How to Simplify Your Freelance Work-Life Balance

If you're used to the guardrails of a 9-5 job, the open seas of the freelance economy can take practice to navigate. 
How to Simplify Your Freelance Work-Life Balance
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This article was written by Kay VanAntwerpen, a member of the Entrepreneur NEXT powered by Assemble content team. Entrepreneur NEXT is our Expert solutions division leading the future of work and skills-based economy. If you’re struggling to find, vet, and hire the right Experts for your business, Entrepreneur NEXT is a platform to help you hire the experts you need, exactly when you need them. From business to marketing, sales, design, finance, and technology, we have the top 3 percent of Experts ready to work for you.

The future is freelance. This mode of employment isn’t just a trend or quirky alternative to the contemporary lifestyle — it’s quickly becoming part of the mainstream. 

With each new generation, freelancing has become more popular. When surveyed, 29 percent of Baby Boomers said they were likely to freelance, followed by 31 percent of Gen X, 40 percent of millennials, and 53 percent of Gen Z. As of 2019, roughly 57 million Americans worked as freelancers. 

These not-so-unconventional workers now make up almost five percent of the U.S. GDP. That’s more than either the construction or transportation sectors—statistically closer to the information sector. 

Businesses looking for skilled professionals without the need to hire them as full-time employees benefit from hiring freelancers.As such, most freelancers work in skilled professions — programming, business consulting, marketing, information technology, etc. 

There are a number of benefits for these employees as well, including:

  • Better pay: The average freelancer is better paid than 70 percent of regularly employed workers, making a median rate of $28 an hour.

  • Location independence: Freelancers work on their terms, be that from home, a coffee shop, or on the road.

  • Freedom to choose clients: Freelancers are not beholden to the corporate power structure, inconsiderate management, or controlling bosses. They choose their own clients. If a particular relationship is not working, a freelance expert can easily part ways.

  • Ability to prioritize personal needs: Forty-six percent of freelancers say they prefer their work pattern because they are unable to work for a traditional employer due to personal conditions such as illness, injury or more. 

This isn’t all to say  the freelance life is free of difficulty. Setting your own schedule, maintaining that schedule, and keeping deadlines are all easier said than done. If you’re used to the guardrails of a 9-5 job, the open seas of the freelance economy can take practice to navigate. 

Below, we’ve covered some of the best ways to make your freelance life easier. 

Creating your office. 

Location independence can be thrilling. You can work in whatever clothing you want, be it a suit and tie, pajamas, or plain old tighty-whities. Choosing to make your kitchen table, a coffee shop, or the lobby of a hotel your office is a level of freedom you may not have expected. But you’ll quickly learn that some locations are more conducive to productivity than others, and having a proper workstation can make all the difference in your career. 

Forgo working from bed. Woking from bed sounds comfortable, especially if you’re choosing to freelance because of chronic illness, but it has its downsides. A lot of people do it—with one study indicating that 80 percent of young professionals work from bed. Unfortunately, this choice can negatively impact your work routine and your health in a number of ways. 

For one, your brain automatically associates certain areas with certain functions (like your bed and sleep). It also can blur the lines between dedicated sleep and wake time, which leads to decreased sleep quality. Using bright screens prevents your brain from creating the necessary amount of melatonin you need to get proper sleep, and your work will eventually suffer as well. 

Create a dedicated workstation. Without a dedicated location for your work and work-related tools, you’ll find chaos will consume your life. Your items will scatter around your living space like frightened chickens: Your laptop will wind up in your living room, your notebook and calendar in your bedside drawer, and your pens in the freezer somehow. 

Getting yourself a good desk doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you utilize Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or a local thrift store. All of the items you need should stay in reach to minimize stretching or the need to interrupt your workflow and search your place. 

Ideally, your desk should be placed near a window with proper exposure to sunlight (it’s easy to short yourself on sunlight when working from home). No matter how well lit your space is, you should also outfit it with a decent lamp, just in case. You never know when a rainy day will appear or how often you’ll end up burning the midnight oil on a late deadline.

