The things I learned being self-employed

The things I learned being self-employed

I've been freelancing and running my own business for more than 3,5 years now, and in that time I found out a thing or two; about myself, about freelancing and - to make this sound a little more dramatic - about life. I decided to put together a few notes that might be helpful to others. Whether you're self-employed as well, have been thinking about starting out as a freelancer or just really, really, really interested in my life, this will hopefully be both informative and helpful to all of you.

1. Screw the regular 9-5.

When I started working as a freelancer, I thought it would be best to sit at my desk by 9am, work until 12.30, take 30 minutes of lunch and then keep working until sometime between 5 and 6pm. Pretty soon though, it turned out I like doing sports in the mornings, taking a 1hr break at lunch and don't mind working on admin stuff after I had dinner. Also, I found out that I actually get a lot more work done during 2 hours on a Sunday (when everyone and everything else is quiet) than on an afternoon during the week. So forget about what others do, listen to your gut and experiment with your working hours - most of us have had to adhere to other people's schedules (be it in the office or in school) for so long we forgot to pay attention to our inner clock. Give it a try and see what works best for you.

2. Stop the freelance guilt.

"Is this enough?" - "Am I asking for too much money?" - "Should I spend this much on a pair of shoes?" When you're self-employed, self-doubt comes with the territory, it seems. It took me a long time to let go of these thoughts and just accept the fact that YES, I do deserve a little pick-me-up now and then and YES, it's OK to ask for what you're worth. It also helps to realize that employees don't necessarily have better job security than you do so stop comparing yourself to them. Monika wrote a great piece on this a while ago, actually, so I'll just lazily link to that. Go read it!

3. Working from home is AWESOME.

"I could NEVER work from home! How do you get anything done?" Well, if I had a penny for every time someone said that to me I definitely wouldn't have to work anymore at all. Here's the truth, though: I love working from home. It's quiet and peaceful; I don't have to worry about what I'm wearing or whether I should have washed my hair; also, I can take care of a million little things at home during a short break (cuddle with my cat, go to the post office, unload the dishwasher, do laundry - you know, the fun stuff). Sure, there are tons of awesome co-working spaces out there, but I prefer working alone and working from home. Don't let anyone tell you you're an antisocial weirdo because of it!

4. That thick skin is definitely much needed.

As a freelancer, you'll meet a lot of prospective clients. Some of them will be incredibly enthusiastic about working with you, leaving you with happy and excited thoughts about new business, only to then put working with you off several times, be very hesitant about working with you after all or never even contact you again.  Keep in mind that not everything always works out and human beings can be quite unpredictable. In my experience, the more enthusiastic a first meeting goes, the less certain it is to transform into actual business afterwards. When this happens, there's no use in negative feelings or taking it personal - it just happens sometimes. Nevertheless, once you've waited around for a client for a few weeks with no good reason, simply move on and focus on new projects. 

5. Never get tired to explain yourself over and over again.

"You're a freelancer who works in social media? How cool! So that means you're just on Facebook everyday, all day? I could do that! People actually pay you for that?" I've probably a variation on this speech at least 25 times in the past 3,5 years. I get it: In Austria, it's not really that common yet to be self-employed, especially when you're under 30. Additionally, some areas such as social media still are kind of hard to grasp for a lot of people, because it seems it's just about posting a bunch of cat pictures and funny videos (I wish). Still, it's important to always be able to tell people WHY you chose to be self-employed (I love the feeling of freedom it continues to give me, never mind how much taxes or social security contributions I have to pay) and WHY you are passionate about your field of work (I love the Internet. I love people. I get to combine those two things on a daily basis while working with talented, motivated and awesome clients.).  #Nuffsaid.

6. Investing in your business pays off.

I've already touched on this in another blog post, but it's one of the most important lessons I've learnt so it bears repeating: You gotta spend money to make money. Don't be hesitant about paying for things that will advance you in your career and business, be it an online course, uniquely designed business cards or a tax advisor. I've heard from a lot of other freelancers that now that they're responsible for making their own income, instead of deciding on what handbag or coat to buy next they're actually thinking about what they can invest in to further boost their business. There's a million things to learn out there, and if you're genuinely up for it it will actually pay off. I love to learn new creative skills on Skillshare, for example, and my beloved tax advisor has not only helped me save a LOT of money and worries so far, he's also patiently listening to every stupid question I have. Which elegantly brings me to my final point.

7. Help will be given to those who ask for it.

Just like at Hogwarts, chances are, there's an awesome community around you that is absolutely willing to give you a hand - you just have to reach out to them. I never understood why some freelancers feel like they have to be a lonely island, not sharing any information with their peers. Especially when you work on your own, it's super important to build a network of smart, driven and funny people who work like you do - and ideally, not in your line of work. I love bitching about annoying clients and exhausting projects with others just as much as I appreciate listening to their success stories. It's vital to praise and cheer each other on, motivate yourselves and most importantly, realize that others don't really always know exactly what they're doing either (or at least, I sure don't). 

I'd love to know: What are your experiences, learnings or expectations when it comes to being self-employed?