When my VA trainees are about to be signed off and released into the world of freelancing, we often discuss what it’s like to work for yourself, pitfalls and ways they can better manage their time once they’re working with multiple clients. I’ve learned a few time-management tricks over the years, but I also have some advice on how to make the most of freelance life in general.
Tips on living a productive Freelance life
Schedule meetings late in the day or Friday afternoons
If you book your meetings from 4pm onwards then they don’t eat into your working day. Nobody really does much work on Friday afternoons anyway so this is also a good time to arrange consultations or meetings.
Schedule blocks of work in your calendar
Once you start to get a few clients, you’ll find it useful to actually schedule tasks as blocks of time in your online calendar. Always allow buffer space either side and for unexpected tasks to drop in, lunch, collecting kids from school etc.
If you see your tasks clearly laid out ahead of you then you’ll have a much better idea of when you can do them and what your week realistically looks like. Put everything in (I colour code personal things in pink and work stuff in blue) and then you can just move any non-urgent or time-specific tasks if something else suddenly needs to take priority.
Make time for marketing
Friday afternoons work well but make sure you’re constantly doing things to raise your profile and build relationships in your local area or online. I have a recurring weekly task in my Google calendar called ‘DO’ then I list things like scheduling social media and other marketingy stuff.
Physically meet people
It can be easy to think you know someone because you talk to them on social media, but always try to physically meet up with them now and then. People do business with people, and speaking to them in person means you get a much better idea of what’s going on with their business and are more likely to take advantage of opportunities.
Skill swap with other VAs
If you know other VAs in your area then see if you can meet up to swap stories and skills and to encourage each other. I meet a couple of VAs now and again to do this and two of us even set each other monthly and weekly business goals then hold each other accountable. Some VAs won’t want to know of course as they’ll see you as competition, but every VA is different and they’re numpties if they see you as the enemy.
Assess and evaluate
If you never get work from a particular networking group then stop going to it. Every 6 months or so take a look at the clients you have, how they came to you, which ones you like best and why – then try to get more of that type of client. Do more of what is working and stop doing what isn’t.
Break up big chunks of work
If you need to spend 5 hours on a task but can’t see where you can find 5 hours in a row, then just do one hour a day for 5 days. This seems obvious but it’s really easy to forget! If you’ve ascertained what the deadline is for a task (you must ALWAYS do this!!!) then you’ll know how long you have to space it out anyway.
Sometimes you (or your client) will just have to suck it up
Sometimes you’ll have loads of work on and other times it’ll be less chaotic. That’s just the way freelancing works. So sometimes you’ll need to work 10-12 hour days to get it all done and not ‘let anyone down’, or you can just tell your clients you’re busy and give them a date when you can do the work.
Frankly, unless your client is on a priority retainer, if you’re busy they’ll either just have to wait until you can fit their work in. You’ll find they’re usually completely fine about working around you (never, ever let anyone bully you and be firm if you really don’t have the availability) and if they’re not, then tough. You’re not open 24/7.
Take advantage of what time you work best
If you find you think better first thing in the morning then schedule ‘concentrating’ tasks in the AM and more routine tasks such as research or data entry in the afternoon. Make your work fit around when you’re at your personal best.
Take time to appreciate your freelancer lifestyle
Taking 20 minutes to play with my cat in the middle of the day feels like I’m skiving off, but even after all this time, I still have to remind myself that I chose to be a freelancer so I could do stuff like this. So take a walk in the park, go for that coffee with a friend, do a Tesco shop mid morning, work from a cafe, go to the flicks in the afternoon… remember to take advantage of the life you chose.
You can always work evenings or weekends if you need to make the hours up, but as long as the work is done then do it whenever you like. I sometimes like to sit outside a coffee shop and watch everyone hurrying to work in the morning. It sounds sadistic but it makes me think back to when I was one of those people and really makes me appreciate how lucky I am that I don’t have to do that any more.
I know I must’ve missed some tips so please feel free to provide some of your own in the comments section below.