Being a freelancer is awesome. There’s a reason so many of us are saying no to the traditional 9-5 life and choosing the road of self employment instead. From the lack of a ceiling on our earning potential, to the fact that we can shape and define our own routines, it’s a pretty awesome way to make a living. But we also have to wear many hats; the list of things we need to do each week to stay on top of our clients, finances, systems, and marketing strategies is enough to leave anyone feeling overwhelmed from time to time.
That’s where today’s exercise comes in.
After a year so far of some serious hustle, I’ve found myself feeling a little scattered and in need of a little time out to reevaluate things and touch base with my business and freelance life. Like with any job, sometimes it’s far too easy to just get stuck going through the motions, and I’ve put together an exercise to help me find some focus, clarity, and lose that scattered feeling once and for all. And if you’re struggling with that scattered feeling too, I’ve broken it down step by step below so you can take the time to get your freelance life together and touch base with where it is you want to go next.
1. Your Clients
Staying on top of our clients can be the biggest balancing act of them all. Finding that fine line between not overloading our capacity for how many clients we can work with at one time, and having enough clients on the books so we can keep a consistent stream of income coming in can be tough, and the only way to get it done is to stay on top of our client workload every step of the way.
On a spreadsheet, word document, Evernote note, or pen and paper if you’re old school, figure out the following things:
- How many clients do you currently have on the books?
- What are your deadlines/deliverables for each?
- How many upcoming clients do you have on the books?
- Do you have any clients with outstanding invoices?
- What’s your capacity for new clients? What’s your availability for the next 6 months - a year?
My best advice at this stage is to build a system that helps you to see your client workload as easy as possible. A spreadsheet is usually pretty handy - if you can break down each step for each and tick them off as you go, you can then make sure you stay on top of every part of your client process. And once one client ends you can rotate a new client into your system, meaning you’ll always work within your capacity too.
2. Your Website
Your website is your digital hub and store front and how you make a first impression to the world. It’s how people find out who we are, what we do, and how they can hire us. Websites are also never, ever, done; they need constant tweaking and updating to stay aligned with our brand and where we’re headed next. I don’t know about you, but website updates tend to always fall to the bottom of my to-do list (therefore they usually end up on my ‘can’t find enough time to get this done’ list) and I’ve realised recently that I have to prioritise getting my website together if I want to actually get it done.
Jennypurr has a redesign coming soon, but getting our website together doesn’t always mean starting things again from scratch - sometimes it just takes a few tweaks here and there to get it back on track. Here’s a post on getting your website together in 10 simple steps for when you’re ready to put aside the time to get it done.
3. Your Content
I may be a little biased about this step because I’m a content coach and could happily nerd out all day about all things content marketing, but I truly believe that content is hands down the best way we can market ourselves as freelancers, and build community around our work and our purpose too. The great thing though is that there are so many different ways to utilise and implement a content marketing strategy - maybe blog posts are your thing, or videos, or podcasts, or microblogging on Instagram. Content can be game changing, it’s how we share our ideas and methodology with our audience, and build authentic connections that lead into paying clients and lifelong brand ambassadors too. But to create game changing content we have to be purposeful, intentional, and think a little bigger than we have already done before.
Take the time to explore:
- Your current content outlets: where and how are you creating and sharing content online?
- What content has been the most effective for your brand so far? (think about the content clients reference when they tell you how they decided you were the freelancer for them)
- What content are you currently creating that feels like you’re going through the motions instead of bringing something exciting and engaging to the table? How can you bring this content back to life - or is it time to move on to something bigger and better?
- What content do you currently feel excited about creating? How can you channel your creative energy into creating the content you feel inspired to create?
- Your content strategy: what is your strategy when creating content? What relationship and connection are you trying to build with your audience? How does your content funnel back into your business goals?
We can’t build a successful freelancing career within a vacuum; we have to branch out, build connections, and tap into a community that can move our brands forward. Doing this alone is no way to live the freelance life; it can get crazy lonely, and if we spend too much time lost in our business without any outside support, we’ll find ourselves burnt out, uninspired, and ready to throw in the towel.
When we build a network, we open ourselves up to business growth that we wouldn’t be capable of alone. Our network is our support system, our social proof, and our opportunity to collaborate with game changing creatives too.
Ask yourself: am I making enough time for networking? Am I building community with others in my industry who I can connect with on a human and professional level? If you’re struggling to get this going, write down five people you’ve connected with so far online (even just in passing) that you’d like to pursue a connection with. Take it from there; reach out, say hi, organise a Skype date. Maybe even set up a mastermind group or a low-key brainstorming session - don’t be afraid to let others into your process and your behind the scenes.
