the freedom and flexibility it offers, but those who get into it often do so with the wrong perspective—that of an employee.
When you’re a freelancer, you’re not an employee. You’re a business. Not a business owner—an entire business.
Freelancers who get into it with the perspective of an employee often get lazy and inconsistent in their work. They start with enthusiasm and excitement for the prospects ahead of the, but because they have nobody to manage them, they naturally return to their baseline emotions and habits.
This complacency inevitably leads to a loss of interest in growth, and maybe even a decline in the quality of their work. Any clients a freelancer already has will likely go another direction if they sense this.
On the other hand, a freelancer with an employee perspective may go the exact opposite direction and hyper-fixate on one aspect of their business, leaving others to fend for themselves. They might get focused on a project and neglect their sales and outreach tasks. Then, once the project is finished, there’s nothing to take its place. This is the cause of the dreaded “feast or famine” cycle.
A freelancer who runs into these traps may easily become overwhelmed by the stress and return to the 9-5. Worse—they might just endure the misery of their own prison with no plans to escape it.
Fortunately, developing the correct perspective is the cure for all of these problems.
Developing the perspective of a business
Entrepreneurs often say that they wear different hats in their business. This is a much more useful metaphor than you might think. Here’s a quick exercise for you:
What are the different hats you need to wear in your freelance practice? For me, I most often wear the hats of the:
- Creative director
- UI/UX designer
- WordPress developer
- Account executive
- Sales development representative
- Business development representative
There are other hats I have to wear sometimes, such as that of the accountant—but I usually only wear these hats on specific occasions such as tax time, so I don’t worry about them until I’m required to and simply rely on good habits, such as detailed record keeping.
These are the roles I fill that move the needle on my business goals.
First, there are the essential roles that allow me to provide my actual service. The creative director makes high-level creative decisions. The copywriter produces the content. The UI/UX designer designs the website, and the developer builds it out and deploys it.
Then, there are the support roles that allow me to find and retain clients. The SDR and BDR roles allow me to reach out to new prospects and book appointments with the account executive (also me), who then closes the account and services it to ensure the client is happy.
Finding the work, and doing it. Those are my primary hats.
The key to running your freelance practice like a business is intentionally taking off and putting on those hats. You can do this by blocking out time each day, week or month to fulfill your different roles.
For example, I spend an hour a day working as an SDR/BDR. Even when my desk is filled with projects, I spend time finding and meeting with new clients to keep it that way. Sometimes I have a wait list, and it feels awkward asking for someone’s business when you’re not ready to fulfill it immediately. But clients are almost always alright with that. Good things are worth waiting for.
Additionally, I spend a few hours each week writing content like this for my own business. My own freelance business is one of my accounts, and I spend time working on it. If it works for me, it’ll work for my clients—and vice versa.
So take care of yourself as if you were your own client. This is especially applicable if you’re in any sort of marketing-related field.
Identify the primary tasks that need to be accomplished by each of your roles. Not only with this help you fulfill your own orders without getting overwhelmed by the busy periods… but it will also set you up to outsource some of your roles down the road. Or all of them.
I don’t have any full time employees right now, but sometimes I’ll hire an outside contractor to help with my workload. I have policies, systems and SOPs in place so that whenever I bring somebody on, they can handle their assignments with minimal oversight.
This also helps ensure that I have to do as little corrective work as possible when they turn their assignments in.
Don’t neglect the future
Another reason freelancers tend to get bored or disenfranchised with their chosen career path is they forget why they got into it in the first place. It’s hard to find the motivation to send cold emails or make sales calls if it’s just a part of the day to day grind.
It’s important to set short term and long term goals for your business. Not only that, but an overarching vision is a priceless asset.
Set your goals and work backwards from them to create plans for their actualization. Work your plans in your business, and ensure the tasks you fulfill in each of your roles is in alignment with those plans.
Don’t worry if your vision changes from year to year, or even day to day. Just don’t forget to revisit your goals periodically and ensure they’re still aligned with your vision as it evolves.
For more reading on setting powerful goals and staying motivated with them, I’d recommend reading Sell Or Be Sold by Grant Cardone.
What happens when you treat yourself as a business
You make more money,
You make more money because you earn more and better clients.
You earn more and better clients because you do better work.
Do this correctly, and eventually you’ll earn the privilege of enjoying one of two options:
Either you can turn your freelance practice into a small business by hiring people to fulfill (and expand on) your roles.
OR you can take more of your time to enjoy other aspects of life without reducing your income.
And at the end of the day, that’s what success is all about. It’s not about money, toys, prestige or respect. It’s about freedom. And he who has the most freedom is he who has the most options.
Stay hungry, friend.