What work-life balance really means for freelancers

If current research (including our own) tells us anything, it’s that freelancing is on the rise. Part of the phenomenon is due to economics forcing companies to downsize. But a healthy proportion of freelancers have actively chosen their lifestyle. The reasons given are usually a combination of 4 factors: time, money, environment, and purpose. In short, many people believe that freelancing is the answer to having a better work-life balance.

The good news is: it can be. But that doesn’t mean it will be. It really all depends on you. To make a success of freelancing, self-employment, and working from home, you often have to work harder than a salaried employee. You’re essentially running your own business, so you’ll need to do the work and all the behind-the-scenes work too. Some people excel at the actual work, but struggle with the business aspect. Many of these people dabble in freelancing, but end up going back to full-time employment. So, to help anyone who’s thinking of going freelance, or who’s battling to make it work, let’s take a closer look at what work-life balance actually entails:

1) Your time is your own

work life balance
Now, more than ever, people are demanding balance.

What people think this means: You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. So, sleep ‘til noon, take 3 hour lunch breaks, binge watch series. After all, you have no one to answer to.
What this often results in: Lack of productivity, because you don’t have a plan for how to use your time effectively.
What this actually means: Your time is your own, so you have to be disciplined about how to use it. Having a whole day at your disposal can be wonderful and awful at the same time. Without a plan, you might wonder how to kill all that time, especially when you don’t have a deadline to meet. That’s when you’re most likely to waste an entire day aimlessly surfing the web, liking random Youtube comments.

But if you’re disciplined, you can really get a lot done. As we discussed in our previous posts, having a To Do list, and blocking time to work are two great ways of keeping yourself on track. The list gives your day structure, and having dedicated blocks of time set aside for certain tasks ensures you complete them.

Remember that as a freelancer, your time is split into 2 categories: time someone else is paying for, and time you’re paying for. Time someone else is paying for is the hours you’re invoicing for a project. So, you need to deliver within that time, otherwise you’ll be eating into your own. You decide how you spend the latter, so choose wisely. Do you really need 4 hours of stalking ex-school mates online today? Or could you be making improvements to your business model instead? Do you need to follow up on payments due? Could you be learning a new skill to expand your service offering? And can you get all that done and still have time to hit the gym, walk the dog, and make dinner?

2) Your money is your own

work life freelancing
The flow of cash can be unpredictable, but at least it is yours to keep.

What people think this means: You’re going to make tons of money that you can spend on anything you want.
What this often leads to: Reckless spending and not enough saving.
What this actually means: Yes, you’re working for yourself, so you’ll be directly remunerated for any work you do. But, you don’t have a guaranteed paycheque at the end of every month. In fact, you have to work to get work every month (our research indicates that almost 65% of freelancers spend up to 10 hours a week looking for work). The process is helped immensely by knowing people and getting recommendations to good clients and collaborators, of course (which Kalido helps you with), but you’ll still need to put in effort.

Additionally, you won’t have an employer contributing to your pension or medical aid plan. You also won’t get paid maternity or sick leave. So, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. This means you have to be smart about making money, and saving it. Get a reliable accounting system in place (check out this post for more advice), get critical care and disability insurance in case anything prevents you from working, and save, save, save.

As a freelancer, you have more control over your money (remember to set your rates on your Kalido profile), which also means you have to be more responsible with it.

3) You can chase your passion

flexible working
Do something that you love.

What people think this means: You can do something you love, and make money from it! You never have to do anything you don’t want to ever again.
What this often leads to: Turning a hobby into a profession, which has its pros and cons. Also avoidance of projects that may be ‘boring’ or difficult.
What this actually means: Once you’ve turned a hobby into your profession, it’s no longer the no-strings-attached activity you once did in your leisure time. You have to decide whether you’re good enough to be able to sell it as a professional service. In other words, are you good enough that people will pay you for it? You also have to decide whether you love the activity enough to do it consistently. In other words, are you dedicated to it? And once your leisure activity becomes a work activity, what will your new hobby be?

Chasing your passion means you should love what you do, but this doesn’t mean you’ll love every minute of it. You’ll be offered projects that might be boring, or don’t allow you to fully utilise all your creativity. You can turn these briefs down, but then you have to be certain you have other ‘better’ work lined up. You’ll probably find that in amongst the fun things, you have to do a fair share of ‘boring’ briefs too.

You might also be tempted to stay in your comfort zone, and do what you know. As a freelancer, you should be extra careful about stagnating. You won’t have colleagues to compete against, or a boss to monitor your growth and development, so you’ll be responsible for pushing yourself.

4) You can work on your own

freelancers
Be your own boss.

What people think this means: No more horrible boss! No more insufferable colleagues! No more annoying clients!
What this often leads to: Isolation. Freelancers may find themselves cut off from their industry and the world in general if they don’t stay connected.
What this actually means: You can be more selective about who you work with, but you need to make an effort to stay connected.

Without colleagues to trade news with, your skills and service might become obsolete. You should stay in regular contact with ex-colleagues or other freelancers to see what’s happening in your industry. The Nearby feature on Kalido makes it easy for you to meet up with someone whenever you have some free time.

Without a supervisor to oversee your work, you need to be your own critic. Once you’ve finished a piece of work, put it away for a few hours, or days, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Be harsh, and push the work to be as good as it can be. Remember that each piece of work is your one chance to impress the client. They have no obligation to work with you again, so make them want to. Match with a mentor on Kalido if you want advice or direction from someone more experienced.

In terms of clients, you might never meet them in person. Freelancers often work from home and do work for clients halfway across the world. But this doesn’t mean you can forego the supplier/client relationship. Customer service is even more important for your business because there isn’t the obligation of an ongoing relationship. So, make sure you check in with clients periodically to get instructions, give them status reports, and generally keep the relationship warm.

While working from home, it’s easy for freelancers to become socially and professionally isolated. While part of work-life balance is being more selective about who you spend time with, that shouldn’t result in the only human contact you having being with the pizza delivery person.

The exact balance between work and life is a highly individual decision. And you must figure out a system that works for you. Being a freelancer can be a wonderful, fulfilling, and economically sound life choice. But contrary to popular belief, freelancing does not mean unfettered freedom to do whatever you want when you want. It doesn’t mean living your life without rules. It actually means you have to be pretty disciplined about your time and work and money. But as the ‘free’ in your ‘freelancer’ title implies, you’re free to make your own rules.