(Art credit: Kathryn Sheldon)
It’s that time of year again, for those of us who celebrate winter holidays. You’re likely plotting presents to give to your family and friends. Have you ever thought about what you might give yourself as a freelancer?
Though freelancers come in all shapes, industries, and sizes, these year-end self-care tips can help you reframe your freelance business to work for you individually.
Get in a giving mood
Once the holidays roll around, start thinking about what it would look like to invest in your business for the new year. Here are four best practices to try annually:
Plan to level up. What will help you offer higher-quality services next year? For me, this means finally getting a business email and a calendar tool. For you, that might be a web revamp, new paid tools, or a contract review.
Show reciprocity. Building a network of like-minded freelancers is one of the most reliable ways to get client referrals. For example, if a fellow freelancer is overloaded, doesn’t provide the service requested, or doesn’t have experience with your niche, they may pass a project to you. Of course, to get referrals, you should also give them. Consider: Are there any leads you can refer to others?
Send loyal clients a gift. When clients feel valued, they’re more likely to continue booking your time and skills, i.e. a gift to your clients is a gift to yourself. Sending a bottle of wine or some holiday treats is a great way to retain clients, and to make sure you have a current address on file
Give yourself a raise. Being a business owner means coming to terms with the fact that no one will give you a raise if you don’t. That said, you’ll do yourself a big favor to notify clients well in advance. Be clear about the rate change and date of effect. You don’t need to mention a reason for the raise, but if it motivates you to have one, it makes sense to raise rates with cost of living, when your services are in demand, and when you’ve made investments to level up your skills.
The gift of preparation
One of the best ways to ease into a restful holiday is to set deadlines for all remaining work and boundaries around when you’re out of office (OOO) well ahead of time.
Sign off with your clients. Let clients know when you’ll be OOO, ask if you can take anything off their plates in the new year, and set expectations for when you’ll send over current deliverables and follow up on upcoming ones. If you like to share relevant holiday greetings, schedule their send ahead of time.
Finish your work early. Set yourself up for success by planning ahead. What do you need to finish and by when? What is your hard deadline for closing your laptop? This isn’t just a way to meet our clients’ expectations; it’s also a commitment to reducing stress and last-minute work whenever possible.
Be firm about your off time. Set an automated email response and whatever you do, resist the urge to respond to messages while OOO. Most of the time, your client’s emergency is not your emergency...unless they agree to a rush fee that makes it worth your while.
Permission to let go of what doesn’t serve you
Almost no one freelances long-term without a love of the work, but we often forget how crucial keeping our inner employee happy is to the sustainability of our business.
Say goodbye to bad clients. You don’t deserve a constant barrage of messages, unnecessarily critical feedback, or to chase clients to pay you month after month. Remember that letting go of the seeming “security” of a bad client often pays dividends in peace of mind.
Go after clients you want. What’s more, letting go of stressful or toxic clients frees up your time to find better ones. Too often, we take what we’re given instead of going after what we want. What has your bad client taught you about what you want? Make a list of potential clients that fit the bill, and reach out in the new year once their budgets have renewed.
Leave the office behind. OOO should mean more than sitting in the other room. If you can, get far away from your day job. Whether you invest in a day trip or an extended road trip, give yourself space so you think fondly of your non-ergonomic chair upon your return. (On second thought, maybe let go of that, too.)
The gift of support
Though owning a freelance business can feel isolating, if there’s anything Freelancers Union stands for, it’s that we’re all in it together. We can all use various kinds of support at different times:
A freelancer community. There are a variety of free and paid freelancer communities, including something for everyone’s tastes and availability. Aside from the opportunity to get and give advice, the opportunity to connect with others who understand you is invaluable.
Offloading over-capacity. Once you get to a point where you can’t handle the amount of work coming your way, consider looking into hiring a subcontractor or Virtual Assistant (VA). Freelance communities can help extend your network and find the perfect person for you.
Business coach. Many freelancers benefit from engaging a coach, who can help you get clear on your goals, roadblocks, and next steps. Ask your network for a referral!
Therapy. When you are the face of your business, the emotional lines can get blurry. Thankfully, therapy has gone online with the rest of the world, making it that much more accessible. I’ve personally engaged a counselor who specializes in working with expats, and it’s made a world of difference.
The gift of time
If there’s one thing we could all use more of, it’s time. Thankfully, you’re the boss of yours - even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
Set new priorities that give you joy. How do you want to spend your time in the new year? Maybe you’d like to dedicate one morning a week towards learning time. Perhaps you’ll only take calls one day a week. Maybe you even plan to take Fridays off. Yes, you can do that. Lots of freelancers do.
Try a new easy, daily habit. Do you want to create before you consume? Try 750 words or a daily doodle prompt. More mindful? Try Yoga with Adriene or a 5-minute meditation you can do anywhere. The key is to keep it short and easy so you can build a habit (which takes at least 2 months).
Don’t stress if you mess up. I know as much as anyone it can be tough to stick with these things. If you make a mistake, remember that you get to wake up every day and try again.
‘Tis the season of giving
The year-end holidays are a time of reflection for many freelancers. Yet the most important gift you can give yourself as a business owner is the permission to - yes - slow down and take the time you need to rest. I like to tell my clients some tongue-in-cheek version of, “My really cool boss allowed me to take off until (date). Yes, my boss is me.”