Technical Communication Captive to Freelancing Consultant

Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Made the Leap

Two years ago while still working full time; I started a freelancing gig as a side project. I enjoyed trying to get my brand out into the world and being able to pick and choose what projects I wanted to take on – and what projects I just did not feel like working on. I obtained a few clients and welcomed the extra income. I took projects with me on family trips to work on during downtime and still earned vacation pay from my fulltime position.

With the birth of my first born in March, my goals changed. I still wanted the freelance business, and needed the income even more. I could not work forty hours a week at one job and then another twenty at the freelance business while raising a newborn—something had to change. So my  first step was to approach my full time employers, and they gave me a wonderful opportunity to work with them on a contract basis. This blessed me with a regular client, so I could keep paying my bills while I established myself as a fulltime freelancer.

Like most thinking about the leap to fulltime freelancing, I had the dream of working at the local coffee shop sipping hot chocolate and working hard on the latest software documentation. My phone would ring with a new client that saw my website and just had to have my services. I had all the time in the world to get client projects finished, as well as play with my son and run the household. I would finish off the night with putting my son to bed and sipping a frozen daiquiri.

Then I made the plunge into freelancing while caring for my newborn, and had to wake up from that lovely dream. I do have the luxury of having family members help me with child care when the need arises so I am able to run my business. Although I have come to love being a freelancer, it has definitely not been easy and I had a few things to learn – both good and bad – about running my own business.

The Freelancing Frame Of Mind

1.    Have all the time in the world and no time at all

I do not have to set an alarm clock to get ready to get to my job. I can choose to wake whenever I want and take breaks when I feel like it. There is no real time limit on a day-by-day basis as long as I meet my client deadlines. However, time can run away from me very quickly if I allow it. Lots of distractions—the dog wants to go outside, the phone rings, or an email appears in the inbox—have the ability to suck me in. Before I know it, the day is over and I have the potential to accomplish nothing.

I’ve learned to be aware of how I schedule appointments and how often I run errands to help keep my time in check. I now use set office hours to keep from dropping everything to go play with the dog, at least until I really need a few minutes’ stress relief. I make my appointments first thing in the morning so I can get back home quickly and dive into work. Time management is everything in freelancing.

2.    Always think about work

No one told me how much I would think about work when I am not working. I used to keep my computer nearby me on the couch so I was ready to work anytime. I wanted to make sure I was on top of emails and did not miss a project because I got around to it too late. When I am not actively working on a project, ideas swirl in my mind. I am constantly thinking of ways to market my business, upgrade my website, or refiguring my to-do list; always wondering what a lunch date with a friend will set me back on work hours for the day and where in the evening I can make up the hours.

I found that my favorite part of the week was Saturday morning because I knew all my deadlines were in for the week. I have not figured out a way to stop thinking about work, but have made it easier by working late hours during the week and holding onto weekends free for family. I also started to keep my computer inside my office most days and not by the couch. If work is not staring me down, maybe I can think about it less.

3.    How much a dirty house can keep from being productive

I never thought of myself as a procrastinator. It’s not my personality. No one told how random items out of place in my house, the basket of laundry in the corner, or lunch dishes would keep me from focusing on a client project.

The reality is that housework is never done. I learned to keep my computer in my office (see #2). I also keep myself physically in my office and in freelancing work mode. My office is not the “living space” that can be cluttered by housework that could take my mind off client projects. If possible, the last hour of my evenings before bedtime is used to pick up the clutter and reset myself for the next day. Anything I think might interrupt my workflow for the next day gets taken care of the night before.

Get My Brand Name Out

4.    Networking is key

Now that I have a box of business cards, I am always on the lookout of who might need one. I never leave the house without a handful. Social events become ways to take casual conversation about what I do into job prospects. Family members and friends become people that need my business card. Even if people I know may not need my services, knowing about my brand helps the referrals. I always knew I had to market my business, but I never thought every time I leave the house could turn into a marketing opportunity.

5.    How much social media can work for you

Making physical contact via networking is great, but with technology these days; freelancers better know how to work the social media. I started using twitter specifically as a way to announce new blog posts. The great thing about Twitter is I am able to follow anyone I want and they do not have to approve it. Becoming a follower of my ideal clients gives me insight to their needs. I can send messages to them with tips or asking if they have a use for my services. In many cases, the social media dialog begins, and so does a new client relationship.

Freelancing can be overwhelming if you let it. But I continue to work on managing the workload and paying close attention to how I spend my day, and I find it can be freeing. I work for myself and make my own rules. Finding a way to leave the office when you work from home is important to achieving freelancing greatness and satisfaction.

Andrea Altenburg has been a technical writer and copyeditor since 2003. She works full time writing online and print help manuals for Shared Logic and started More Specifically, a freelance editorial company. Her work is published on a variety of websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Scientific and Technical Communications with a focus in Technology.

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