Let’s cut to the chase: freelancing is HARD. Like, really hard. It can make you want to cry multiple times a week, have full-on tantrums at least once a month, and quit and go back to a 9-5 job every fifteen minutes or so, and at no time is it more difficult than in the first year.
If you happened to catch my article Lessons Learned From a Year of Being Self-Employed on the Ladies Who Launch platform back in June, you’ll know that I had a pretty amazing and tumultuous first year of being freelance, and learned quite a few lessons from it. Since then I’ve received messages from many a fellow freelancer about the logistics of quitting your job and going out on your own, and although the questions range from ‘how do you get clients?’ to ‘how do taxes work as a self-employed person?’, the common thread for everyone is a fear of the unexpected. For many of us, being in full-time employment with a regular salary is all we have ever known, and the idea of saying goodbye to that in favour of monthly uncertainty seems petrifying and unachievable.
If you’re thinking of handing in your notice at work to go freelance, or you’ve already done it but you’re hating freelance life right now, here are 7 things that happen to ALL of us in one way or another in the first year.
Imposter Syndrome will hit you hard
The first thing most of us will think in the initial few days of freelance-hood is WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK AM I DOING?! You’ll have thoughts like ‘I am NEVER going to get even one client’, ‘Why did I think I could do this?’, ‘I don’t have enough experience to be doing this’, ‘People will think I’m crazy for emailing and asking for their business’, and so on. I can’t emphasise to you how common it is to feel like you don’t belong doing what you’re doing, and that you aren’t experienced or knowledgeable enough to deserve the clients that you are seeking.
It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and it’s a great thing to be aware of when going into your first year of freelancing, because it allows you to accept those thoughts for what they are: fear. There is no secret self-employed sauce that has been passed from successful freelancer to successful freelancer, they’re just people, and trust me, if I can make it work then you can too. It just takes a little hard work and belief that you do deserve to have a chunk of that sweet self-employed pie.
Your calendar will feel like a stranger
If I had thought about this in my first year of freelancing, I would probably have created a much more efficient working week and saved myself money in the process. But my mistake is your gain, because I would highly recommend creating a schedule for yourself before you begin your freelance life. You may think you are organised now, but as a freelancer you will have to be juggling a lot of things that you’re not necessarily the best at (i.e. marketing your services, networking, invoicing, etc.) and you may want to ignore them in favour of doing the creative work that you know and trust yourself with.
Organising in advance when you will tackle the things that you may not want to will mean that, at least, you don’t have the excuse of ‘no time’. This is also a good idea for another reason: in your first year, your friends will still want to hang out with you every weekend, and you’ll want to exercise your freedom to go for coffee dates whenever you like. Seeing those meetups written down in your calendar will give you a better idea of just how much your social life may be changing as a result of your new schedule, and it’s good to be aware of those changes, whether they’re for better or worse.
You might feel lonely for the first time in your life
Whether you’ve felt lonely in the past or not, the word can take on a new meaning when you are physically around absolutely no one all day. Maybe even for days on end. Going freelance sounds exciting, and it can be, but in the first few weeks you may feel a strange sense of isolation due to the lack of human contact, and this can make even the most introverted of us all feel down after a while.
Loneliness among freelancers is part of why I set up Desk Life Project in the first place, because even just chatting to someone online in an Instagram comment can help give you a sense of community again, but I would always recommend getting out of the house regularly if you can. I’ve been using the Croissant app over the last month to hop around co-working spaces in London, and it’s been a great way to get out of the house and around fellow freelancers, whether I end up chatting to them or not. I’ve tried coworking spaces in the past, but with them being quite expensive I’ve settled on Croissant as an affordable way to use coworking spaces, which I think is relevant to a lot of new (and financially careful) freelancers in their first year.
If you live near one of the cities they are in (there are lots) and want to try out Croissant, you can get a free week trial and even a discount on your first month by using my affiliate link (click here). Please note: Croissant offer me a free membership for being an ambassador, and since I genuinely love using their app to find free desks when I need them, I’m more than happy to pass this info on to you. Let me know if you decide to use it, I’d love to know how you got on.
Financial worries are like boomerangs
Even with a large pot of savings in your bank for exactly this purpose, when you suddenly quit your regular paycheck, it can feel terrifying and even debilitating. Financial worries sometimes come as part of the self-employed package, but even if you think you have prepared for this kind of worry, it will feel all too real when it’s time to pay rent and your last two clients haven’t responded to your invoice email. The most annoying part is that these financial worries are like boomerangs, they just keep coming back every month.
The important thing to keep in mind is that you will undoubtedly have some savings behind you from when you pre-planned your move to a freelance career, and even those freelancers who are always talking about their huge portfolio of clients may not be doing as well financially as you imagine they are, so it’s never advisable to compare yourself to others in your field, especially when it’s your first year. Over time, these worries will become easier to manage as you start to recognise the pattern that emerges, so knowing how your mind and body reacts to this kind of financial stress is key to planning long term and never letting it get you down.
And remember, it’s not going to be like this forever!
You’ll lose touch with your body
Even if you worked long hours in your 9-5 office job sitting for long periods of time, there are a number of things that would get you up out of your seat: doing a tea run for the team, going out to get lunch, topping up your bottle at the water fountain, going to visit a colleague’s desk for a mid-afternoon catch-up, getting your documents from the printer, and so on.
When you become freelance, you may find yourself more stationery than you have ever been in your whole life. And with no one around to remind you to stretch, move, sit up straight and stop slouching (anyone tempted to take their grandmother to work with them?) you could find yourself with aches and pains that you don’t recognise just a few weeks into freelance-hood.
Remember to incorporate movement into your day in any way you can. If you want inspiration for this, check out our interview with Pilates At Your Desk (PAYD) founder Kerrie-Anne, here.
You’ll freak out about tax
New to freelancing, approaching the deadline for your tax return, and know absolutely NOTHING about how to deal with this huge aspect of freelance life? Don’t panic, most of us feel exactly the same. The thing to remember is, although it can often feel like it’s going to be the hardest thing you ever tackle (and you’ve probably heard horror stories from freelance friends), the truth is that it’s more time consuming than unachievable, and you shouldn’t let it worry you to the point of ignoring it until the last minute.
Know that if you deal with taxes the week of the deadline, you will undoubtedly cause yourself more drama than is necessary. If you are at that stage, it’s not impossible, it’s just going to be more stressful, that’s all. Do yourself a favour and set aside some time to look into the tax process early so that you can get a handle on it sooner rather than later. There are lots of resources online to help (Desk Life Project hopes to be one of them soon!) and if you’re really struggling, find a self-employed friend or family member who can help you start the process and put your mind at ease.
Clients will not appear as if by magic
Sadly, it’s true. In fact I’ve found that when you really need clients, they won’t appear, and when you have too many, they come at you like one of those baseball pitching machines and get you all flustered. Knowing before you go freelance that clients won’t be knocking down your door straight away is a huge positive, as it means you can put in the effort to seek out your ideal clients and be proactive instead of waiting for them to come to you.
It’s important not to see your big empty calendar in the first few weeks and panic, thinking it will be impossible to fill. Remember that this is the challenge at the beginning of every freelancer’s journey, and this blank slate can only be a good thing for you, as it means you get to fill every space with a client that you respect and love working with.
Are you a brand new freelancer or thinking of making that first move? Let us know what your biggest worries or struggles are. We’d love to know so that we can share with the community and get you the answers you need!