Make freelancing’s flexibility work for you
As freelancers, we set our own hours. We can work whenever we want. Sometimes we may feel the urge to put in extra hours just to get everything done, or even work 24/7. The work/life balance struggle can be real for people starting out as full-time freelancers who need to make ends meet.
As a freelance science writer or science communicator, you may be accustomed to the science life: long nights spent in lab or poring over scientific papers. While that may be the norm in science, it is an unworkable strategy in science writing.
Writing about science is a creative endeavor (even though you may not think about it as such): it, like other creative enterprises, requires downtime. Your brain needs time to rest, come up with new ideas, and generally switch ‘off’ from work mode. While as a science researcher you may have spent several caffeine-fueled weeks running back-to-back experiments, that approach isn’t sustainable in science writing (nor was it sustainable in science, but hey).
Work smarter, not harder. When you take time away from freelancing, you’ll come back to your work with your creative energy restored.Tweet
What does it mean to run a sustainable freelance business?
Creating a sustainable business helps mold your freelance work to your life, rather than the other way around. A workable business strategy and approach can help you grow as a business, and even weather tough economic times.
When you set boundaries in your work, identify your goals and priorities, and work to fit your work in the time you can reasonably work each day, you are setting the building blocks for a sustainable business strategy. Sustainable, in this case, means a business that you can run without feeling burned out or overextending yourself. For us, this looks like a long-term business strategy involving incremental work over a long period of time to grow. No all-nighters needed!
As freelancers, our earnings are directly tied to how much we work — so if we can’t work, for whatever reason, that directly affects our bottom line. That’s why figuring out ways to freelance in a sustainable manner can help you succeed in freelance science writing. This means figuring out a schedule that works for you: one in which you are productive, but can also avoid burnout. There are few things worse in freelancing than overworking yourself for several weeks, only to be unable to concentrate for the several weeks after that, because you overextended yourself.
We’re speaking from experience here. Want to know a huge lesson we’ve learned over the years as a full-time science writing and digital communications business?
To crank out high-quality writing, consistently, you will need to figure out a way to guard your time and set boundaries.
Keep reading for five ways to save time as a freelancer to be able to spend more time doing the things you love. You’ll find that you come back to your work energized, full of ideas, and ready to tackle the tasks at hand.
1. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
We live in a complex world, but our workflows don’t have to be complicated. We try to make our work (and work processes) more simple: streamlining processes, taking on fewer projects, and providing as much value as we can to our clients. We also do this by saying “no” to clients that aren’t a good fit — to be able to say “yes” to better opportunities that align with my priorities and interests.
Simplifying your work processes can look different to different people. For Angela Tague of Web Writing Advice, for instance, setting aside time to prepare to write saves her time and energy.
If you find yourself slogging through your daily to-do list, dreading the future and wondering how you will be able to make it, you might even consider taking stuff of your plate, so to speak. There’s no shame in quitting things that do not serve you — Sheeva wrote a whole blog post on the topic. Deciding to quit things that are taking up too much time, money, or mental energy that don’t help you achieve your goals or make you happy is an important life skill.
2. Automate everything you can.
Automation can be a huge benefit to freelancers. You can schedule tweets, blog posts, and more. Work when you feel like it, then schedule social media posts, newsletters, and blog posts to go out later. This way, you can control your work hours and work on your own terms. You can work when you feel like it, and take time away when needed.
Some automation tools we have used are:
- Recurpost to schedule social media posts
- ThreadCreator to schedule tweet threads
- Substack for automated newsletter distribution
- WordPress features to promote our published blog posts on social media
There’s no need to hover over social media or web publishing tools night and day with these automated publication services. Just input your content and schedule it, and the automation software tools will take care of the rest!
Delegating tasks can be a toughie for small business owners, because it often requires spending money. Freelancers, as small business owners, don’t always have the funds to hire a large staff to manage different parts of the business. However, outsourcing specific aspects of your work can provide a huge bang for your buck.
The benefit of outsourcing a time-consuming aspect of your business? You’ll have more time to advance the core mission of your business. If you’re a science copywriter, you can hire someone to create your website or social media content so you have more time to network with potential clients.
The important part here is to make sure that you are delegating parts of your business that are essential, but that someone else can perform effectively in a way that is budget-friendly for you. Delegation helps you free up your time so that you can use it more strategically.
If you’d like to delegate tasks but don’t have the money, you might be interested in bartering your services — check out our post on the topic!
4. Be realistic.
Part of a sustainable freelance business model is recognizing what you can and can’t do. Don’t be too critical of yourself if you can’t get everything you wanted done in one day, or if it takes five times as long to do something.
Being realistic about what is humanly possible as a freelancer can be tough. It requires introspection about what you can reasonably accomplish — and planning accordingly.
A realistic approach to freelancing also takes into account the rest of your life besides freelancing. Planning to work 24/7 is not a realistic business strategy for anyone. If you’re a workaholic, consider scheduling time away from work, just as you might schedule a business meeting in your calendar.
If you’re unhappy with your productivity, figure out what’s been holding you back. Perhaps you’ve been working too much, or you’ve been underestimating the time it takes to complete projects and you’re falling behind. Maybe you’ve got other responsibilities in life and need to scale back your freelancing biz a bit. Whatever challenges you face, being honest with yourself about them is a great first step to making changes to improve your business’s sustainability and resilience.
5. Tap in to your network.
One of the best aspects of freelancing in the 21st century is that there are tons of online freelance communities. You can learn a lot from your fellow freelancers (and help them out, too). Maybe you’re new to science writing and are feeling isolated, or perhaps you’re a more experienced freelancer seeking to branch out and provide new service offerings. Regardless of your specific challenges as a freelance professional, it’s important to have a community of people that can support you. Sure, it’s great to have a support system of friends and family, but they may not understand the challenges of freelancing — which is why it’s great to network with a community of like-minded freelancers.
There’s no shortage of ways to connect with your fellow freelancers. Chat with fellow small business peeps on social media. Join a Slack group for writers: we recommend the Slack group run by The Writer’s Co-Op for science freelancers. Participate in #FreelanceChat or #SciCommChat. And remember that, no matter how weird or terrible the challenges you face as a freelancer, you are never alone.
What advice would you add to work smarter, not harder, as a freelancer? Chime in below in the comments!