Working as a freelancer is sometimes lonely and frustrating work. As technology has advanced, it has become easier for people to get set up working for themselves from home. Unfortunately, this also means you are competing against the 53 million other freelancers in the U.S. marketplace. Seeking out new jobs and keeping current clients happy is stressful and adds to the freelancer struggles.
There are many freelancer struggles to overcome on the road to success. Learning how to cope can mean the difference between a thriving freelance business and a failing one. Here are seven problems only freelancers will understand and how you can fix them.
1. Indulging in Procrastination
When you work in an office with a manager over you, there are certain tasks you’re assigned and must complete within a time frame. Working for yourself is a little different. You set the schedule, and the only person you have to answer to is your clients. That can lead to putting things off. Alas, serious procrastination tendencies impact about 20 percent of the population.
On top of that, many freelancers work from home, where there are numerous distractions competing for your time. The laundry is calling your name, someone needs to start dinner, your mom drops by for a visit, and social media can distract you as well.
Just removing some of the distractions isn’t always enough to overcome tendencies to procrastinate. Instead, you have to instill habits that lead you to complete projects, such as:
- Writing out to-do lists
- Setting up a work schedule
- Finding someone to keep you accountable
If there was a survey on the top freelancer struggles, procrastination would be on it.
2. Lacking Cash Flow
Cash flow can be a source of stress and frustration for many freelancers. Clients come and go. Sometimes they pay on time, and sometimes they do not. Knowing when and how much you’ll get paid from month-to-month is nearly impossible. Freelancer struggles become bigger when you can’t pay your bills.
There are a few things you can do to overcome this problem. One thing that helps is seeking out regular clients who pay in a timely manner. Another idea is to create a cushion fund so that if a client is late paying, you still have money to cover your day-to-day living expenses.
3. Placating Difficult Clients
Talk to any freelancer, and they will tell you that they’ve had to deal with difficult clients at times. This can translate into a client who keeps changing the scope of the original work, clients who don’t communicate, or clients who speak in a disrespectful way. Whatever the reason, these clients seem to suck up most of your time and create more stress than it’s worth.
The best thing to do is finish the job you are doing and then sever ties with those difficult clients. If they bring in a large part of your income, it can be difficult to let that money go. In those instances, seek out new clients. When you find one easier to work with and who will replace the amount you’re making from the difficult client, then you can politely part ways.
What exactly do you say to a difficult client you’d like to fire? The easiest thing to do is to simply let the client know you are “no longer going to be able to work with them.” You really don’t have to go into detail, even if the client asks for detail. Just say you aren’t able to continue with the scope of the work the client desires, if pressed.
Suggest they look into hiring a firm that might better meet their needs. You certainly don’t want to send them to your freelance friends and make another freelancer’s life difficult.
4. Working With Global Clients
The need for contract workers and the number of freelancers is growing all over the globe:
- The European Union had an increase of 45 percent between 2012 and 2013.
- India has a freelance workforce of about 15 million.
- And the number of freelance workers are growing in the UK.
However, working in a global freelance marketplace creates additional issues.
For example, how do you handle getting paid in a different currency? Did you know that PayPal not only converts the payment by currency comparisons, which any bank would do, but takes out a larger fee for international transactions? It’s important to be aware of these issues ahead of time and make sure clients understand your quotes are in U.S. dollars and that you expect to be paid in USD.
You may also run into some communication issues because of social and language differences. Know ahead of time how you will handle these issues to avoid conflict or ruined projects.
5. Balancing Work and Personal Time
Freelancers typically love the work they do. It is tempting to sit in front of a computer for hours on end working. Although procrastination can be a problem, when you are in a flow with your work, not stepping away from that work can also be a problem. You might miss out on time with family or just work until you are exhausted.
One way you can balance work and personal time is to set some very specific work hours. You can certainly work hard, but you also should plan in time to unwind. For example, you could set up a work schedule of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Plan in a lunch break, weekends and vacation time just as if you were at a brick-and-mortar job.
Once 5 p.m. hits, turn off your computer and step away from your desk. Do not take phone calls from clients after that time, but let the call go to voicemail. Do not be on your phone checking emails. Create an invisible barrier between work and family, even if you have to invest in a second phone and set the work phone aside during personal hours.
6. Feeling Alone
As a freelancer, you likely work alone. While there are some positives to being a lone worker, there are also some negatives. For example, if you run into a serious problem with a project, who will you turn to for help? What if you just need someone to talk to because you’re tired of no human interaction during your day? How can you fix this issue alone?
Seek like-minded freelancers you can reach out to when you need to ask for advice or just need an ear for a brainstorming session. A mentor who has been a successful freelancer for a number of years can help you navigate the difficult waters of freelancing.
7. Avoiding Distractions of Family and Friends
Once family and friends discover you’re freelancing, you will likely get requests for help. If your sister’s babysitter cancels at the last minute, guess who she is calling? You’re home anyway, right? If the church needs someone to organize the bake sale, guess who they are calling first? Your spouse forgot his/her lunch at home? He/she doesn’t understand why you can’t bring it over.
It is important to set up some boundaries around your work life. It is never too late to implement them, either. Tell family and friends you are having trouble getting your work done because of distractions, so you are implementing a no-contact rule during business hours so you can focus on your work.
You then have to follow through. Don’t answer personal calls during those hours unless it is an extreme emergency, i.e. someone is dying. Don’t commit to anything during those hours. Just say, “Sorry. I’m working then.” People might be a little aggravated at first, but they’ll get over it.
Even though there are some struggles every freelancer deals with, the joy of working for yourself and doing something you love is well worth it. By implementing the suggestions above, you’ll be able to overcome some of the more common struggles. Your business and sanity will thank you.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.