How to Overcome the 5 Top Challenges of Remote Freelance Work
A freelancer's need for self-promotion. The battle against loneliness. Chasing clients for pay: Here's what to do.
To an outsider looking in, the notion of liberating yourself from a corporate environment and controlling your own success as a freelancer probably seems like nothing less than a dream. So much so that (as a slideshare study presented by Upwork shows) 57.3 million Americans were freelancing as of 2017. (Freelancing In America 2017 used the figure of 36 percent of the U.S. workforce).
Theirs is a world I've shared: Before I became a business owner with employees, partners and 1099 contractors, I too was a freelancer and so came to understand the unique challenges freelancers face. I know from experience that pursuing an entrepreneurial venture alone can give you the freedom to decide "how, when and where"; but working as a remote freelancer often presents a host of other challenges.
Working remotely, for instance, can feel isolated and lonely. You are no longer operating in your area of expertise and are constantly challenged by the burden of self-promotion and the struggles inherent in time management, travel between clients, invoicing and chasing after payments, to name just a few.
Here are some solutions to five of the top challenges I myself have faced:
The burden of self-promotion
Marketing doesn't come naturally to many freelancers, yet a business cannot continue to grow without it. This means that a freelance cake decorator, dog groomer and technical writer all need to worry about ways to advertise their services.
The solution if this applies to you? Start creating content, whether it be video, audio (podcast) or written. Content is the key to showcasing your expertise. Content will allow people to discover you, and content will help solidify your expertise.
Contributors like me are always looking for valuable experts, and for tips on hot trends, news or perspectives. If you've already started creating content, it will allow you to prove your expertise.
Follow contributors who write about topics you're looking to provide your expertise on, and reach out on social platforms like Twitter or Instagram (Instagram DM still being the absolute best way to reach someone you're hoping to connect with).
My advice with this approach is to focus on the relationship. Everyone in media is constantly pitched new stories, but not all those stories are worth covering. However, if you focus on building the relationship and have a unique perspective, a journalist or contributor will be more inclined to speak with you versus constantly reading one cold pitch after another from you. Buzzstream is a good tool to use to help you find different people from the press.
Working in a lonely solo void
While the freedom in remote freelance work may appeal to many, working in solitude may not, as FastCompany documented in a recent article. Human nature requires support and interaction, and constant isolation can wear you down. Our bodies only work at an optimal level for approximately 90 minutes at a time, so take your laptop and head to the nearest cafe for some company.
Co-working spaces are also all the rage these days, Harvard Business Review reported, as freelancers and small business owners are often looking to become part of a community. A well-designed work environment combined with a well-curated work experience enables coworkers to thrive in a way that office-based employees cannot.
What's more, regular in-person huddles with stakeholders can enhance your productivity, through brainstorming and synergy. Be sure to incorporate meetings throughout your work week to break the silence and keep your motivation levels up.
Another tip: Set up your own branded corporate conference room on a virtual meeting platform to coordinate with clients, and put in some face time when proximity is an issue. I love platforms such as ClickMeeting, which offers features like screen sharing and white boards -- features which enable collaboration and immediate feedback virtually.
These types of advanced tools also create the illusion that you're not working by yourself in an office all day and gives you some refreshing face time with clients, contractors and anyone else involved in the business.
Struggling with your calendar
As a solopreneur, you are forced to wear many hats, and you need to manage your time carefully. And given that some tasks will be outside your comfort zone, you may be prone to pushing them off once in a while -- or doing this as a chronic habit. But be careful here: Battle your procrastination by adhering to a rigid schedule, to ensure that the job gets done and your limited time is utilized well. Tools like Toggle can help you with time management and ensure you're staying on top of your to-do lists.
I like to follow the Pomodoro rule for completing tasks. This technique can help you power through distractions, keep you hyper-focused and help you get things done in short bursts while taking frequent breaks to clean your brain and refocus. It's sort of like short high-intensity weight training, versus long, slow cardio. The Pomodoro Technique consists of short bursts of work followed by a short rest break. You:
- Create your list of tasks.
- Prioritize the list.
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro in this context being a timer).
- Work on the task until the timer rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper.
- Take a short break (5 minutes is recommended, but play around with what's best for you).
- After every fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break (like 20 to 30 minutes).
The goal is to accomplish your tasks in short bursts. Ideally, each task can be done in one to two Pomodoros. The goal is to hold a limit to how many Pomodoros you do per day. Then, repeat the cycle the next day. I've found that my productivity shoots up under this technique. Here's a great web app to track your progress called the Pomodoro Tracker.
What is scope creep? Scope creep describes those extra little client requests here and there. The need that that website you just created suddenly has for extra pages at the time of delivery. That graphic-design gig you took on that keeps accruing more and more changes ...
Sometimes the creep is subtle, and sometimes it's massive. But, if you let the scope creep once, it will never stop creeping.
The best, most obvious way to deal with scope creep is a thorough contract which clearly states that any additional work will be billed accordingly. I love BidSketch for quick, effective, template-rich contracts. If you create a contract once, you can save it and reuse it.
BidSketch also has contract templates for specific industries. You can send the contract and have your client sign it electronically with the click of a couple of buttons, which helps you keep a record of the signed document to reference should any of the obstacles described below come up:
Chasing clients for payment
You produced. You invoiced. You waited. But still ... crickets.
Payments are undoubtedly the most aggravating and awkward part of freelance work. So, protect yourself: Ensure a contract is in place for every job, and stipulate that you charge interest for late payments. Set up automated email reminders upon invoicing.
A software like Invoicely can help you with invoicing, with reminders to make sure you are on top of your finances. Invoicely works well because it allows you to set up late fees for invoices that are paid late or not at all. This is another tactic to help make sure clients pay on time.
The best tip I have learned is that you should always wait to deliver the final project until you have the final invoice paid. That way you retain ownership of the work before a client can run off without paying.
Unfortunately, this is an obstacle that you will face. If you embrace this fact and plan for it, you won't be shocked when it does happen. There is no shame in picking up the phone and speaking directly to your client. If you speak on the phone, make sure to follow up via email, to have a paper trail.
You are entitled to payment for your services. Take legal action as needed. I like RocketLawyer for free contracts for entrepreneurs and freelancers, if the situation dictates.
Remote freelancing presents as many challenges as it does benefits, despite the allure of flexibility. But, if being a freelancer brings you one step closer to fulfilling your dreams, then don't allow any obstacles to deter you. If you're the type of person who dreams of working for yourself, you will have what it takes to make it. Stay focused, stay inspired and stay hungry -- to learn and grow.