What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Freelance Business

quit my day job

Last month I celebrated my blog’s 5th birthday of being in business. So today I’m sharing five things I wish I knew in the beginning, inspired by the Office Depot Business Solutions Center. This is part of a sponsored series I’m doing with Office Depot via Socialstars. Join the conversation on social media, using the hashtag #GearLove.

There are lots of things I wish I did differently in the beginning stages of my business. I made a lot of mistakes and had some awesome wins. I was fearless, but that’s not always a good thing and it cost me more than I hoped to pay. From being depressed, to getting back into debt, to learning to be location independent, it’s been a crazy ride.

There are no right or wrong answers for everyone. And after four years of being a freelancer, I can truly say that I’ve learned a few things that will hopefully save you the headache I experienced.

Here are five small business tips and lessons I wish I knew when I was first starting out as a business owner.

1. Don’t ask for permission

Do you remember why you wanted to be your own boss and set your own hours? You wanted more flexibility with your schedule, to work on projects you actually enjoyed, and not have to ask permission to take time off work.

At least, those are the reasons why I quit my job two years ago. In over 10 years of working for the same employer I only took 2 sick days. I was tired of asking my boss for time off work to spend with family, to recover if I was sick. I was thrilled when I no longer had to ask for permission.

But then I landed 10 other clients who became mini-bosses, and I started asking for permission all over again. Can we move this chat? Can I submit this assignment a day late? Is there a way we can move this around? You get the idea.

It was only this year, four years after starting my online business, that I realized I don’t have to ask for permission from anyone. Work is abundant, and if clients want to work with me then I’m happy to have them on my level. Now, I let clients know that I will be moving our talk from Monday to Tuesday, and they can let me know if that doesn’t work.

No requests. No more asking for permission.

You-Are-the-Boss

2. Hire (or ask for) help before you need it

Being a freelancer is a deceiving position. You may run a business of one, but it doesn’t mean you should work alone. In the beginning of my blogging career I thought I had to do everything myself, because of my limited budget, or limited trust I had in other people to get work done the way I wanted.

Now, however, I’ve learned the importance of asking for help, and even hiring team members to take the load off my shoulders. There are only so many hours in a day and if you want to accomplish everything to your high standards, you need people to help pick up the slack. That’s a fact, so you might as well embrace it!

When you need the help is when you become desperate, so start creating a process now so you can hand over your projects to someone else, when the time comes. Don’t wait until you’re in emergency mode, or feeling burned out. Learn more about the process, and download a free lesson from my brand new outsourcing course.

If you’re not ready to hire help, seek out an accountability partner who can offer support, guidance, and feedback. This is someone who can bolster your confidence and who you can bounce ideas off of — both of which are vital for being a successful freelancer.

3. Your workspace affects your bottom line

Ever since I bought the carefulcents.com domain name, my regular routine included working from my home office. I occasionally work out of a coffee shop but since I have such a small bladder (seriously I feel like I pee like every hour), I always have to pack up my stuff and head to the restroom — which isn’t very effective for being productive.

Anyways, my home office in my apartment is where all the magic happens and it was only a few months ago that I finally embraced the fact that my bad productivity energy was because my workspace was super inefficient.

I gave myself $100 budget and spent two months looking for inspiration, and furniture, for my home office makeover. I scoured the Office Depot Business Solutions Center for ideas, tips, and tricks for creating the perfect home office space.

I used to move around my office furniture once-a-month, trying to find the best layout. But since the makeover, I haven’t moved anything at all, and I’m more creative and productive than ever.

In fact, I’ve been able to double my freelancing rate since. Yes, I’ve done other things to make more money, but I know for a fact that my energy levels and creativity have greatly improved since updating my workspace.

4. Put your work first every day

For the longest time I struggled with making enough time to write for clients (since they pay the bills) and finding time to write for my own blog. My own projects always got pushed to the side so I could work on someone else’s tasks.

I worked endlessly on trying to find a way to balance everything, without overloading myself and working crazy hours. I finally found a solution by simply prioritizing my work during the first time slot of each day. I started out with just 10 minutes in the morning — before I started any client work, checked email, or jumped on consulting calls.

Then I diligently put my work first every day, for a week, a month, and then several months. Some days I failed at this, but as time went on, I found that I was more excited than ever to begin my work day. And because of this extra passion, I found the time (imagine that!). In fact, I started getting up earlier just so I could have extra time to work on my own blog and community.

That 10 minutes in the morning morphed into an hour every day, and now it’s become a regular part of my schedule. Some days I’ll spend 4-5 hours on my site, creating blog posts, newsletters, and course content. And I still balance this with doing client work and getting paid on time.

By applying this strategy to my workflow I’ve gotten more done in the past 3 months that I have in the past 3 years I’ve been in business. #nojoke Now I look forward to every day of work, and am happier and more creative than I’ve ever been.

Put your projects first every day. Do your best to stick with this and make it a priority. Block off 10 minutes in the morning for the next week and see what happens.

5. Your currency is time

As the breadwinner my small family, I have the added pressure of paying the bills on time and making sure that I provide everything we need. This usually means I’m completely maxed out with my time, and barely have a free moment to exercise or take a lunch break.

Can you relate? When you’re a freelance business owner your currency is time, not money. Yes, you have to earn money to pay the rent and keep your business afloat, but the real exchange of value comes in with your time. You have to be vigilant with where you spend your time, what projects you work on, and balance this with taking care of yourself.

I am constantly evaluating where my time goes, asking for small business advice, and testing out ideas for how to be more productive. At the end of each month I calculate all my working hours and divide that by the income I made during that time.

