3 tips for dealing with new freelance job jitters

Jan 19, 2018

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.

Starting a new job can be one of the ten most stressful events in a professional life according to some experts. As freelancers, we start a new job every three weeks or three months and sometimes two at the same time.

Some freelance gigs let you work remotely or set your own hours or come and go. I’ve worked a lot of project management jobs and that means ass-in-the office all day every day. That’s the kind of work we’re talking about here.

You have to make a good impression; you have to do a good job. You have to hit your deadlines and secure your next client while you are satisfying the current one and you have to hope against hope they all pay on time while still showing up every day. And then there’s the whole new people thing, which can be tough if you are shy like me.

So what can you do to keep the knots out of your stomach and the panic out of your head and your heart and your hands that want to sweat or shake or strangle the placement agency rep who can’t seem to find your invoice?

1. Set The Standards Day One

On your first day in the office, when you walk in and shake hands and get a bunch of names and internal jargon tossed at you, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself thusly: “I am (your name) and I am here to do this, this, and this. Nice to meet you.”

That way you are setting your expectations. Other duties as assigned is for full-time employees. If you want to accept additional responsibilities, that’s up to you. But it is important to establish your mission and your methods and your limitations at the very beginning of the gig.

2. Personal Totem or Security Blanket (or Teddy Bear)

When I was a kid and I didn’t want to go to school I would sneak an action figure into my backpack and even if I wouldn’t take it out during the day, I felt comforted by its presence. The Kenner Yoda was my favorite, he could fit in my pocket.

Take something that is yours to work with you every day. Leave it in your bag or put it in your desk but NEVER LEAVE IT IN THE OFFICE. Freelance jobs can end in a heartbeat, and if your favorite cactus or Beanie Baby or cat picture is up there it might be a pain to get it back.

I wear hats. Nice ones but they are my little felt friends and I bring them with me and take them home and tilt them down over my eyes on the subway. I have a friend who wears special socks when she’s nervous about a new gig.

3. Chill Out

You are a freelancer. Think about the word: Free and Lance. That means you are free to drift or dream (or starve) but you are in control of your own destiny as much as any professional is. There is a lot of comfort and security associated with a “full- time” or “permanent” position but those words are misleading.

Yes, “full-time” sounds like 9 - 5 but it can also mean all day every day if the position and the project demand it. What are you going to do: quit? And “permanent”, well, a lot of employers don’t use that phrase anymore because anyone can get fired or laid off or “furloughed” at any time. And lance? That just means you’re a badass. Like a knight.

Like a cowboy. Have Skills, Will Travel.

Working freelance is hard. But so is working as a dedicated employee. So is life. If you can find any little thing or thought or a song you sing in your head to make you feel better in a stressful environment, go with it. And I’d like to hear about it. Please respond to this post with the tricks you use to get through the office-hopping heebie-jeebies.

Todd Cobb is a freelancer, writer, producer, project manager, and content strategist living in Brooklyn, New York. His book The Ghosts of Portland was published by Schiffer Books in 2008 and The Big Crazy was published by The New Pulp Library in 2016.