Articles - 6th December 2019

Five things I’ve learned from speaking to other freelancers 

Words by Jenny Stallard
Illustration by Jon McCormack

As freelancers, we can often end up a little bit in a bubble of our own thoughts and ‘self-advice’, for want of a better word. Sure, it’s great to be able to dance to your own tune and set your own hours to a certain extent, but there’s one thing I often miss, and that’s the ‘what do you think?’ element of office chat.

For me, turning to a colleague and asking advice, or counsel, is often something that can lead to a better understanding of your work and your own mindset, and can have a really positive knock-on effect to your productivity and mental health. It’s not just asking for advice, but hearing other people’s stories, or solutions to a problem can often help us find the answers to our own.

So when we sit at home, self-employed, we can miss out on that. I realised this was the case for me when I started meeting freelancers for my podcast, Freelance Feels. Focusing on ‘wellbeing for humans who work for themselves’ I wanted a USP of the podcast – as much as possible, depending on geography of course – to be that I’d go and meet people, and have a proper freelance ‘break’ while recording.

I knew I’d find plenty of advice for listeners, but, perhaps naively, I didn’t realise that I’d find plenty of advice for myself! It’s been truly amazing to meet other self-employed people and sit back while they take the stage to tell me their ways of coping, their challenges and successes. And I wanted to share some of the biggest things I’ve learned. Learning to listen to their stories has helped me make more sense of my own, and here are the biggest things I want to share with you.

1. There’s no substitute for an actual phone call. This one came from a couple of guests – reaching out to other freelancers (who might also be friends, not just ‘freelance colleagues’) with a call can change your whole day. You don’t need to schedule it in, either. One interviewee, Marianne Power, shared that she’ll just call someone – and they are often surprised. It’s a shame we’ve stopped using the phone so much.

But I urge you to try it. I’ve done it more since hearing this advice and it works with clients, too. Picking up the phone can cut through the perceived tone of an email and carry your day forward much more swiftly. I challenge you to make a call after reading this – and defy your day not to be more positive as a result of that connection.

2. Find your freelance tribe. This is something I’ve been trying to do, but hearing it from guests reminded me that it’s an on-going process, one we need to work at and one that’s really important. It might be former colleagues, or it might be your co-working space freelance friends. It might be a Facebook group or online community. But find the people who you know you can trust to hand out advice – practical and emotional.

3. We’re all struggling – and that’s ok. Social media can make us think everyone else is doing ‘so well’ and even truly succeeding while we’re floundering. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from my guests so far is everyone feels, a lot of the time that they’re wading through treacle. They’re trying to secure new work, or chase payments, or wondering if talking to houseplants is really ok… (I’d argue yes of course it is!).

Everyone has challenges, daily if not hourly, and my guests have shown me that those challenges are often similar, too. From over-comparing on social media to worrying about cash flow. Remember we are all in the same boat, and that nobody has it sorted out. Take time out to reflect, to have a lunch break or take a walk and get some fresh air if you’re having a tough day.

4. Freelance isn’t such a lonely place after all. Meeting people through the podcast has brought me companionship on days when I might not have spoken face to face with someone like I might in an office. I’ve written about freelance loneliness, and I do think it’s something we can really suffer with if we’re not careful.

It’s an important part of self-care to acknowledge and try to deal with mental health challenges such as loneliness. But when we take time to reach out, to talk and laugh and find out that someone else is feeling the same ‘freelance feels’ we feel far less isolated and lonely.

5. Do freelancing ‘your’ way. That sounds a bit like a fast-food advert, if I recall, but it’s true. Each freelancer I’ve met so far has completely different ways of doing things – but they’re all making it work. One was a spreadsheet fiend, another a single mum. Two have dogs, while one was dealing with the imposter syndrome of being a newly released author. The biggest thing was that while some of their advice felt similar (using the phone, finding your tribe), some was wildly different.

But I’d say all of it was worth listening to. Remember, above all, to ‘freelance’ your way. Not somebody else’s. If they do Instagram stories but you hate Insta, don’t worry! If you’re keen on spreadsheets, go for it. But don’t do it just because someone else loves them. Thejre’s room in this crazy freelance world for all of us. Just like all the different cacti that I find and photograph for the Freelance Feels Insta, too. 

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