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How to Be Your Own Boss as a Freelancer

25 Aug 2020 2:32 PM | Maya Berger (Administrator)

As editorial freelancers, we're encouraged to monitor "success metrics" such as income, client feedback, and editing efficiency, but does the wellbeing of one's business always translate to personal job satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and a healthy work-life balance? If we had bosses, it would be part of their job to check in with us about these things; since we work for ourselves, that responsibility – and that power – rests with us.

A piece of paper with a stylish marbled background and the word "empower" written on it, a pen, and a smartphone with the calculator app open.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The following suggestions helped me transition from working in-house, where I not only had a line manager but also managed my own team of editors, to working for myself alone. If you're anything like me, you may find an extra layer of structure and accountability keeps you focused and motivated when the going gets tough.

Keep track of your holidays and sick days

If you tend to take very few sick days and vacation days (or none at all), recognize that you’re not a machine and we all need a break now and then. Even if you’re worried about the loss of income from the days you’re not working, bear in mind that ignoring the need for time off can have a big impact on your physical and mental health and affect your ability to work at all. With some advance planning, you can take short breaks that won’t hit your bottom line too hard in any given month, and you can start saving to cover the cost of not working during illnesses and longer vacations.
Conversely, if you've taken a lot of sick days lately for stress or fatigue you're certainly not alone. Maintaining your normal workload may not always be possible if you're dealing with public health concerns, caring responsibilities, isolation or any number of other stressors. As well as being mindful of these factors, it's worth asking yourself whether your working practices give you a healthy work-life balance or contribute to your risk of burnout. Perhaps there are simple improvements you can make, such as enforcing your working hours and stopping yourself from answering work emails or phone calls outside those hours.

A good boss knows that employees don't have the ability or motivation to perform at their best when they're overworked, so ask yourself whether your working practices would seem exploitative if they were imposed on you by an employer.

Raise your rates regularly

Look at your income as an annual salary, and increase it periodically in line with cost-of-living increases and your growing expertise.
For freelancers, increasing your rates involves more than simply allocating yourself more money. You will need to let each of your clients know about your higher rates, either as part of the negotiation for your next project with them or in a separate email.
If you worry that you'll struggle to justify higher rates to any of your clients (or even to yourself), arm yourself with as much supporting data as possible. I use The Editor's Affairs (TEA) system of Excel spreadsheets to record and analyze my working practices, and that gives me answers to the following questions any time I need them:

  • What are your current rates, and how do they compare with industry standard rates?
  • Are your current rates in line with the cost of living where you live?
  • How long have you maintained your current rates?
  • Has your editing/proofreading speed improved since you last raised your rates?
  • Have you invested in macros, software or other tools that increased your efficiency since you last raised your rates?
  • What continuing professional development have you completed since you last raised your rates?

A good boss would consider all these factors as part of an annual salary review, and they're just as relevant for freelancers when we set our rates.

Conduct annual performance reviews

Reviewing your performance on a regular basis can work wonders for a freelancer's motivation and sense of professionalism. I find it especially empowering because I'm performing according to standards and priorities that I set for myself rather than ones imposed on me by an employer. If I want to expand my business or change direction, the only approval I need is my own.

Set and review your editorial goals

Perhaps you have your heart set on getting onto a specific publisher's freelance roster, or you may want to branch out into plain-language editing or PDF proofreading. Being accountable to yourself can help motivate you when you're tempted to put off training or marketing efforts.

Set and review your business development goals

  • What does your ideal project look like, in terms of text type, style, length and time frame, and how can you attract more projects like it?

  • What is your ideal client like? Are they an indie author, a business, an NGO, a packager or a traditional publisher, and how can you make sure they know of your existence?

Reflect on the projects you completed and the clients you interacted with

  • Were you working in your preferred genres, disciplines or industries? For the projects you worked on in other areas, are there enough incentives (such as supportive project managers, good rates or flexible deadlines) for you to accept similar work in the future?

  • Did you and the client both have a clear understanding of the scope and process from the outset? If there were any misunderstandings, what lessons can you take away from them?

The boss you always wished for

A close up of a mug with "World's Best Boss" written on it.

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

As a freelancer, you may have joked on occasion that your boss is a real tyrant. I know I have – and sometimes I push myself so hard that it feels true. But more often I'm grateful that I get to work for someone who respects my contribution to the editing industry and whose work ethic and vision inspire me every day. Isn't it time we celebrated the boss in each of us?


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