Freelancing When Life Has Other Plans
When I last posted, I had grand plans to post new content every week. But life had other plans. My family of three (two adults and a preschooler) grew to a family of four when a teenage relative came to live with us and finish high school. Becoming bonus family to a teenager has been a big adjustment for everyone—a joyful, enriching, wouldn’t-change-a-thing adjustment, but an adjustment all the same.
Big adjustments require more intentional self-care. To be a good steward of my energy, I needed to scale back my business to focus only on paying work, letting the blog go for a while. As Robert Burns famously said in his poem “To a Mouse,” “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley.”
But now I’m back with occasional (read: not scheduled) posts on aspects of the freelance communicator’s life. So for my first post in (mumblety) months, I decided to look at ways we freelancers can grapple with family needs and unexpected developments. This post serves up a flight of links on various aspects of managing a freelance business and life events at the same time. Some tips are more relevant if you have more flexibility in your business—but primary/sole breadwinners will also find wisdom in these areas:
- Client Relations & Etiquette
- Freelancing While Parenting
Experts tell us that self-care, especially during upheaval, includes eating healthy food, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. My own self-care skews more toward stress-eating Oreos, sleeping a lot, and blowing off steam with a video game. So clearly I have room to improve. Here are healthier suggestions from fellow freelancers:
Freelancers Union (Kate Hamill)— “3 Trips for Freelancing Through a Crisis” : “You are a human being, not a Freelance Work Robot. Try your best to treat yourself as you would your best, best friend who was going through this crisis.”
iThemes (Kevin D. Hendricks)— “Freelancer Self Care: Why It Matters and How to Do It” : “All the freedom of freelancing means you can abuse that freedom. You can work long hours and never take breaks—and you won’t last long. It’s crucial that you understand the importance of taking care of yourself.”
If you are a medical editor, know health care professionals, or just watch ER reruns, you know that to triage means to allocate your energy based on (1) what most needs your attention, in order, and (2) what will derive the most benefit from your attention. Triaging is the best tool in my coping toolbox. Check out these articles on triaging—including one that points out that all life is change that we must learn to manage.
Copyediting (Erin Brenner)— “Personal Crises: The Freelancer’s Strategy” : “[After a death in the family] I didn’t have the energy or focus to do full days, and some days I couldn’t write or edit. I did what I could, even if it was just filing some papers, to get back into the work mindset.”
Freelance Writing Gigs (Jodee Redmond—no relation!)— “Having a Personal Crisis? How to Deal and Keep Your Freelance Writing Clients” : “Take some time to allow yourself to be human … Once you understand the situation, you can start making plans to deal with the situation.”
Zen Habits (Leo Babauta)— “Herding Cats: A Simple Method for Working with the Disorder of Our Lives” : “When things are up in the air, it can feel like we’re in transition … But here’s the truth: our lives are always in transition.”
Client Relations & Etiquette
For freelancers, the stress of life upheaval can be compounded by the dilemma of how to handle clients: whether to tell them, how to tell them, and what to divulge. This issue especially comes up when we need flexibility with an existing deadline. Here are two perspectives on managing clients during difficult personal times:
Clear Voice (Lena Katz)— “Freelancer Etiquette for Working During a Personal Emergency (You Don’t Need to Be a Superhero)” : “As a freelancer or contractor, you can lose perspective on your professional parameters. Freelancers and remote workers often exist in a bubble outside of 9-to-5 norms.”
Contently (Susan Johnston Taylor)— “5 Tips for Freelancing Through Personal Chaos” : “[Clients] who know your work well are often more forgiving about personal crises or extended leaves than new ones, so focusing on existing relationships … can help until you get your mojo back.”
Freelancing While Parenting
Any freelancer can experience a crisis at any time. Freelancers with families simply have extra opportunities for crises to pop up, and sometimes the crisis is minor in the general scheme of things. A spill on a favorite shirt can wreck your three-year-old’s entire day, which in turn wrecks your own work day—ask me how I know! Here are four links of, by, and for freelancing parents.
- EditorMom (Katharine O’Moore-Klopf)—“Surviving Self-Employment When You're a Parent”: “I know just how challenging it is to juggle parenting and freelancing, just as it is to juggle parenting and in-house employment.” (Lots of links here!)
- Freelancers Union (Kate Hamill)—“5 Ways to Juggle Freelancing and Parenting—Without Losing Your Mind”: “Don’t try to be perfect; that’s the path to burnout. It’s okay for the kids to chow down on takeout sometimes, and it’s okay to quote clients a slightly longer turnaround time in order to cover any ‘surprises’.”
- Writer Access (Alicia P)—“How I Freelance as a Parent with Small Children”: “Being at home can make your attention divided, but having clear deadlines and knowing when you need to complete them will make you feel more organized and in control.”
- The Write Life (Leigh Shulman)—“Freelancing with a Family: How to Balance Your Work and Your Kids”: “Freelancing with a family definitely requires an additional set of rules and skills.”
A Final Thought
Personal and family leave practices vary from employer to employer, and from country to country (and are not great here in the United States). But freelancers everywhere face extra challenges when a personal or family crisis pops up. And our stress can be further magnified by the relative isolation of our work.
So my final thought is this: Connect with trusted colleagues.
- Join online groups and local meetups to network.
- Forge relationships with colleagues whose work, compassion, and good will you trust.
- Reach out when you’re in crisis.
As fellow freelancers, we have weathered our own crises. We can provide a shoulder to cry on, a sounding-board to help strategize, and even an extra pair of hands and eyes to help with that deadline that just won’t budge. I have benefited from supportive colleagues, and I’m happy to pay it forward.
If you’re dealing with a big change or crisis, reach out to someone. As solitary as our work can be, you never have to go it alone.