Freelancing is a love/hate relationship, and it comes with its problems.
There are days I wake up, energized and ready for the day and the freedom freelancing brings. And then there are days I want to pull my hair out, stuff said hair into every orifice of my laptop, throw said laptop out the window, and repeat said process seventeen times over.
From a macro level, I’m grateful I get to build websites for clients. It sure beats sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week. Instead, I work from home. I spend more time with my two boys. I dabble on other side projects. It’s a nice setup.
But yes, freelancing has its days, full of problems. It’s not always the glamorous life we make it out to be. Clients get demanding. A project falls through. You get fired. A client doesn’t pay you.
Somedays I wish I had a cubicle wall just so I can bang my head against it.
If you’ve taken the freelancing career route — or are seriously considering it — know that there are going to be tough days.
When those difficult days come, how you approach adversity will determine your success as a freelancer. That’s why I recommend having a simple plan in place ahead of time.
First, recognize the funk
And I’m not talking about the fun, rhythmic dancing kind. I’m talking about the funk where you wallow around the house for hours (or days) because you’ve hit some form of adversity in your freelancing.
There are early warning signs that a funk is about to come on:
- Procrastinate more
- Avoiding your laptop and/or checking email
- You have this nagging feeling in your chest that you want to give up
Being aware and acknowledging that you are in a funk is the first step. Don’t beat yourself up, this is just your brain coping with additional stress.
Once you are aware, it’s time to handle the funk in a healthy manner.
Second, find a healthy activity
This might take some experimenting and tweaking, but what are small things you enjoy doing?
Do you enjoy little excursions to the park? Or walks around your neighborhood? Do you find reading a book for 30 minutes helps you to feel better? Or 30 minutes of weight lifting?
Whatever it is, find a healthy activity as a distraction from your funk. Take time to reset your brain and come back to your work when you are ready.
For me, when I find myself procrastinating or dreading any kind of work, I log into my Fitness Blender account and work out. After a shower, I feel incredibly better and in a much healthier mindset to tackle any challenge.
But what happens if a healthy distraction is not enough and it’s critical you complete your work?
Third, just do one thing
I have one sign sitting on a shelf above my desk. Its message is simple:
Do something, anything.
When I sit down to my computer and would rather scroll mindlessly through Twitter, I see the sign. Do something, anything. It serves as a reminder that I don’t need to do everything, just one thing.
The majority of the time, if I do just one thing, that one thing leads to another thing, then another, and another, and so forth.
The goal here is to overcome inertia with a small push forward.
Pick one thing and do it. Forget about prioritizing, it doesn’t matter. Sit down and do the one thing you can do at this moment.
If you have a full inbox of unread emails. Start with one. Pick one. Read it. Respond to it. Then decide, Can I do one more?
Usually, the inertia is harder than the task itself.
Once you find yourself back in the groove, then it’s time to look ahead.
Last, start thinking about the long term again
You encountered some problems in your freelancing journey. Instead of spiraling out of control, you took your dog for a walk and listened to the much superior Stephen Fry narrated Harry Potter audiobook. You came back home, opened up your computer, and made the change to the website your client asked for.
Feeling better, you tacked a few other things off of your to-do list, salvaging what was almost a lost day of work.
First, some self-love. You did it. While others shut down in the face of adversity you took it head-on and made something of it. Even if it was responding to one email, that is no small feat. Acknowledge your efforts.
Second, it’s never a bad time to remind yourself of the long game. You are a freelancer for a specific reason. Maybe you are like me and escaped the rat race. (If you haven’t figured that part out yet, here’s 3 easy steps.) Perhaps you aspire to build a larger agency. Maybe, and this does happen, you simply enjoy doing the work.
Whatever your reason, step away from the short term wins and ask yourself what does long term success look like. Is it more income? More freedom? Better clients?
Your long term goals will naturally have adversity tied to them as well but on a larger scale. What better time is there to put a plan in place for long term adversity than after defeating the short term kind?
You have what it takes
The next time a client responds with a nasty quip or when a project proposal doesn’t go as planned, know that it comes with the job.
There are days that freelancing is not fun and you’ll want to quit.
But then there are the days you overcome the challenges and end up on top. Those days make it worthwhile to keep going.
If you are new to freelancing, it’s best to have a plan in place now for how you will deal with the adversity. If you’re an experienced freelancer, the same still applies.
Learn to recognize when adversity puts you in a funk. Reset with healthy activities. Return to your work and do just one thing to overcome inertia. Take the momentum and think long term.
If you can keep doing that, you can overcome the problems, and you’re well on your way to a successful freelancing career.
Free 10-day email course: Want something more than your 9-to-5? Learn how to build and launch a successful 5-to-9 instead.