Lessons Learned as a Freelancer

As we submitted a proposal last night for a new project, my husband turned and looked at me, saying, "I didn't realize we'd been doing this for so long." It's true. Time flies. It's been almost 8 years since my husband and I both left our office jobs and began working together as freelancers. Below are some of the biggest lessons I've learned.

Become a Lifelong Learner

Leaving the office world and going out on your own is a big leap of faith. You learn so much in the office and from working closely with your teammates. Before I became a freelancer, I was fortunate enough to have a supportive manager who challenged me and pushed me to expand my skills. When you're on your own, you lose those outside influences and have to muster up that motivation within yourself. You also lose the ability to learn from others and bounce ideas off them. Becoming a lifelong learner and continuing to refine your skills are essential to overcoming that challenges of losing these benefits. Some ways you can do this are:

  • Keeping up to date with industry blogs

  • Regularly attending industry webinars

  • Conversing with others through forums such as LinkedIn and E-Learning Heroes

  • Joining and attending local industry groups such as ATD and ISPI

Project Management is Key

When working on your own, you'll find that you often have multiple clients and multiple projects going on at once. Keeping timelines straight and focusing on the right projects at the right time can be a struggle. To help me manage this, I use Outlook to:

  • Scope out my work and timelines on the calendar view

  • Use the tasks to manage specific deliverables

Another key area within project management is identifying if you even have capacity to take on more work. This has been one of the most difficult areas for me to tackle, because I'm always wanting to take on more, and as a freelancer, there's always the thought that work might get slow. But one of the biggest lessons I've learned is to say, "No." I remember a manager always emphasizing this with me in the past, and this has turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons. To this day, I can't remember a time I've regretted saying, "No" to a client. If after reviewing timelines and deliverable dates, your gut tells you you can't handle it, you probably can't. Don't be afraid to say, "No."

Along with that, Time Management

Closely related to project management is time management. When I went out on my own, the biggest reason was so I'd have more flexibility with my schedule and availability for volunteer work. But having too much flexibility can be a problem in itself. I often find myself working late nights to finish projects because I've been too flexible with other things in my life. Having a set schedule for things and clearly knowing what needs to be accomplished each day is crucial.

I started using a Bullet Journal about two years ago to help with this. My new routine is to every Sunday, review what's coming up the following week and make any adjustments to my schedule as needed. Then every evening before bed, I review my tasks for the next day. This helps me to make sure nothing gets missed and that I have the time to accomplish everything I need to, without letting anything fall behind.

Don't Isolate Yourself

Finally, as a freelancer, don't isolate yourself. This one isn't really a lesson I had to learn, as the main reason I started consulting was so I'd have more time for volunteer work. But as I engage in that work, it helps me to appreciate the importance of developing and maintaining friendships outside the world of work, and finding something outside of work that helps you find a purpose and joy in life.

I recognize that I'll never get things perfect as a freelancer. But keeping these four lessons in mind and reflecting on them every so often helps me self-check myself. If I find I'm lacking in any of these areas, it's important to take the time to identify why and what I can do to better the situation. By doing so, I'll be not only more of a benefit to my clients, but also keep my work/life balance in check and find more joy in my work.