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.
When I was contemplating leaving my full-time job to become a freelancer, I thought all I really needed to make it work was time. And, of course, I expected to have plenty of time once the nine-to-five was no longer a priority. My plans were to have my newly rebranded website up in a couple of weeks and to have new clients knocking on my virtual door in another two weeks. I thought I’d be able to keep producing a ton of good work constantly and successfully, without any hindrances, because now I had all this time on my hands.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
As I struggled to make real progress in those early days of building my business up from the ground, I realized something vital—time is not the only necessary ingredient in the recipe for success. I was missing one of the most important tools I needed to go forward in my new venture: a mindset appropriate for the life of a freelancer.
Losing the Employee Mindset
As we go through life, certain ideas take hold of our minds and create a set of attitudes that help us interpret or respond to life in a certain way. After years of working as an employee, I’d collected my own set of attitudes that, whether I want to or not, created a mindset fit for an employee. When I decided to head out on my own to build the freelancing company of my dreams, I unwittingly took this mindset with me and tried to use my preconceptions to help me with the task at hand. Of course, it didn’t work. I was like a handyman trying to use a plastic toy hammer to drive a nail into a wall—not totally impossible, just not very effective.
It started to dawn on me that there were certain ideas that needed to be thrown out and other ideas that needed to be adapted in order to make my freelancing efforts truly successful and enjoyable. Of course, not everything I’ve learned before is now inapplicable. In fact, most ideas are still as valuable as before. However, there are certain differences between working as an employee in a company and freelancing that need to be addressed, understood, and accepted.
These ideas are different for every person, as every person processes information and experiences differently. For me, it comes down to these three concepts:
Individuality is the fuel of soloprenuership. This is the one idea that still keeps blowing my mind: Personal preferences not only matter in a small business, but are one of its main sources of energy. This idea strikingly contradicts the mindset of an employee. In a company of any size, the boss’s preference is what ultimately matters and the ability of an employee to achieve their management’s vision is what’s most prized. However, in a small creative business, the owner’s vision is what drives it forward. No one else truly cares about this business as much as the business owner, nor are they able to see the end goals as well. A soloprenuership is most often a one-man show; therefore, it’s inherently connected to that entrepreneur’s personality, goals, work ethic, and even morals. I found I needed to consciously adapt this new thought for myself, as I kept feeling I needed someone’s permission or approval to go forward with my ideas.
Funny, right? It was, and sometimes still is, counterintuitive to trust my gut in certain choices I need to make about the overall direction of my business, strategies, and creativity. However, the more I work on establishing my company, the more I understand that my individuality plays a key role in its health. And it’s a wonderfully freeing thought.
Your time can be more your own. While both a responsibility and a perk, having the ability to set your own schedule is another fundamental aspect of being a freelancer. In contrast, an employee’s week is mainly governed by five eight-hour sets of work time. These work times are strictly kept and cannot be altered, except for emergencies, appointments, or other special circumstances. The employee has to work with the schedule instead of the schedule working with the employee.
I have the duty and the privilege of telling myself when I should work. Being suddenly free of the “nine-to-five” can lead to working really hard all the time to try and prove that you’re still a deserving individual. It can also lead to barely ever working. In the months since I’ve started freelancing, I’ve done both. And I’ve found that both scenarios are very counterproductive to the growth of a business.
I’m now trying to change this by creating a schedule that works with my strengths and weaknesses. I try to consider my personality, my most productive times, and my other commitments. I try not to get overwhelmed when things don’t go as quickly as I originally planned and learn from these planning mistakes. I adjust my plans to find a system that I can maintain and that can become a source of sustainable productivity as weeks, months, and years of freelancing go by. The thought that I can now create a schedule that I work best in is another new and baffling concept for me.
The wait is over
Thinking back to the time when I was working full-time, I remember having the feeling, on most mornings, that I just needed to go to work to fulfill my duty, and then, when I’d get home or during the weekend, I could really start living my life to the fullest. Not only did this mindset leave me discouraged, it also caused me to sometimes feel dissatisfied as I brought it with me on my freelancing journey. Thoughts like, “Once I bring my monthly income to this level, I’ll be able to relax a little and live,” or, “Once I’m established as a freelancing designer with a consistent flow of projects, I’ll begin to really enjoy this,” would frequently cross my mind.
However, I began to understand that every part of the freelancing journey is still the best place for me. Even when I’m struggling to find work and have to sacrifice certain luxuries, I realize that I’m happy. Even when things don’t go as planned or as smoothly as I envisioned them, I realize that I’d rather be doing this than anything else. What I want most is to have a working lifestyle that offers creative freedom and flexibility. Having that, I have everything.
The truth is, the wait is over. I can stop waiting and start living the dream.
When I grasp this thought, everything becomes so much easier. It’s no longer weird to work in the middle of the night if it’s needed. Nor is it that big of a struggle to go an extra mile for a specific project. Realizing that I’m where I belong helps me navigate the uncertain waters of soloprenuership enjoyably and adventurously.
The right mindset for the job
Any successful outcome must start with the mindset right for the job and these three priorities are what help me refocus my aim every time I feel disoriented in the direction I’m taking, when I’m not sure whether I’m doing the right thing for my business, or when my efforts seem futile. If you haven’t yet thought about what might be hindering your progress, in whatever sphere you’re in, check the concepts that make up your mindset and decide if they are still the best companions in your ventures.
I'm a graphic designer, illustrator and the founder of Useful Arts. I started Useful Arts to be able to utilize all that I have learned while working for a variety of industries, such as education, make-up, and even finance, to uniquely solve visual puzzles using illustrative design.