Follow Your Vision, and Focus!

When you go into business for yourself, you are now responsible for holding yourself accountable. What this means is that you must now organize your goals, structure your work days, and ensure everything gets done efficiently and on time. A lot of people find it difficult to discipline themselves. After all, if you’re working out of your home, there’s no one to get you moving except yourself.

Original art from my vision book, by Rosa Sophia.
Original art from my vision book, by Rosa Sophia.

This is why it is so important to know your mission. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Follow your vision, the dream that got you started. Working to make money is important. But doing it for only that reason will surely lead you to an inevitable burnout. Stay passionate about what you do, constantly reassess your goals and motivation, and always make sure your business days are organized so that you’re making enough time to take care of yourself, too.

Working constantly and not taking a break to eat or even breathe is not how you want to operate. That being said, I would like to share one of my methods for keeping myself focused.

My vision book.
My vision book.

The Vision Book

My vision book is similar to a vision board; I put the intent behind my business into this book, fill it with journal entries, goals, successes, and even failures. I used a regular sketchbook. I don’t focus on failures. Instead, I focus on what I have learned from my mistakes and how I can improve things in the future.

We aren’t perfect, so we’re going to make mistakes. But my vision book helps me assess these mistakes and make plans on how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. My vision book keeps me organized, and I also like to record inspirational things, such as notes from happy clients.

The most important thing my vision book does is:

It reminds me of why I am doing what I am doing.

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If you find yourself panicking, and ready to give up, journaling about it, thinking positively, and focusing on your goals in a vision book can help you boost your morale.

Why do you write? Why are you in business for yourself? What’s important to you?

These are essential questions to ask yourself, and certainly, the power of mulling over it in a similarly creative fashion can help you answer those questions.

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Freelancers: How much money are you REALLY making?

When I began relying on editing and writing to pay all my bills instead of just some of them, it became increasingly important to get a better handle on what I was making per hour. If you’re a freelancer, or even an editorial freelancer like me, you should really know how much you’re making per hour. If you don’t, that means a part of your finances is a mystery, and this can be dangerous to your wallet.

Getting paid per hour is great, but not all of my clients pay me that way. So, when you’re charging a flat fee for a project, how do you know what you’re really making?

Office Time became a valuable tool for me, recommended by fellow EFA members. I time my work even if I’m not being paid hourly. Office Time allows you to time your work easily and efficiently, and it gives you the option of inputting how much you make per hour—if you’re getting paid hourly. If you’re not, and you’re being paid a flat fee for a project, this program can help newbie freelancers gauge how much they’re really making per hour.

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Office Time for Mac. Also available for other platforms.

There are other great programs for tracking your time as well. I love Office Time. Having to tell a client how much you will charge on a given project can be nerve-wracking, and tests your faith in yourself and your own abilities.

There comes a time when you have to acknowledge you deserve to be paid for your skills, especially if you’re relying on them to pay the bills. Are you good at what you do? If the answer is yes, the time is now.

A great tool for freelancers: Office Time

Note: I did not receive any compensation for this, I just wanted to offer my honest opinion of this program.

The freelancer’s nightmare

I have been freelancing full-time for three months, but I’ve been doing it part time for the past eight years or so. When I started doing odd freelancing jobs, I wasn’t confident enough in myself, and I felt safe sub-contracting for small presses, editing for magazines, because it meant I wasn’t yet in the position where I’d have to quote a price or answer a client’s heavy questions. For now, the client was dictating the price, and I did what I was told. I wasn’t ready for full-time freelancing, and I knew it.

I’m grateful I’ve had the chance to step into it willingly; I haven’t been forced into freelancing by suddenly losing a full-time job. Over the course of many years, beginning when I was a small child, I knew I wanted to be my own boss, so I worked carefully toward that goal, learning as much as I could, observing others.

I remember my mother quipping, “If it were up to her, she’d stay in bed and write all day.” Well, here I am, living proof that a person can stay in her pajamas if she wishes, recline in her bed, getting paid to read and write all day.

But I’ve hit some bumps in the road, which is inevitable and expected. I’d like to share those with you.

Learning when to say no:

For quite a while, the people I worked for were either writers I knew well in person, or small presses who hired me over the internet. So, my first ever in-person total-stranger client was a very large, imposing, somewhat batty man, who had a penchant for telling wild tales and claiming they were true. No, this didn’t end well.

We made an appointment to meet, and talked for a while in a café. I walked away with a heavy paper copy of his book, because at that point I still preferred my red pen. I’d been warned he was a tad off-kilter, and I should’ve stayed away from him. But I needed the money.

