Today is the day you start your freelancing journey, congratulations!
As you might expect, freelancing requires a totally different mindset. It is NOT pure freedom because someone still needs to cash in to live, right? Nonetheless, this is your greatest opportunity to balance your life the way you want, whenever you want… and this is great.
In freelancing, there is one ugly truth: your time is your money.
When you were an employee, you were paid a fixed wage to accomplish whatever over a defined period. It means you could be unproductive in the first two-third of the period, and produce high results in the last third so as to meet the performance requirement. You were doing just fine and you were paid more or less the same amount of money.
However, most freelancers receive a paycheck relative to the amount of hours they put in. That means that:
1) each time you underestimate deadlines, you end up working for free;
2) each time you feel you know how to perform a task - and you prove yourself wrong, you end up working for free;
3) each time you get sick or you burn yourself out for a day or two, you end up working (almost) for free;
To preserve a worth living lifestyle, there are 3 best practices.
1. Setup your work for success
An easy way to put yourself out of danger is to ask your client why they want to take the road and where is the meeting point.
In clear, ask what the business goal is and what the expected output of your work should look like.
If you worked for corporates, you probably encountered projects that had no clear purpose for the company whatsoever, unrealistic asks for resources and ill-defined measures of success. This recipe for disaster happens more often than you think… but it won’t happen to you, right?
No it won’t, and we’ll make sure about that.
First, a good business goal is a statement that takes into account an objective, an indication of means employed, and a clear measure of success.
- "I want to improve my company reputation by gathering my client executives to an event around sustainability and digital health as measured by 50% of the attendees advocating on social media post-event that we are a forward-thinking company on this matter."
- "I want to improve the user experience on my production of tabby sweatshirts by changing the core design component to match it with my brand core identity as measured by 90% of the users feel more attached to our tabby sweatshirts after the release (vs. prior the release) when answering our annual survey."
- "I want to reduce my company's technical debt by improving my allocation of developer staff and budget as measured by 12 weeks saved over the whole scope of work."
If one day your client tells you something like this, you’re hell working with a pro.
Most of the time you’ll need to drive the conversation until that point so as to clarify the business goal and then your role (coordinating the event, sketching the new interface, supervising team leaders, etc.)
Second, as clients sometimes don’t know what they want or misscommunicatin slips in, you also want to clarify the expected output.
Depending on your specialty, an expected output can be anything:
- a drawing with boxes and fake charts, if you do some data visualization;
- the backbone of an article (structure, main keywords, etc.), if you are a blogger;
- a list of the technical environment and the adequate softwares integrations, if you are a software engineer;
- the sketches of your designs, if you are marketer;
- a list of they key accounts you'll reach out first, if you are business developer.
By minimizing the distance between what is expected and what the reality could be, you make sure: first, your customer and yourself are aligned on what the content of the work is and what it is not; second, it enables you to anticipate a variety of obstacles in order to share a more accurate estimated timesheet (see below); third, you position yourself as both a doer and a thinker. Consultancy pays usually more, so you kill two birds with one stone here.
2. Insert buffers in your timesheet
Well-seasoned freelancers usually buffer 20% of their mission, depending on the length of their mission and on their specialty (up to 50% for 1 or 2 days of work - down to 10% for longer missions).
In case you use this buffer, your client had budgeted it upfront. It gives you two benefits: first, it shows you how much money they have on the table for your mission (and perhaps, how critical is your mission for the company, hence it is a long-term leverage); second, it minimizes your chances to overpromise and underdeliver, ie. to disappoint your client.
In case of upside, you really enjoy three things: first, you have over delivered on your promise so it’s your choice whether to surprise your client (“since I needed 2 days instead of 3, you get a rebate on the invoice”); second, you gain your customer’s trust and, should they need your service again, they’ll call you back; third, you get the personal satisfaction of meeting your personal deadlines and some extra-asks (a client testimonial for your website - for instance).
This tip is simple, yet it’s incredibly efficient.
As the saying goes: if you do something more than twice, you should try to automate it.
Remember that your time is your money. So try to split your workflow into four parts (standard vs. personalized work, and repetitive vs. one time only tasks), and automate the bits that are standard and repetitive.
More broadly, we would recommend you fill in this matrice with your skills.
By doing this short exercise, you focus on value created for you customer and value created for yourself. Indeed, it saves you time from bad buffers, it frees yourself time to skill up… and maybe more for fun?
For example, at tabby, we acknowledged hundreds of tabs clogged our browser view. We were forced to delete many of them, many times a day, either one by one or in bulk. No tab manager really worked. We therefore decided to improve Chrome as our working interface. We did so by removing tabs automatically (with machine-learning rules for full immersion) to gain more focus, by re-ordering our tabs in our favorite order to be more efficient.
As you see, removing tabs is a repeatable and standard task with low value being created so we automated it. Tabby improved our efficiency and our digital working environment: mission accomplished!
Try to do this little exercise with your own skillset. In all cases, remind yourself to work smart and not work hard to keep your work-life balance in check.
Each time you can corner your skillset and automate it, you'll thank yourself in the long term.