I don’t think I’ve ever met a self-employed person who didn’t need some tips to combat freelance stress. It’s in our nature. The perfect mix of wanting to carve out your own destiny and a self-applied nature. That entrepreneur spirit rubs up against stigma about why you freelance. We face off issues such as disputed work, late payments and difficulties in client management. We find ourselves fighting against low rates, work scarcity (myths and realities), and have to manage ever aspect of the business.
Let’s face it- freelance stress is common. That’s why we need better strategies to manage it and prevent it.
Here’s how to combat freelance stress in a practical sense
Recognise the power of self-limits
Your TO DO list is going to continue to sprout heads like Medusa. There will never be that fabled weekend or week where you can finally get that holiday if you don’t book it. That new thing you want to learn won’t automatically download into your brain. The marketing ideas you want to try will continue to chaff if you don’t act.
Unless you are proactive about carving out time for you, your business will grow over the top of your best intentions.
The majority of freelancers chose this life for freedom. What’s the point if you don’t exercise it?
Combat freelance stress by:
· Shortening the TO DO list. Write a bigger list but choose 3 things a day to achieve
· Book your holidays at the beginning of the year so you have something to look forward to and to keep you honest with having holidays
· Make time for continuous learning. Freelance can make us stagnate because we don’t always have the boss who recognises we need to make the next move. We have to be proactive
· Finding your version of freelance marketing. There are a million people telling you how to do self-promotion and marketing. This is helpful. But until you work on your relationship with freelance marketing and find your own voice, it won’t mean a hill of beans. Give yourself the time to experiment
Automate what you can
Nothing gets old quicker than having to restart the engine and run the client on-boarding race over and over again. This is where automation and cutting out the crap with new client acquisition can help. You can combat freelance stress through reducing your workload through automation as well.
Automate your freelance processes by:
· Directing responses and gaining information by using contact forms to shape questions
· Scripting out standard email replies to inquiries
· Adding packages to your website with prices to deter tyre kickers and remove price conversations
· Streamlining communication. Forget email. Moving to Slack channels, cloud-based document capture and centralising the focus helps
If you find yourself getting sick of writing the same email or performing the same task, get proactive before that feeling takes over. There’s nothing worse than the freelance stress of having to do the same old things. Unless you count the stress you feel when it builds up because you’ve gotten so sick of it, you’re avoiding it altogether!
One of the greatest sources of freelance stress is our inability to communicate effectively with clients. This has to be an area all freelancers work on. You cannot and will not survive without getting better at freelance communication.
Some ways better communication helps combat freelance stress include:
· Having robust terms and conditions
· Enforcing the terms and conditions as needed
· Picking up the phone to talk to a client when things break. It humanises us
· Sending the summary email so you have a record of the conversation
· Templating out circumstances where boundaries are required- e.g. scope creep, unpaid and late bills, unreasonable demands on time, after hours work, push back on drafts, design-by-committee situations, unexpected complaints etc
· Practice saying no to your clients and having appropriate boundaries
If you take yourself seriously enough not to apologise at every turn, others will follow suit.
Set yourself goals
Having goals for your business will help combat freelance stress. By having goals, you give yourself focus. It reduces the chance of becoming aimless and being driven by your business instead of your dreams.
SMART goals are your best friend. When it comes to freelance stress management you have to reduce the chance of being in aimless motion or having the clients dictate the direction of your business.
The kinds of freelance SMART goals commonly set are:
· Income based– e.g. raising your rates, earning more per quarter or increasing profit margins
· Time management based- e.g. working less, getting better at time estimation, freeing time to work on not in your business
· Client based – e.g. working with larger clients, introducing new kinds of clients, finding a better class of client, better acquisition processes, better retention outcomes
· Product based versus service based – e.g. a common step for freelancers is to move away from direct service sales to building packages, products and projects for customers to buy
· Creative goals – e.g. applying your skills outside your direct client work for your own creative projects such as writing a book, launching a podcast, speaking at events etc
· Professional growth – e.g. getting that diploma, winning that contract, scoring that dream project
· Benefit acquisition – e.g. writing down the benefits you sought in freelance work and making sure they are indeed on the table. That could be more time with the kids, better management of health or mental health, traveling 3 months of the year or something else entirely.
The goals you set do not have to be massive or in large numbers. They simply need to be SMART.
Recognise you will grow
When we first start freelancing, it’s usually great not having the gossip, water-cooler politics and not having to do the commute. We relish the opportunity to do what we do because we love our work and respect our clients.
However, all professionals grow in capability. You will also find that as the weeks and months pass, this won’t be enough to keep the fires burning. The trick to making sure you remain happy and bubbling and as free from freelance stress as possible is to plan for this eventuality.
Look at ways you can encourage growth as you go along and seek out new ideas.
For example, you can avoid the stress associated with outgrowing your freelance business by:
· Incorporating long term stretch goals into your plans. 3 to 5 to 10-year goals can be beneficial
· Making study a part of the process. It doesn’t have to be directly related to your business in the now either. Maybe a web developer would benefit from learning UI/UX or app coding. Perhaps a content writer gets a kick out of TV script writing. You could start as an accountant but want to learn skills in counselling or mediation. Keeping your interest as well as your options open helps
· Consider what growth means to you. To some of us, it might mean learning how to lead to subcontract freelancers for bigger projects. For others, it may mean less client facing work in favour of more products or better lifestyle benefits. It might mean income, or it may be size of projects carried. Define growth and aim for it
If you anticipate change and build it into the things you do, it’s often easier to navigate it when it arrives.
Want to take a proactive approach to combat freelance stress?
Want to work on some of the aspects of your freelance business that are giving you stress now?
Check out Holly’s best practice advice.
Check in with me (Rebekah Lambert) for some pain point coaching.
Take a look at this blog on stress management techniques.
Stress comes in all forms. If you are feeling prolonged stress, finding mental health management taxing and/or want to talk about stress or crisis situations, ask for help.
The following services can help you with advice, relief and resources:
· Lifeline on 13 11 14
· Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
· MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
· Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
· Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
· Headspace on 1800 650 890