Freelancing can be a liberating career choice, but it comes with its challenges...
As the number of people opting to freelance continues to grow, the career choice is coming under greater scrutiny as a way of working. Google “freelancing” and “mental health” and you’ll find scores of blogs on the subject, as well as research from reliable sources.
For many, freelancing is an overwhelmingly positive experience. It can offer you freedom from restrictive schedules and overbearing office bureaucracy and the opportunity to choose the projects you work on. But it does come with its challenges.
Working from home without the camaraderie of a team can be isolating. Unpredictable fluctuations in the volume of work available can be stressful, and the pressures of saving for retirement can weigh heavily.
But there are things you can do to mitigate the risks and look after your mental well-being.
- Invest in yourself
This may require a bit of a mindset change, particularly if you’re used to the routine of a full-time permanent contract.
Investing in yourself is not just about the obvious things – regularly taking part in activities like training and networking, for example. It’s also about much smaller acts of self-care and maintenance. It’s very easy when freelancing to skimp on the essentials.
You may find yourself thinking, “I won’t get that new office chair, or that new computer, because they’re too expensive.” But remember, everything you invest in that improves your working experience also has the potential to improve your productivity and income.
- Manage yourself
The most obvious advantage of being a freelancer is that you’re your own boss. It’s the reason that many people take it up. The flip-side of this appealing aspect is that there’s no one to manage you… but you.
Take time out to reflect on your work and make sure you’re being as productive as possible. Put in place your own processes to help with that. Properly recording your finances is an essential one (the last thing you want in your life is an HMRC tax investigation).
Scheduling your work thoroughly in advance, especially if you have more than one client, can also help – even if you can’t always stick to your schedule.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you are achieving when there’s no one there to say “well done”…
- Appraise yourself (positively!)
Getting feedback as a freelancer can be difficult. Clients bring you in to do a job and most won’t factor in the time to give you a detailed assessment of your performance. Conversely, if you do receive negative comments it can feel particularly personal.
Get in the habit of giving yourself feedback regularly. One simple way to do this is to write down three things, big or small, that went well at the end of each day. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re achieving when there’s no one there to say “well done”, and this will help you to stay positive.
You can also identify things that need improving, but focusing on the positive is important, so limit that exercise to once a week at the most.
- Network yourself
This can be easier than you think, and doesn’t necessarily involve having to go to lots of industry events. Access to those has been made much easier by apps like Eventbrite and Meetup, so make sure you research your area and go for it if that’s your thing.
If you work remotely but have clients that are geographically close to you, the answer may be closer to home. You can always ask them if it would be possible to work in their offices every now and again, even if just for a few hours (perhaps combined with a meeting). The face-to-face interaction will go a long way to building your relationship with them and helping you feel a part of the team.
The increase in the number of freelancers has led to all sorts of collectives and organisations springing up to support the new ecosystem. One of the most established is IPSE. They offer memberships with a range of benefits and support for freelancers.
Leapers is a new initiative aimed at people who are actively shifting the way they work from the normal nine-to-five to something more flexible and autonomous. They offer a supportive community, projects on the mental health of independent workers, and tools to help you work better.
As the number of freelancers continues to rise, the culture around it will inevitably become more visible, and support structures more numerous. There’s never been a better time to consider working independently – or maximising the benefits that come with it.