This allows me to see if I’m making progress on my hourly rate, where I’m wasting time, what clients need to be let go, and if I need to raise my rates. I also spend a few hundred dollars a month working with a super smart tech guy, handing off admin tasks to my Project Assistant, and combing through copy with my Assistant Editor.

All of these things allow me to leverage my time so I’m not always working, and I can enjoy the business that I’m building. That’s why we quit our jobs, right?

You want more freedom and more money, without working more hours. Viewing your time as currency will help you reach your goal.

What’s an important business lesson you’ve learned this year? Share your small business advice so we can avoid your mistakes!

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18 comments

  1. Awesome info! Thanks for taking the time to share it! I’m a new blogger, so I’m trying to absorb as much as I can of this kind of info! #1 really resonates with me. It’s hard to push through that constant self-doubt and questioning. Have a good one!

    • Carrie says:

      I think #1 was my biggest obstacle in the beginning, so I’m glad that really resonated with you, Luke. Once you’re able to get past that employee mindset, you start doing really awesome things. Basically, there’s no limit to what you can do!

  2. Ali says:

    I find that setting a certain time frame for a task and sticking with it really helps me with productivity. For example, I’ll say that I’m going to draft a blog post in 1 hour, and wherever it is at that point I leave it for the day and come back another time. Otherwise I just get sucked in and spend hours and hours on tiny details, which is really a waste of time.

    • Carrie says:

      Oh yes! I love this strategy, Ali. It’s like filling a glass of water — it takes up whatever space you give it. The same principal applies to our time. I try to do the same thing, while limiting how much time I waste.

  3. Kirsten says:

    Back in my college days, I used to have to clean my room before I could study. I can’t concentrate with clutter. It’s occurred to me that I’ll need a home office designed to work for me (we are in the middle of a move, or I’d just make this happen now).

    I like the point about creating a model so you can hand projects off. Sure, that might take years, but you don’t want to be stressed out about creating a process when you are already stressed out. It pays to think ahead.

    • Carrie says:

      I’m exactly the same way, Kristen. I can’t function when there’s clutter around — it’s so distracting.

      It has taken quite a few years to put together my business processes, and I’m still updating them. But now they save me SO much time that the initial investment is worth it.

  4. Mickey says:

    Great tips, Carrie. Especially the part where you take 4-5 hours to work on your own community and resources. It sincerely shows, both here and in the Facebook community that you’ve created.

    Two things that I use for productivity when I work (be it at home or at the library) are:

    1). Google timer. I just type “timer” into google, then set it for a work session. Usually 45 minutes. By the time the timer goes off, I need to accomplish my task. I then stand and walk around, stretch or have a sip of water.

    2). Coffitivity. It’s a free app that mimics the noise in a coffee shop. I trained myself so that when I play that and put my headphones on, my brain knows that’s work time.

    • Carrie says:

      Oh what awesome tips, Mickey. I will have to try your idea about the google timer — that sounds like a great productivity tip. I too LOVE Coffitivity. I used to use it all the time and forgot how much I liked it until you mentioned it. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Corina says:

    Great read and tips Carrie.
    I can relate to all of them, but number 4 and 5 are my struggles at the moment and you gave me a couple of ideas on what to do next. Thank you!

    As for business lesson learned this year: learn when to say NO. I had to come to peace with me and let go a client (though the pay was good), because I didn´t like the way he worked. He thought I was his employee, short deadlines, lack of info, etc.

    • Carrie says:

      Learning to say NO is another lesson I’ve had to learn while growing my biz too. Not just to clients, but to myself, and to potential opportunities (I suffer from FOMO — fear of missing out). I’m glad you were able to draw the line and set boundaries with yourself and your client. That takes guts!

  6. Miriam Miles says:

    As I was reading through this, nodding and agreeing, I came to number 4. I’ve been struggling so much with this particular challenge lately and it’s a combination of feeling guilty for spending time on what does not ‘seem’ to bring in money and feeling like I am just pretending to be a business.

    But in my gut all along, I’ve known that the secret is to think outside the box and develop my own writing and develop my business and this just confirmed it for me.

    Thanks again Carrie. Even across the seas your advice resonates.

    • Carrie says:

      Glad I could give you a much-needed push in the right direction, Miriam! What are your next steps? Let me know how I can help. Taking that first step in a different direction can be overwhelming, and I’ve been there, and can help offer support if you need it.

  7. I have less than 6 weeks left until I’m a full-time freelancer and I’m going to print out this article and read it every day. It’s so hard to get used to being the boss, but it is why most of us start out in this business. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Carrie!

  8. Kristi says:

    Thank you for this post, Carrie. Every paragraph hits home. I have been struggling which each of these.

    Learning to ditch the employee mindset and embrace being my own boss with clients is something I am still working hard to accomplish.

    I also need to set up a separate working space. It’s too hard to get my work done when the kids, dogs, and chores are all staring at me requesting my attention.

    • Carrie says:

      A separate work space is a MUST! I can work pretty much anywhere, as long as I have a door to the room. That way I can close it when I need to jump on a call, or need some time to think and create. Another thing that works wonders is headphones. If you don’t have a nice pair, you should consider investing in them. They will help block out the noise while helping you be more productive (especially if you use the focus@will music app).

  9. Renee says:

    What excellent tips and experience Carrie! I’m just starting out and making baby steps. As a creative entrepreneur becoming “the boss” is such a great piece of advice. I need to remember this. I get sucked into trying to cater, far too easily. I really needed to hear the advice about putting your stuff first as well, it just makes sense! Thanks!

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