Since I set out on my own to freelance full-time, I've received a lot of great questions about what I do and how I do it. Even though 35 percent of U.S. workers (and counting!) are freelancers, I'm realizing that for everyone else, working from home can seem like a loose concept shrouded in mystery!
In this post, I thought I'd step out from behind the curtain and lay it all out there for you by answering some of the questions I hear the most often.
1. Are you tied to your desk all day, or can I actually meet you?
One client asked me this and I thought it was a great question. The answer is I would love to meet you in person! I love meeting my clients face-to-face whenever possible. I know from my days in PR that face time is important not only for fostering relationships, but also for the small nuances that can tell you so much more than a phone call or email.
For quick-turnaround projects or long-distance clients, it's not always possible for us to meet face-to-face. In those cases, I find that kicking things off with a phone call is the best way forward. Even though so much can be handled by email, often a phone call is the more efficient (and personable) option, especially when you're first getting to know a client's style and voice.
2. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I get this all the time from family and friends. I'd love to show you by making a day-in-the-life documentary post, starting with my morning cup(s) of coffee and going all the way to my 4 p.m. cup of decaf tea ... but the truth is, those are about the only consistent parts of my day. Other than walking my dog Gracie, of course. My work is truly different every day, and that's how I like it!
To answer this FAQ as candidly as possible, however, here's a sampling straight from this week's to-do list. I swapped the names of my clients with some of my favorite book/movie characters for confidentiality and for fun ... though any clients reading this should not look to draw too close a comparison.
- Tyler Durden: schedule kick-off call for blog-writing project
- Scarlett O'Hara: edit annual report content
- Frodo Baggins: draft social media messages/add photos to blog post
- Elizabeth Bennet: draft/edit staff bios for website
- Atticus Finch: proof/format abstracts for annual meeting
- Jo March: revise a series of PowerPoint presentations
- Jay Gatsby: ghost-write a (non-fiction) book
- Business Admin: pay Quarter 4 taxes (yuck)
- Business Development/Marketing: draft editorial calendar for December and January (yay!)
- Creative Writing: send something to writing critique group
3. What kinds of things do you write?
See my answers to #2 for this one! Right now, my workload involves a lot of blogs, but I've also written (and edited) copy for brochures, news articles, press releases, white papers, digital magazines, talking points, scripts ... you name it, I'll write it.
4. Why do you have a blog?
That's a very good question, and one I ask myself a lot! I'm still figuring out the focus of this blog, and I've covered a range of topics in the 10 months I've had it. The best answer I have for now is that I believe the more I write, the more I'll write. I used to dream about writing without actually putting much on paper because I was afraid that once I started writing, all my ideas would dry up. In writing (not only this blog, but some fiction as well), I have found the opposite is true. Writing is what helps me keep the well full.
I also think it's important for me to have a blog on my site for prospective clients and partners (graphic designers, videographers, web designers, etc.). When I hand my business card to someone and say I can write a blog for them, I think it's important that they go and check out my own blog to make sure that: a) I know how to blog, and b) they like my writing style! I adapt my tone and formality for each client, but I want them to be sure they're comfortable with the general rhythm and flow of what I'm saying.
5. How do you focus when you work from home?
This one is huge! And probably deserves its own blog, if not a blog series. A few of the tactics that more practiced freelancers recommended to me include:
- Designate a work space and stick to it. I like to tell people that I set my desk up so I'm literally facing a wall. Working at the same space every day — especially a calm space, with nothing to distract me like a sink full of dishes or a floor that needs to be vacuumed or a dog that needs to be pet — has been crucial to my productivity. I work at my desk every day, never at the kitchen table or in my bed. If I take my laptop to another room, chances are it's 8 p.m. and we're catching up on some Netflix in the living room! Oh, and I do still pet Gracie throughout the day. It's the least I could do, since she's stuck with me all day long!
- Act like you have a 9-5. "Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week," said Shark Tank investor Lori Greiner. I love this quote, and agree completely with the concept behind it. There are definitely projects that require me to work into the evenings or weekends, and I'm glad to do it because of the perks of owning my own business. However, on a weekly basis, I plan for a 40-hour work week, setting aside my evenings and weekends for rest and time with family and friends. Losing that balance in my life would be a quick path to burnout!
- Say no. This one is related to the point above. To preserve my nights and weekends and still make an income, I have to say no to non-work activities during weekdays, just as anyone working a 9-5 would do. Sure, I'm guilty of going grocery shopping on weekdays to avoid "rush hour" because I don't like fighting hungry people in crowded aisles armed with shopping carts. The same goes with the post office and other errands that are just more enjoyable when done at 10 a.m. on a weekday. But for the most part, I act like I have 40 hours of work ahead of me each week (even when I don't — more on that below).
- Say yes. I heard a great podcast from photographer and small business educator Jenna Kutcher about how saying no to projects that aren't in line with our goals can actually free us up to say yes to those that are. As a new freelancer, I've been quick to say yes to almost everything that's come across my plate, which is probably typical for most newbies. The more I can focus in on one niche, however, the better work I'll produce for clients. (I'll let you know when I find my niche! Right now, I'm still enjoying the whole doing-something-different-every-day thing.)
6. Will you water my plant?
This one relates to saying no and saying yes, which I mentioned above.
Since I started freelancing, I've had several people ask me what it's like to have so much more time on my hands. I think some people hear the "free" in freelancing and assume it means "free time." I get where this is coming from — after all, many freelancers start out with 9-5 day jobs, dabbling only in freelance work in their "free" time. For those of us who are freelancing full-time, however, it's a different story!
Although I'm general busy (and gratefully so!), there have been slower times, especially at the beginning. In those times, I started to believe that maybe I did have some free time. Or that the time I wasn't spending working was "free." I soon learned my mistake.
When I'm waiting on a client to get back to me, or in a holding pattern for some other reason, these are the times I need to work on business development. Writing blogs, sending out emails, going to networking events, reading up on the latest small business tools, familiarizing myself with the latest grammatical controversy — all of these are essential for my business to grow, and none of them are free. They take time and energy and thought.
On top of these activities, there's always more creative writing I can be doing to hone my craft and start submitting pieces for publication. By saying no to watering that cactus or walking that dog, I'm saying yes to growing my business and delivering sharper content for my clients.
Any more questions?
Have a burning question I didn't answer above? Ask me in the comments section below! Seriously ... I'm an open book. And I like open books. Currently I'm reading "Gumption" (audiobook) and "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" (e-book). But that's another story for another post!