It seems to be the norm for most freelancers to work into all hours of the night, and even on weekends, simply to meet deadlines. Sleep is foregone, social lives take a back seat and any hope of maintaining a normal family existence dissipates into thin air. As a freelance copywriter, I’ve often found myself in this position, but it’s something I now work extremely hard to prevent and a place I won’t go back to again.
It’s obvious as to why these situations arise and equally as obvious as to why it’s so difficult to avoid them as a freelancer:
- You don’t want to lose out on any potential business because your income is not set. There is a fear that you won’t receive any opportunities after this one, so you cannot ever say no
- You also want to keep your clients happy because of the above point. Any clients you do have are gold
So more often than not, freelancers will accept any and all projects that come their way, regardless of whether they have the capacity to handle them or not. With over ten years of experience in freelance writing I can tell you that this is the worst possible decision you can ever make for yourself and your clients, and I’ll tell you why.
Life Is Too Short
There you have it, in a nutshell. At the risk of sounding blunt, you could be hit by a rogue taxi tomorrow and you could die. Done. Over. None of your deadlines would be met and your clients would simply have to make do. Would you really want to look back on your days and remember an existence that sapped the living soul out of you? Yes, you need to build a repertoire and yes, you need an income, but if you have to work all day and night to make it then you’re either living way beyond your means or you’re not charging enough for your services rendered. Both of which can be very easily rectified. Of course, you could be a workaholic, but that’s another story entirely.
The whole reason freelance life is so attractive is because it gives you the freedom to live your life the way you want to – on your terms, by your hours. So why when you’ve been given this incredible opportunity would you stifle any possible hope of being free by tying yourself down to a desk and laptop for your most precious waking hours?
Your Work Will Fail
If not today, then perhaps tomorrow or the next day, but ultimately it will happen if you bite off more than you can chew… your work will fail. You will either fall apart (trust me, it happens and it’s not pretty) because the human body cannot survive on coffee alone, or you won’t be able to meet your deadlines. The quality of your work will also start to fall flat as you find yourself too tired or rundown to give it your full attention. As a freelance copywriter, there are three areas in my work where tiredness and lack of concentration start to show:
- Typos – ridiculously silly ones
- Spelling mistakes – I have been so tired before that I made mistakes between my “there” and “their” – no jokes! I’m even embarrassed to admit that!
- Context starts to slide
Then you have to ask yourself… was it worth it?
I know many people who say they work well under pressure, and I do too. But pressure is very different to stretching your basic human functioning. You can still be working under pressure after having had a decent night’s sleep and a healthy meal that wasn’t in front of your laptop. You have this incredible vessel that carries you through your every waking moment that houses all your necessary bits and pieces and keeps the machine turning. The only thing you have to do in return is look after it.
So here are a few ways to get more value out of your time as well as help you manage your freelance business more effectively.
Don’t Be Afraid To Say No
As difficult as this sounds, you can say no and there will be other opportunities. If you’re really talented at what you do, people will either wait or they’ll come back. Often deadlines aren’t really set in stone and they can be moved, so if you’re really the guy or gal a business wants for their project, they will work around you. When you have to turn down a project, say something like:
“Thank you so much for this opportunity, but unfortunately I don’t have the capacity to help you at this stage. Please do stay in touch and consider me for future projects.”
It’s actually also quite liberating to say no. It reminds you that you have power and that you should wield it to create a space that matches your work and living needs.
Show Unruly Clients The Door
This is vital. There will always be those clients who think that just because they are giving you a sum of money, they can control the way you conduct yourself, your time and your work. You are offering a service for that money so they don’t own you and they should never get more than what they are paying for, much as they might try.
Don’t let clients boss you around and make your work situation a misery. If you’re not enjoying working with them… show them the door and refer to my first point above – life is too short! If you’re working ethically, you’re dedicated and you are firing them for the right reasons, then new and better clients will come knocking on your door soon afterwards.
Minimise The Need For Face To Face Meetings
Stop it! This is so unnecessary! We live in a digital world, people! Let’s use these advantages properly and reduce the time spent in cars and listening to people who love the sound of their own voices. Charge for meetings, make it known that it’s not something you usually indulge and if you do need to have them then make sure there is a set agenda and stick to it.
Monthly reporting meetings and feedback sessions are a great way to touch base with your clients, reassure them that everything is on track and also to tackle any delicate issues that are perhaps not well handled via mail or chat.
Use Other Freelance Copywriters To Handle Overflow
Make sure you have a few reliable compadres on standby to help you when the going gets tough. If you do find yourself in a position where you are stretched too thin and you’re about to miss your deadlines, send some of your work to someone you trust to get the job done properly.
Give Yourself Some Daily Downtime
It may sound obvious, but I am terrible at managing my time and sometimes forget to give myself a break. You need to separate productive time from free time within the workplace. To me, free time is the reading of articles on the web, checking emails and doing admin, making food, checking up on my social accounts, replying to Whatsapps etc. Even if these are related to work. They are not actual working hours. My productive hours involve actual copywriting work where I allow myself the opportunity to dive deep and really get stuck in.
On days where I get it right (it doesn’t always happen because I’m human and I accept that) I minimise social media, checking of emails and the checking of my phone long enough to actually make some progress. Once I’ve actually achieved something that I can tick off my to-do list, I give myself a decent half hour or so to go through mails and everything else where I don’t need to feel the guilt of doing just that.
Clients will also wait that extra hour for your reply. They won’t think you’ve fallen off the planet if you don’t reply immediately and they’re not necessarily sitting around waiting for you before they can carry on with their lives.
Being a freelance copywriter is possibly one of the best gifts I have ever given myself and it gives me the opportunity to work from anywhere (literally). But it has also trapped me more than I could ever have known because I wasn’t following these ways of living and I wasn’t owning my power as a professional.
These small and simple changes are easy to implement if you set your mind to an end goal that matches a healthy work life balance. Do it for yourself. Your life is so worth it!
Thanks Unsplash for the pic.