I’ve done bits and pieces of freelance work throughout my whole working life, but I’ve only been 100% freelance, 100% of the time, for about three years.
Alongside the things that didn’t really surprise me (having no money, clients being confusing), there were a few things I learned about myself along the way that I hadn’t expected. I’ve found that freelancing as a process is as much about getting to know yourself as it is about actually doing the work.
1. There are certain days and times when you’re more productive, and they might not be when you’d expect.
Thursday’s a no-go for me.
I just seem to be really unmotivated on a Thursday, especially in the afternoon. I don’t know why, whether it’s because my brain is still stuck in the “nearly weekend!” mentality, or whether it wants a break after three productive days.
So now I don’t schedule the most important tasks for Thursdays, and I allow myself a bit of leeway that day.
I quite like doing a bit of work on Saturdays. It feels good to get stuff done (especially after the lack of doing things on Thursdays).
But not Sundays. Sundays are for sleeping, doing laundry, catching up on TV shows, and a huge space reserved in my diary that just says “CTFO”. (The first and last words are ‘chill’ and ‘out’.)
2. Your diet will probably go to shit.
No more lunches at work! No more buying those expensive burgers from the too-tempting place across the road, or long boozy team/client/company lunches!
That’s what I thought.
It’s true, too. But it doesn’t mean I suddenly started eating really healthily every day.
When you first start freelancing, you will have no money. This is a fact of freelancing life. It’s why it’s so important that you quit your day job to do something you actually like. Because it’s all to easy to come to hate something that’s taking all your time and your money.
You’ll become a friend to the dodgy part of the supermarket aisle where they put all the things they couldn’t sell during the day.
A bag of livers can’t taste too bad, right? (Wrong.)
You’ll start eating instant noodles, multipacks of crisps and all the things from the frozen section. Crappy pizza for 90p? Don’t mind if I do!
The good news is that this bit gets better, with a bit of work. Eventually you’ll have enough money to shop in the fruit aisle again, and you’ll learn the best places to eat cheaply and healthily in your area.
3. You will have some kind of reaction to not being around people all day.
For lots of freelancers, this takes the form of suddenly feeling really lonely.
Once you’ve got past the first few weeks of thinking “oh thank god Particularly Annoying Ex-Colleague can’t come over to my desk every five minutes anymore”, you may start to miss the interaction. Because when you’re freelancing, you don’t really get any, except with your clients, which doesn’t really count.
For me, this went the other way. I discovered (although I wasn’t hugely surprised) that I loved being alone all the time and swiftly forgot how to talk to people.
Nowadays I actually make myself go outside and speak to someone every day. I know, it’s weird that I have to do that. But I find it too easy to just work all day and not speak to another human.
4. You will occasionally spend money on things, to maintain your sanity, that other people will not understand.
Case in point: I got a cat.
She’s great. She’s all the company I need during the day, stops me from going totally stir-crazy, and makes me feel like I’m coming home to someone without having to come home to a human, which I wouldn’t want to do.
Financially, this didn’t make sense. I couldn’t really afford a cat.
But I decided that, as long as I put her needs before mine (and trust me, that happened a lot, especially in the early days), we’d be OK.
And we are. And I live – and work – so much better for having her around.
You might not get a pet. You might go out dancing, or travel somewhere, or join an amateur theatre group you don’t really have time for.
It won’t necessarily make sense to other people. But you know what you need to keep your head. Follow it.
Those were four things I learned, in any case.
What about you? What has freelancing taught you about yourself?