I propose that as a freelancer, you can have it all during one stage of your life, especially if you keep a few important work-management rules:
- Plan work time
- Keep thoughtful records
- Ask for help
- Value your time
Plan work time
A lot of freelance workers are juggling their work life with other commitments, particularly parenting. To manage that juggle, I use a paper planner, although your favorite electronic calendar would work just as well. I open it up during the announcements every week in church, because that’s when my kids’ activities are going to make it onto the schedule. During that time I look at the whole week and think about when I’m going to be spending time on different activities and what my deadlines are. If I have a freelance project going, I block out some time to work on that. These days I can mostly do that when my kids are in school, or during those couple of golden hours between their bedtime and mine. When I worked more freelance jobs and my kids were littler, naptime was prime work time, as well. Writing my plan seems to help me keep my commitments to my work.
Keep Thoughtful Records
Two hours at a time during naps or after bedtime is not a lot when you’re trying to get work done. I have a few tips about record-keeping that have helped me maximize my productivity – and to make sure that my pay has been accurate and fair.
If you are working on a dollars-per-hour basis, track your time on a physical log sheet or in a spreadsheet. This is picky stuff, but it’s important to help you be accurate and honest with your clients. I used to track in 15-minute increments, which my clients and I both felt was the right balance between simple and
These days, I work more on a per-project basis, charging clients a set amount for each story I write. This eliminates the picky timekeeping, which I like, and makes things more predictable for my clients. It’s true that some projects turn out to be more demanding than others. I have the kind of laid-back personality that lets me figure it will all even out in the end. It also helps that I generally work on several projects for each client, so it’s in their best interest and mine to
keep things on the level. It’s important to communicate well with clients. When
your client relationships are healthy, you can bring up any problems regarding things like your per-project pay without worrying about your future employment.
Your record keeping will back you up if any conflicts arise. Keep log sheets, assignment sheets, purchase orders, and any other documents related to your work so that you can refer back to them if necessary. These documents also help with invoicing.
Ask for Help
Sometimes you will find yourself on deadline, needing to do more work than your usual plan allows. A major edit on a book, for example, is pretty hard to get done in even a few months of two-hour chunks. Or maybe you have a client who wants you to attend a planning meeting for a project you’ll be working on.
These are times when you have to suppress that independent freelance-type spirit for a few days and ask for some help. If it’s not an ongoing thing, I think it’s ok to arrange with friends for your childcare – maybe a play date or a kid-watching swap will put you over the top on your project. Now that my kids are a bit older and more independent, I can get a reasonable amount of work done while they are at home with me, especially if they have friends over to keep them occupied – as counterintuitive as it sounds, sometimes eight kids are easier than four. (I’m still much more productive working when I don’t have to worry about my kids at all.)
Some lucky people can rely on family help. My little kids went to my parents’ house once a week in my earliest freelance days – a huge help to me, and prime bonding time for little boys and grandparents. Work with your spouse to squeeze more time out of your schedule if that’s your best solution. Sometimes it works well to do what our family calls skewed shifts; one parent gets to start working as early as they wish in the morning and takes responsibility for kids during the afterschool hours; the other parent gets the kids to school and then has the chance to work through the evening.
It is also a valid and important option for freelancers to pay for childcare.
I know a lot of the time we choose to freelance so that we can be home with our kids. But sometimes you just can’t be the parent and focus on your work at the same time. Carefully chosen babysitters, daycares, and nannies can be wonderful. Strategic investment in childcare may help you get your business
further. That’s a choice each person has to make for him or herself. I do believe you need to consider your emotional health along with your financial picture; how much is it going to help your stress levels if you get a few extra hours to work knowing your kids are safe and well cared-for? What’s that worth?
Value Your Time
What you do is valuable. And I don’t just mean in a nebulous, feel-good kind of way. Your goods and services are worth actual money. Charge a fair price for them. There are plenty of online avenues to research standard charges in your field of work, so I won’t go there; I’ll just say, do your research. It’s worth it!
Give yourself every chance to succeed that you can. This means sometimes you will say no to other activities that interfere with your work time, whether that’s a Netflix marathon after the kids go to bed, a church activity that will eat up a day when you need to be progressing on your latest project, or pro bono work for a friend. Your work as a freelancer is just as valid and important as the work of someone who is required to be in their workplace all day (or all night). “I’m sorry, I can’t; I have to work,” is a response you should be comfortable giving.
Generally, the more meticulous and disciplined you can be with your freelance work, the more successful your business will be. Good systems and plans for managing your work make all the difference with that kind of discipline. So does respecting your own work and time. Make it a goal to do these things and see what it does for your business.
Ana Nelson Shaw is an adjunct instructor and a candidate for the M.S. in Technical Communication at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. She
consults and writes on science and higher education communications as Ana Nelson Shaw Public Information Services and has published work in the Ensign and the Friend magazines. With her husband, a professor of mountain hydrology, she is bringing up four miraculous kids who joined the Shaw family through adoption.