Bear in mind, you may not take advantage of your workstation all the time — if your house is empty for the day, maybe you’ll spread out in the living room, or if you’re feeling a little stir crazy you may want to bounce to a coffee shop for a couple of hours. But having a dedicated location for your freelancing equipment will help you stay organized and keep track of all your items. 

Finally, your space should be ergonomically optimized. Use a proper chair and set the height so that your feet touch the floor. You should look at your monitor directly (without turning your head horizontally or vertically). If you’re working on a laptop, you may need to prop it up on a stack of books so it's at eye level, in which case an external keyboard can come in handy. When you type, straighten your wrists and sit with your knees and hips in line. For an example, look at the mayo clinic’s guide.

Once again, it’s nice to break up your routine sometimes, and neighborhood coffee shops are a great place to do so. Many cities are creating co-op workspaces for freelancers to work together as well. 

If you absolutely have to work from bed because of physical disabilities or illness, make sure you are moving at least every half hour, and use a breakfast table or something similar to prop up your laptop and type with proper posture if you are physically able. 

The number one problem shared among entrepreneurs today is finding, vetting, hiring, and retaining expertise.

Developing a work ethic at home. 

Most people who work eight hours a day in an office are bound by a certain rigid routine. They come in at a designated time, leave at a designated time, and take breaks at a designated time. There can be negative consequences for deviation from that routine. Working from home, all that rigidity is lifted away. As freeing as this can be, it also makes it much easier to get sidetracked. 

One of the best habits you can create when developing your at-home work ethic is to establish the time of day when you’re most productive. For some people, it’s first thing in the morning. For others, it’s late in the evening. Whatever it is for you, schedule your work then and don’t deviate unless you have to.

When you work from home, it’s also easy to get into unhealthy habits. You can get less sunlight, less exercise, and start eating poorly. Counteract this with regular exercise — even a simple at-home regimen to keep you moving. Take vitamins, and make sure you’re eating well. Healthy work habits require healthy daily habits. 

Don’t be afraid to spend time off the clock organizing your upcoming projects as well. You should have your day scheduled at least the night before it actually occurs, but ideally a week ahead of time. This will allow you to pace yourself, and better communicate with clients about deadlines and your ability to take on more work. You won’t feel as bad about turning down potential clients when you know how much work you have, and how much you’re capable of handling. 

Value your labor, charge what you’re worth, don’t work for free. 

The kind of client you attract is directly correlated to your rates. If you set your rates low, you’re more likely to get frustrating clients who ask for a lot of changes. When you set your rates higher, your client will view you as a professional whose time is valuable.

Most freelancers drastically undervalue themselves. You may feel that you’re charging too much, but keep in mind that the alternative is hiring an employee with overhead such as health insurance, benefits, etc. Those are coming out of pocket for you. A good rule of thumb is to set your rates about two-and-a-half times the hourly rate a salaried employee would get for the same job. 

Don’tbe scared into working for free if you are not confident with your portfolio. Everyone starts somewhere. If you feel the need for work to show your clients, either draft up some work of your own (you may be able to sell it down the line) or consider volunteering for a non-profit (not only will this put work in your portfolio, but it’ll look great on a resume). 

Deposits and contracts.

Some freelancers ask for deposits, but it’s not common. You likely shouldn’t take a deposit unless it’s a big project where you’re undertaking substantial risk in the event you don’t get paid. Instead of asking for a deposit, hold something of the final product back until you’re paid—watermark your artwork, take screenshots of your web designs, and so on. But most importantly, sign a contract before you start work. 

Working for clients without a contract is risky. It doesn’t take much for clients to begin pushing inexperienced freelancers to do more and more work for less and less money. Drawing a contract not only protects you on a legal basis, but it also clearly defines what work you’ll do for what price, and what pay you’ll receive should the client want more. Drawing up a contract is super easy. The freelancer’s union offers a free contract creator, which is especially useful. 

Finally, even if you have a contract, make sure to communicate by email. If you have a meeting on the phone, summarize the decisions that were made in an email to the client to be sure you have everything correct. Not only does this keep you on task, but it gives you written proof of the expectations, should anything go wrong.

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