Client Me: You are your most important client.
A guide for taking care of yourself as a freelancer.
You are your most important client. You’re the highest paying, most consistent and supportive client you will ever have the pleasure of working with and, as freelancer’s, we should be treating ourselves as such.
For lack of a better analogy, I’m going to liken it to the safety briefing on a plane, instructing adults to put their own oxygen mask on before their children’s. It might seem selfish on the surface, but what use are you to your clients if you’re not getting any oxygen to yourself first?
When I was freelancing in the production department of commercials and music videos (I’ll be writing a post about my freelance journey soon) I was consistently burning the candle at both ends, so I was determined to create a better balance when it came to the work I’m doing now. Just as you would incorporate marketing, client calls, invoices, and contracts into your days, self-care is an equally important task that helps keep your business ticking over. Ideally, caring for ourselves should be a preventative measure, not a reactionary measure.
One of the benefits of freelancing/running your own creative business is the flexibility it brings, we can select the projects we take on and at what price, choose our working hours and curate our days to ultimately create the lifestyle we want. Yet it’s so easy to slip into a pattern of not using our freedom wisely, chaining yourself to the desk, not taking any breaks and not eating lunch until 3pm. As unique beings, self-care will be different for every freelancer and finding your personal self-care rhythm should be as important as finding your client workflow, which will be tested, tweaked and maintained over time.
Although yours might look different, here’s a list of ‘client me’ actions I implement or know I should be working towards implementing.
Like in any job, there will be times when we need to push those boundaries aside for the sake of a project but on the whole, it’s beneficial to have some form of work/life separation and stick to this routine. I don’t have the space for a dedicated room to work in but I have a workspace (desk) in my living room and yes, I am the freelancing stereotype who occasionally works on the sofa, so I separate work time and living time by ‘logging off’ once I’ve started cooking dinner in the evening. I treat the act of cooking dinner as my commute time (the time it would have taken me on the tube to get back from an office) so will use this time to listen to a podcast or the radio. I’ve found this method of blocking out my day really works for me.
Make sure you’re nourishing yourself properly.
Nourish yourself - with food, continued honing of your craft and incorporating a morning routine which sets you up for the day. This will look different for everyone but I like to see it as continuously and consciously caring for my body/mind. I’m definitely much better at listening to what my body needs these days so I like to stay as in tune with that as much possible.
Enforce screen breaks.
Make sure you get up from your laptop and stretch or stare at a fixed point 20ft away every 20 minutes or so to give your eyes a rest.
get your vitamin d.
Leave the house at least once a day. We’ve all done it. Said bye to our partners from the desk in the morning, only for them to return to us sat in the exact same spot and ask "have you left the flat today" and receiving the answer "no, too busy". A wander around the block or to the local park will work wonders and it’s also the time I come up with all the solutions to problems I’ve been musing over. If I’m feeling uninspired, I also find it handy to mix up my work space once in a while and I’ll go and sit in a cafe.
Socialise & connect with people as much as you need to.
Even as a highly introverted creature, I sometimes struggle with the lack of camaraderie that came with office work, so I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for the extroverts making the leap to working from home. Make sure you’re socialising, engaging with people and attending in-person meetings as much as you need to. In the long term, I’d love to join a co-working space so I'm surrounded by other freelancer's. In the meantime, I’d like to build a community of other like-minded creatives, all my friends are full-time so it would be beneficial to have other freelancer’s to download to on a weekly basis. If you’re London based and feeling the same, let me know!
You don’t always need to be available.
As someone who can’t stand the little red circle with numbers in above my app’s, I used to respond to work emails, phone calls and text messages at all hours of the day, weekend’s and when I was on holiday, so it’s no wonder that within a year I was feeling slightly overwhelmed by the constant contact. Business hours/response times are something I will now be upfront about. I know I can’t stop people from contacting me outside of my business hours but I can choose to ignore an out of hours email. I’ve never actually been contacted out of hours with anything urgent, so I’m learning to respond at a convenient time for me. I’m also planning on having an OOO email response during my Holiday’s/Christmas.
Consume non-business related media.
There was a period of time where the only books, podcasts, and blogs I was consuming were all work related. And, whilst it’s important for your business to keep consuming work-related content, I found I wasn’t really ‘switching off’ when I was consuming these. I now usually cook to the My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast (it’s hilarious), read fiction instead of non-fiction to wind down and read lifestyle blogs for inspiration. Furthermore, consuming lots of different content will help to inspire you in all aspects of your work.
Find yourself an activity to wind down to.
When I was working in film, the interests on my CV were photography and writing. In many freelance cases, our hobby/passion just became our job. Whilst this is a positive move, we now, more than ever, need something that will act as an activity to take our mind off of work and to help us unwind from work. This can still be the activity you do for work, as it’s something that brings you joy, but you need to create some mental separation. I still write and photograph for fun but I did a macrame workshop recently and loved it so much that I now plan on investing in a kit.
I’m not saying hit the gym 6 days a week (unless you want to) but we all know we should be taking some time to get outside and actively move. I’ve learnt that I need accountability to do exercise, so I flit between Pilates classes, running with my sister, and swimming on the Heath in the Summer. Even a brisk walk would do you some good and if you’re more disciplined than me, try a YouTube yoga video. Find out what works for you and factor it into your routine.
Sort out your sleep cycle.
Sort out your sleep cycle according to your body clock, there are so many articles out there preaching the virtues of early bedtime routines but I think it all comes down to when you work best. Freelancers have the luxury of working to our body clocks, so find a healthy sleep cycle that works for you. I work better in the morning’s so prefer to be in bed a little earlier than someone who delivers their best work at night.
know your worth.
Definitely a whole post within itself, but in short, for numerous reasons, it’s easy for us to feel guilty about turning down low/no paid work. I find it helps to think of yourself as a small business and not a freelancer when someone enquires as to whether you’d do the work for less than you quoted. The project isn't going to pay the rent so it needs to have some form of ROI on the time you put into the project. Consider whether the project will count as outreach for your business, whether your portfolio will benefit from the project and help bring in more clients or perhaps the project might lead to the client paying you in the future. Again, this is so personal to you as a freelancer but none of us should feel guilt-tripped into working for free.
Celebrate your successes.
Last, but certainly not least, always congratulate yourself on a job well done. We don’t get Christmas bonuses, after work drinks or a pat on the back from a boss. Although we’ll get client feedback, this isn’t a daily occurrence so you’re now solely in charge of recognising when you’ve done well on a day to day basis. It could be as simple as sinking into a hot bath, taking the morning off to go for brunch with a friend or investing some of your hard earned money into a course or workshop.
I hope you found some of these useful and I’d love to hear about any tips you have for taking care of yourself as a freelancer.