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How to be kind to yourself as a freelancer when times get tough

As a long-time consultant, I’ve learned a lot of lessons such as:

  • Hire an accountant.
  • Set up a designated office space, if you work at home.
  • Working in your PJs IS all it’s cracked up to be.

But, one not-so-fun lesson I continue to learn over and over again is: Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

I remember when I started my freelance PR and writing business, my biggest fear was not finding enough work. Well, that didn’t happen right away… but over the years, there have definitely been times of feast and famine.

So, what do I mean about the chickens? As a freelance consultant, I work with many different clients. Sometimes, they’ll say things like:
“Wow, this new year is going to bring a lot of opportunities our way and we can’t wait to work with you on many of them.”
“We’re writing a marketing plan for client X and a big piece of that is PR.”

So, you think, “Cool, this is going to be my biggest year ever!” But then, none of it comes to pass. This is a hard lesson, because you want to have confidence that the work will be flowing steadily at all times. However, this isn’t always the case. And, when you make choices to turn down other work based on jobs you think are yours, this can be even worse.

While as freelancers, we must make choices about which projects to accept — and some projects turn out to be a better fit than others — it’s especially tough when opportunities you banked on don’t pan out. And, if you make enough of the wrong choices when it comes to gigs, you may find yourself in a spot you don’t want to be in.

So, if the worst happens and you counted on some projects that didn’t come to pass, then what? Well, you pick yourself and you go on. (After a pity party, of course — you’re allowed to feel sorry for yourself in this scenario. Maybe even grab a friend who can console you and tell you how awesome you are.) You go back to what you know has worked for you and you plow ahead, full force.

I was recently talking with a younger consultant who was telling me about some of the ups and downs she’s been through in this first year of her solo business. As we chatted, it occurred to me that it doesn’t even matter how many years each of us has been in business because some of the challenges you face as a freelancer never change. You hope you learn lessons —but sometimes, things can still go south and what you counted on may not be how things actually turn out.

Here are some tips I shared with my consultant friend—maybe they’ll help you, too, when the going gets tough:

  1. Get your support system ready: Build yourself a support network of other friends/colleagues who can help lift your spirits when things don’t go your way (and inevitably, this will happen).

  2. Take a “sanity” day: I know as a freelancer, we sometimes think of our needs last, always putting our clients first. But, there are times when we need to just take a day for ourselves. When you own your own business, you don’t have vacation or sick days—you just have to create them. Taking a day off can help you “re-set” and be ready to get out there again.

  3. Change it up: Attend a new networking event or check out a group you’ve been wanting to join. Being around others will help you get your mind off your troubles—and it may lead to a valuable new connection.

  4. Treat yourself: Even if it’s just your favorite coffee or a long walk, be kind to yourself—treat yourself to something you really enjoy. That will certainly help you feel a little better and make it easier to push on.

  5. Remind yourself nothing is a sure thing: Even if you had a full-time job, you can be laid off or fail to get assigned to the project you really want. So, don’t beat yourself up too much.

  6. Catch up on your marketing: If you find yourself with some free hours, why not work on all those marketing initiatives you have on your “to do” list? Things like social media, blogging, updating your web site and freelancer profiles…you get the idea.

  7. Count your blessings: Even if you’re going through a low point, remember why you started freelancing in the first place. Intangibles like the freedom, the flexibility and the confidence it can bring. Are there times when it feels like the bad outweighs the good? Sure. But, don’t forget, there are plenty of perks that come from working for yourself.

Freelancing is a great way of life, but we all have our down days. Just be prepared to ride it out and wait for the sun that always comes after the storm.

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Michelle Garrett Michelle Messenger Garrett is a public relations consultant, speaker and award-winning writer with more than 20 years of agency, corporate, startup and Silicon Valley experience.