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September 26, 2018

Freelancer fears: the secret anxiety nobody wants to admit to

Written by Jack Lewis

The world of freelancing seems so alluring; work when you want, where you want, for who you want, doing what you want. Social media feeds are full of entrepreneurs talking about how to make millions working just three hours a week or become an overnight success from the comfort of a sun lounger.

It’s no wonder so many people quit the nine-to-five to work for themselves.

Then realisation hits…

You no longer have a stable income or the support of colleagues. There isn’t a queue of clients waiting at your door. When work does come in, you take it because you need the money, even if it means cancelling plans and working through the night. When the work isn’t there, you start to doubt your ability. Every other freelancer seems to be a success and you’re left wondering if you’re cut out for the freelance life after all.

Yet, despite the ups and downs, whenever someone asks how it’s going, you automatically reply with “really good, thanks” or “it’s great; I’m so busy”.

You don’t want to admit you’re anxious. Not to your friends who thought you were crazy to start your own business in the first place. Definitely not to other freelancers who might view you as a failure. Certainly not to clients who might jump ship because they’re worried you’ll quit. So, you put on a brave face and tell the world that everything is fine.

You are not alone

If you’ve experienced feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and even depression, the good news is you’re not alone.

Many freelancers suffer from stress, sleepless nights and mental health issues at some point or another. For every freelancer who managed to get it right from day one, there are ten that didn’t even get things off the ground.

Take comfort in knowing that other freelancers will be having the exact same issues and worries as you.

Being stressed and anxious does not make you a failure.

At Dinghy, we care about supporting freelancers and we understand how hard it can be. We’ve identified three areas that freelancers often struggle with; unpredictable income, isolation and self-doubt. Below are our tips for managing each area.

Coping with unpredictable income

One of the biggest causes of anxiety for freelancers is financial instability. Not knowing how much money you’ll earn from one week to the next can cause sleepless nights. It’s hard to switch off when you don’t know if you can cover your bills next month.

Never stop marketing yourself

The feast and famine nature of freelancing can take a while to get used to. The trick is to keep marketing yourself even when you are at your busiest. It’s very easy to focus on the projects you are currently working on, but you still need to be advertising your services, meeting potential new clients and sending out proposals. Otherwise, once you have finished your current projects, you’ll have nothing else lined up.

Price correctly

If you price too low, you can end up having to work far more than you intended for very little return. If you price too high, you might find it difficult to win enough new business. If you’re struggling to price your services, our article on how to price work as a freelancer is full of top tips.

Have robust invoicing and credit control systems

Winning business is only part of the problem; you also need to get clients to pay. If you don’t have a good system for managing invoices and late payments, you could find yourself short one month. Our article on how to get paid as a freelancer talks you through how to manage client payments.

Choose good suppliers and partners

When you’re starting out as a freelancer, it can be easy to spend money on things you don’t need, get tied into contracts or pay more than you should. Choose suppliers and partners that understand your business and can offer the flexibility you need. For example, Dinghy freelancer insurance allows you to only pay for the insurance you use. If you aren’t working, you don’t need insurance, so why pay for it?
Save some money for the rainy days

When you’ve had a good month, it’s tempting to treat yourself. Unfortunately, there is always the risk that you may have another slow month later in the year. Don’t spend everything you earn. Decide how much to pay yourself each month and stick to it, even if you can afford a bit more some months. You can always give yourself a ‘Christmas bonus’ if you have a good year.

Managing isolated working

When you work for yourself, it can be very isolated. Often, the amount of human contact you have is limited, so it’s important you build a support network.

Find online communities

There are loads of online freelancer communities where you can ask questions, get advice and talk through problems with other freelancers. Take advantage of these groups and support each other.

To help you get started, the groups that we have connected with so far are:
Freelance Heroes
Hive Collective
Freelance Mum
Doing It For The Kids
Crystal Palace Freelancers

Connect with other freelancers

Seek out other freelancers in your local area and arrange to meet for coffee. It’s always useful to have a network of freelancers you can trust. You may even get work from it too.

Attend networking events

Networking with other local business owners and people in your industry is a good way of building contacts and can even lead to work. If you find a business group you feel comfortable with, then join. The regular contact will make you feel less isolated and you’ll have people who you can turn to when you are having a bad week.

Dealing with self-doubt and imposter syndrome

When you get a difficult client, another proposal gets rejected or you have a project you can’t get to grips with, that’s when self-doubt can creep in. ‘Imposter syndrome’ is not uncommon in freelancers; feeling like you’ll suddenly get caught out as a fraud. The whole ‘fake it til you make it’ approach can feel never-ending and you’re constantly wondering when or if you will ever ‘make it’.

Social media only tells half a story

Don’t waste time comparing yourself to other freelancers. The successes they post on social media are the part they want you to see. All the failures, bad decisions and rejections will be hidden from sight.

Write yourself a letter

When you are having a positive day, write yourself a letter explaining why you started a freelance career in the first place. Tell yourself all the benefits of freelance life and all the reasons you are so good at what you do. When you have a bad day, read the letter to give yourself some encouragement.

Keep a record of achievements

When you achieve something you are proud of, keep a record of it so you can remind yourself of your successes when self-doubt creeps in.

Get testimonials

Ask clients to provide feedback when you do a good job. Print out testimonials and refer to them when you feel out of your depth. They’ll remind you how great you are at what you do and how much clients value your services.

Read books and articles

Continuous personal development is vital. Read plenty of books and articles about your industry, so you feel up to date and confident about what you are doing.

Get a mentor or coach

Having a mentor or coach can help you reach your potential and keep you focused on your goals. Ask for recommendations for professional coaches, do a bit of research online or approach someone you know who is experienced in business and is happy to mentor you.

It’s ok to occasionally have a bad day

Remember, it’s ok to have a bad day every now and then. It doesn’t mean you have failed or that you aren’t cut out for freelance life.

Freelancers are only human; you can’t be perfect all the time.

If you need to have a duvet day and feel sorry for yourself then do it, just don’t do it too often.

Look after yourself

It’s important to look after yourself. Eat healthily, exercise regularly, go out and get some fresh air, take time off to just relax and spend time with family and friends. Schedule time into your diary to do fun, non-work-related activities and stick to it. Whether it’s simply 30 minutes a day to take the dog for a walk or an evening off to go to the cinema with friends. Don’t feel guilty about having a break from work. If you don’t take time for yourself, your mental health will suffer and then you’ll find it even harder to be productive.

About Jack Lewis

Read more blog posts by Jack Lewis

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