Woah, stop right there.

Sorry, my friend. Never say yes to a client who gives you the willies just because you need money. The writing was terrible, the client was creepy, I quoted too low of a price, and then the author grew anxious, demanded we end our collaboration, and I returned his manuscript and was never paid.

If you want to be a freelancer, especially full-time, learn when to say no during an uncomfortable situation. It’ll save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.

Undercutting:

The word along the grapevine is there aren’t enough good editors to go around. And I’ve heard too many horror stories from my clients that make me think, yeah, they’re probably right. When you’re first starting out, you may be tempted to do anything for just about any amount.

“Wait, what, too much? Okay, okay, how about fifty bucks?”

Hey there, buddy. Not good!

Have confidence in your abilities.

Some people can’t afford good services. Others can afford them, but don’t want to pay. Whatever you do, don’t become the desperate freelancer who is more anxious about getting paid something, anything, than providing good, honest services for a reasonable price. Being on the bottom of the barrel means you’ll be treated that way; you won’t be respected by clients, when in fact you deserve respect. Be proud of your skills, and make sure you get paid fairly. Don’t engage other freelancers in a game of dirty pool; it isn’t fair and it won’t help your reputation.

Organize your life:

Recently, my business has been getting hectic. I don’t mind; it’s a good thing. My client base is increasing, and things are going well. Maybe this has happened to you.

One day, you check your inbox, and you have an email from a client that says, hey, what happened? I haven’t heard from you in a week.

Ouch!

You never want to be that freelancer. We all make mistakes, but remember to learn from them. I am learning every day from my mistakes. When something like this happens, step back, re-examine things, and ask yourself where you can organize to keep things like this from happening.

I printed out two check-lists, daily and monthly, and put various copies around and on my desk. Every day, I train myself to look at those check-lists so I don’t miss anything. Other than my editing clients, I also have marketing clients, and I have to keep up with them on a regular basis. The check-lists help.

I also utilize Microsoft Outlook’s notifications and task manager to keep track of projects, as well as Excel.

There will always be bumps in the road. But rather than pretending they aren’t there, it makes more sense to fix the path. Make your mistakes, and move on. The freelancer’s nightmare doesn’t have to be reoccurring.

The freelancer’s paycheck

I never came across so many people who didn’t know what freelancing meant until I leapt full-time into editing. Even the people who handle my student loans had no idea what I was talking about. After I explained that I’m an editorial consultant, a freelancer, and that most of my clients pay me through Paypal, there was a long uncomfortable silence.

“No, like I just said,” I tried to explain, “I don’t get many paychecks, and all I have is my bank statements, because they’re personal checks and they don’t have stubs. Most of my clients pay me through Paypal. I could send over my Paypal statements.”

“Um, uh, um . . . let me . . . put you on hold while I . . . get the . . . uh, figure this out.” When he came back he said, “So you’re . . . mostly self-employed?”

“No. I am completely, totally self-employed.”

He didn’t seem to get that.

Despite the stares of confusion I receive whenever I have to explain what I do, I am really enjoying my job.

The biggest hurdle to overcome if you’d like to be a freelancer, or a consultant working entirely for yourself, is the fear of where your next paycheck is coming from. The student-loan man seemed shocked when I told him I had no idea where my next check was coming from.

“Do you get paid weekly, bi-weekly?”

“No,” I said again. “I never know when I’m going to get paid.”

I wasn’t going to go into the logistics of how my clients pay me or when; I was already fairly annoyed by that point.

I grew up in terror of money, or rather, of not having any. My mother was always worried we wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, so this constant worry rubbed off on me. It has taken an incredible amount of will-power to train myself to not worry so much; I try to counter these frantic thoughts with the mantra, I will have more than enough, I will be successful. So far, it’s working. But over the last few days, my will-power has crumbled, and I opened up the carefully labeled jar I’d placed on the dark shelf of my mind: Fear.

A good friend of mine, author of the memoir The Journey of a Motherless Child, wisely said, “Don’t water your weeds.” I have to focus on the positive and keep my goals in mind.

Something always triggers the terror; this time it was an off-handed comment someone made.

“Don’t ever get married, as long as you don’t get married, the government can’t come after your spouse for your student loans.”

Aaaaannd, queue onslaught of carefully tucked away terrors.

I don’t think I could do this job as well if I spent the majority of the time worrying about money.

This week, I face up to that fear and let it go.

If you love that weekly paycheck from your employer, and you’re afraid to give up that security, it’s possible freelancing isn’t for you.

But, it is for me. Oh, is it ever.