5. Your Systems
With all those many hats that we have to wear as freelancers, we need systems to help us to stay organised and productive along the way. Systems are how we make sure everything gets done; client deadlines, turning enquiries into clients, collaborations, community building, implementing strategy, staying on top of admin - we can’t do all of these without a process and procedures in place to help us get things done.
- What systems do you currently have in place to help you manage your freelance business?
- Are your systems working for you, or are there areas in need of improvement?
- Where are there gaps in your process that could benefit from a system and process that will be able streamline and automate where possible?
- What tools can you explore and invest in that may be helpful along the way? (I share some of my favourites here)
- Do you have the budget to outsource any of the more tedious tasks that are taking up your time?
6. Your Finances
You either love managing your money as a freelancer, or you dread it. The only way we can be on top of our finances though is if we know exactly what’s coming and in coming out each month, and the longer we leave things unattended the more likely we’re going to find ourselves short one month (and extra stressed at tax time too).
Some things to consider when getting organised money wise:
- Do you have separate bank accounts for business and personal finances?
- Do you have a digital bookkeeping system and/or online accountancy software to help you manage your business finances?
- Are you tracking your business expenses and keeping records of receipts each month?
- Do you have an accountant? Or is it time to consider investing in one?
- Are you putting enough aside each month for taxes/national insurance etc?
- Are you aware of how much you're investing into your business each month? Are you putting aside money for additional investments that will aid growth?
- Are you paying yourself a wage each month? If not, would this help you to manage your finances and move out of a feast and famine cycle? (I write more about this here)
7. Your Routine
One of the main things that has left me feeling scattered recently is the lack of a solid and productive routine. Now that we’ve moved into our new place, I’m ready to start crafting out a routine that helps me to be extra productive and purposeful each day - and really start to explore and build that dreamy ‘ideal day’ everyone talks about too. In my experience, self care can start to take a backseat when I’m letting my to-do list dictate my routine instead of taking control of it myself. I want to make more time each day for exercise, meditation, hearty and healthy meals, and actual downtime so I can make my way through the ever-growing stack of books that I want to read before the year is out.
To do this I know I need to start to really be intentional with how I’m shaping my days, and really commit to exploring the ways I can work smarter not harder. Some things to explore when trying to find focus with your routine are:
- What currently drains you throughout your work day? What are the times throughout the day that you start to resent your work and you feel exhausted and uninspired?
- Are you starting your day off on the right foot? Do you have a morning routine that prepares you for the day to come?
- Are you winding down before bed and giving yourself the time to switch off and relax?
- Write down all the main tasks you have to do each week for your business: in an ideal world, how would you like to space these out throughout the week?
- How do you want to implement downtime and days off into your routine? Full days? Half days? Extended breaks throughout the year?
- What’s your workspace environment like? Is it working for you and helping you to be as productive as possible?
- What gives you the most energy throughout your work day? How can you make more time for this?
- What are 3-5 ways that you’re implementing self care into your routine? If you can’t name at least 3, it’s probably a sign that you’re in need of a little more TLC throughout the week.
8. Your Goals
Sometimes the thing that can leave us feeling the most scattered, overwhelmed, and lost is when we’re not quite sure where we want to go next. Maybe you’ve already achieved what you set out to do this year, and now you’re not sure what the next challenge is that you want to embrace. Or maybe your business has evolved so much recently that you’re not quite sure what direction you want to head in now. To feel focused and sure of what steps to take next, we need to have a clear grasp of what it is we’re working towards. Goals change, dreams evolve, and we can’t plan out our entire freelance future, but knowing our general direction is how we stay focused and intentional along the way.
What are your main business goals right now? They may be financial, personal, professional, or creative (or a mix of a few). Maybe you want to find more balance and carve out more time for loved ones, maybe you want to double your income, maybe you want to seek out more industry opportunities, or maybe you want to be able to work less but still earn the same as you do now. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to get specific on where it is you’d like to be going next.
Taking an afternoon just to touch base with your business and find a little focus amongst all of the usual hustle and bustle of making things happen will hopefully be exactly what we need to feel less scattered in our business, life, and work. When we take the time to really pay attention to our business, we usually start to see the things that we miss when we're just going through the motions and letting our to-do lists rule our days.
Once we have the clarity we need to move forward, systems in place to alleviate any stress and overwhelm, and the time to build the business we really want to be building, that's when we remember how awesome the freelance life really is.