How to live better as a Freelancer: Part Two.

In Part One I introduced the idea of doing less but earning more. To most people it may seem like a paradox. Indeed, in the past my own experience has taught me that going the extra mile can make all the difference, but at what cost?

That’s the most important question here, and one I’d like to answer, as it forms the basis of this entire journal entry.

You see, the chances are that at some point in your life you’ve held a permanent job – let’s say a 9-5 in an office, or a split-shift at a bar or restaurant. More hours equates to more money (usually), especially when the overtime rate comes in to play. Your boss, and the company, want to get the most out of you, and to do that they believe that hiring you for as many hours as possible will get the job done. If there are no customers to serve then clean the fridges. If all the paperwork has been filed, go and help out another department. There’s always something that NEEDS doing, or so we’re told.

A conditioning of the brain

What this creates is a conditioning of the brain. We feel that a job isn’t finished until it’s time to go home and that we haven’t done a day’s work if we haven’t completed eight solid hours of labour. Speaking for myself I know I’ve experienced this “anxiety” and have therefore been running my photography business in pretty much the same manner. OK, so it’s not quite the same; I often have assignments in the evenings or at weekends, and I can take a week off whenever it suits me. But I often found myself getting stressed in the mornings during the school run, because I felt I had to move fast and get in to the office. For what, though? Of course there was work to be done, but who was I trying to please? And despite my best efforts, the “inbox” was never empty. And so I’d keep hammering away at the keyboard, fulfilling necessary tasks but without realising that the stress would be back first thing tomorrow whilst I wrestled with the kids’ winter suits and boots.

And then something changed. Two things, actually. The first was I got sued by a client. It completely knocked me sideways, as our relationship was otherwise strong and trustworthy. It’s a very long story, and is perhaps a blog for another day. But the short version is, my colleague and I were forced to pay 22,500 DKK between us, for something that was totally unnecessary. Imagine a motorway pile-up, where the driver of one car sues the driver behind him, and this continues all the way down the line (as the law allows) untill the very last driver gets left with the bill and no-one behind him to sue. That’s pretty much what happened.

At the end I’d earned just 2.000 DKK

From me the client received two-thirds of what they’d paid me all year and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and a serious hole in my funds. I was fortunate enough to have the full support of my colleague, who paid half and therefore made it easier for me. But it also left me feeling guilty on his behalf.

That entire month was spent worrying about the case and trying to find a solution, and as a result I spent absolutely no time marketing myself or trying to find clients. At the end I’d earned just 2.000 DKK: it was like the old days.

Once the dust had settled I decided to take a day off from the office and work from home. But my goal was entirely different: I needed to find some (well-paying) clients fast. So I made a cup of tea, opened my laptop, and got straight to work. I sent emails, made phone calls, and responded to requests, and by the end of the day I had one month’s worth of potential clients all saying “send us an estimate.” I breathed a huge sigh of relief that day, I can tell you.”

The Four Hour Work Week

I won’t go in to the methods of how I found these potential clients, or the nature of the assignments. But it leads me nicely on to the second part of what changed. I’d been reading a book for a while, called The Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris.

He’s the kinda guy you either love or hate, and many people believe he’s egocentric. Possibly. But his ideas started to ring true with me, and I soon started feeling less stressed about getting everything done. I began to realise that working eight hours a day, five days a week, wasn’t necessary, and that work was eating up any spare time I had. Most of my weekends (and evenings) were spent either doing chores around the house, or entertaining the kids. Where was the time for me?

As I mentioned in Part One, there were a few things in my life that I was doing purely for fun, such as Half Marathon training and improving my Danish, but I had been struggling to find the time for it all, because I was still working too much. That was because my brain still believed I had to and I felt guilty if I left the office early to go for a run. But slowly, once I’d read the book in its entirety, I started feeling more at ease with the whole idea. My pre-conditioned brain was being rewired.

The 80/20 Rule

The key to the new lifestyle was the 80/20 rule. It’s a rule that suggests 20 percent of the work you do creates 80 percent of the income, and vice versa. In other words, focus more on the 20 percent of clients that make you the most money and get rid of the rest. Another way to look at it, is that 20 percent of your working day is responsible for getting 80 percent of the day’s tasks completed. Haven’t you noticed how you work more efficiently when there’s a deadline looming, or you have to be somewhere else urgently at 2pm? The huge difference is that we prioritise these deadlines or 2pm appointments at the doctor’s because we are aware of how important they are. So the key now is to start prioritising your personal life, too.

As freelancers we have the greatest opportunity to do this. We are our own boss, we decide what we do, when and who for. We are the ones who can delegate tasks to others if we choose to. Because working every day just to get things done doesn’t make our lives any happier, does it? They say the biggest cause of stress if when we DON’T get things done. That’s why I get pissed off when I don’t read, or study Danish, or go for a swim, or a drive out to the beach. Stop WORKING for your own business and start RUNNING it instead. You’ll thank me for it when you do.

On the lookout for a new client

As for the client who sued me… well, they reassured me that they wanted to continue working together in the New Year and that this whole affair would be put behind us. Sadly I can tell you that that hasn’t happened. For one reason or another, and despite the promise of negotiating a new contract, the work has completely dried up – leaving me on the lookout for a new client to replace them.

I should really thank them, though. They turned out to be the 20 percent who caused me 80 percent of my problems last year. I’ll be just fine, I’m sure.

So if you’re a Freelancer working every waking hour just to get by, start thinking smarter. Are you happy doing so many things each day and not improving your life elsewhere? I expect I’m not alone, and like I wrote at the very beginning of this new journal project, neither are you.

This blog post originally appeared on www.photographybymatthewjames.com