Saturday, February 2, 2013

Making a Living Part 3- Finding Balance

Most aspiring freelancers tend to err toward one of two extremes: The over-achiever or the slacker.

 The over-achiever allows themselves to be pulled in too many directions at once, immersing themselves in work and rarely coming up for air, until their friends vanish and their family threatens to disown them. This type of freelancer tends to burn out quickly and find themselves sinking into a depression. They may be successful financially for a time, but when the pressure becomes too much, they blow up, losing precious time to an emotional meltdown or worse, to depression and torpor, which can be very difficult to break out of once it takes hold.
The freelancer who tries to be everything to everyone will burn out fast.
Photo by Arron Jacobs
Most freelancers start out as this type, burning the midnight oil, convinced they must accept every single job that comes along, applying to every available entry on job sites. In my first few months of freelancing, this was me. In the span of about three months, I wrote three lengthy e-books, about 500 "descriptions" for a jewelry sales site, and wrote about 120 blog entries.

I attempted all of this while attending college full time. Then it caught up with me. The third e-book fell apart, and I lost the contract because I simply couldn't keep up with the client's deadlines. I got a lower grade than I wanted in my foreign-language class because I couldn't stuff one more syllable of Spanish into my over-crowded brain. I had to ask for an extension in another class. I learned the lessons of moderation and focus the hard way, by nearly burning out entirely.

 The Slacker is at the other extreme. This is the freelancer who assumes the work will magically get done while they go out for a long lunch with friends or an impromptu shopping trip. This type of freelancer might make a few half-hearted attempts before deciding that freelancing is a scam after all, and that no one makes a real living as a freelancer. They leave clients in the lurch and let everyone down, including themselves.
This type of freelancer needs to recognize their own tendencies toward slacking off, and take the time to closely examine their commitment to freelancing.

Remember, freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint.
 The successful freelancer will recognize his or her own tendencies. It's important to make a firm commitment to keeping a reasonable schedule, which includes breaks and time to socialize, as well as a reasonable number of hours for client work. The beginning freelancer should consider focusing on one or two types of jobs, and play to his or her strengths. Early successes build confidence, and in turn, confidence builds success.

Never forget that freelancing is a job, not an identity. Success or failure of a business can become a burden for some. While commitment to one's work is commendable and important to success, businesses fail every single day, by no fault of their owners. If your ego is too caught up in your work, it will be difficult to take the inevitable criticism from clients in a constructive light, or to make sound decisions regarding which jobs to accept and which to turn down.

Your time is valuable. In your quest to establish your freelance career, don't overlook this important concept!
 All this talk of finding balance and focus is well and good, but how do you do it? How do you choose which jobs to accept, which to turn down, and which to run from screaming as if they were the zombie apocalypse?
Here's a quick guideline:

1) Choose jobs that you know you can accomplish. Do you have experience with research? Blog entries and articles often require seeking out information. The ability to gather research and turn it into original writing is critical to bloggers. Data entry will usually require experience working in Excel, Access or other data-management programs. It's wise to inquire about the program you'll be expected to use as part of the application process.

2) Choose an hourly rate and stick to it. Don't allow yourself to get roped into a low-paying job unless the project is one you are very passionate about, or if it furthers your career somehow.  It might take some time to figure out your average turn-around time on a job. Consider starting out accepting fixed-price jobs, but keep close track of how long each one takes you, so that you have a good baseline for estimating prices. It won't take long to get a feel for your speed.

So there you have it, the very bare-bones basics of making a go at freelancing as a career. I hope this information helps you avoid a few of the steeper pitfalls as you begin this journey toward success!