By Mel Sim

Psst.... you can apply them in your 9-to-5 too!

It’s been more than 10 years since I left my full-time job with a prestigious publishing company to work for myself. Since then, I’ve been working as a freelance editor and writer, and have worked hard to build up my contacts and a small steady clientele with the occasional ad-hoc clients.

Things are going great (fingers crossed) but of course, there have been a few ups and downs, trials and tribulations along the way – especially when I first started out as a rookie freelancer.

Which all serves as life lessons for me. You never stop learning, and when you work for yourself, you find out that you are constantly learning about yourself, about others, and about life.

So here are a few things I picked up along the way which you can also apply to your everyday job, freelance or not!

#1 I have to be super disciplined and have mad organising skills
Working for yourself requires A LOT of discipline. Right now, I am writing this article past midnight because I’ve set myself to complete several things for the day (thankfully, this is the last thing on my to do!).

Imagine if I weren’t disciplined and decided to laze on the couch instead of working. My to-dos will become longer each day and before I know it, it becomes unmanageable and I’ll have a lot of unhappy clients asking me “Where is my stuff?”

Plus, I’ve become super efficient with organising my work. When you have different clients with different deadlines and expectations, you really have to sit down and think of how you are going to complete each and every task on time while producing quality work. Even if it means staying up past midnight to write when all you want to do is hit the sack.

#2 Different clients, different personalities
When I was gainfully employed, I only had to deal with a few personalities, like my colleagues, my boss and maybe one or two clients. The sales team handled most of the clients so in a way, I was in a nice comfortable bubble.

But working for myself meant having to do it all – client servicing, networking, pitching, making contacts. There would be no other departments to handle it; I was the other departments.

I deal with different personalities on a daily basis. Some clients are forgiving and understanding; some not quite. I have to put on different hats to deal with each different personality, treating them the way they want to be treated. Some clients love it when you do the small talk; some would rather you go straight to the point. Needless to say, my PR skills have vastly improved since working for myself!

Which is something you can do at work too – adapting to the person you are dealing with, whether it is a boss, a colleague or a client, to be more relatable and to be able to handle their quirks, whatever that may be so that the working relationship goes smoothly and to everyone’s advantage.

#3 I learned I have to figure out the logistics
When you work for yourself, there is no comfort zone to fall back to known as benefits, monthly pay cheques, company insurance, EPF. As my own boss, I had to figure these things out for myself and make sure they were all set in place.

I had to track my income and expenses to figure out how much money I was really making. I had to do my own research on the kind of retirement plan I should be contributing to as well as signed up for right insurance in case anything happens. Plus, I had to be a pro at budgeting to make sure I had enough stashed away for the slower months so I could still make my monthly commitment. Essentially, I had to look out for myself to make sure I was covered!

#4 I have to learn when to stop and be more selective
There was a time when I was working non-stop – from the minute I woke up and up till late at night. I remember taking a break and going for a manicure; I fell asleep right on the chair even before the manicurist started!

It was a wake-up call for me; I was tired and worn out. This is something that frequently happens to people who own their own business; they don’t know when to stop, especially when financial worries are the top of your mind. You don’t want to be caught with zero in your bank and so you work, work, work.

I decided it was time to do something about it by being more selective about whom I worked with and the kind of work I did. There are some clients who took up a lot of my time but not pay me the kind of the money I should be making or took forever to pay. Then there are jobs that are so mundane I wasn’t really learning anything from them.

I listened to my gut and turned away opportunities that weren’t the right fit. There’s no point trying to do something I didn’t have knowledge for and I’m glad that I did this because it meant opening up my time to do projects that I actually enjoyed – and paid well!

In conclusion, these lessons have been my guiding light in my freelance career. There are a few more lessons that I picked up along the way too... and no doubt there will be more. I hope these lessons will serve as an encouragement to you who are thinking about starting your own thing... or applying it to your everyday job now. Remember, every day is a learning opportunity to find out more about yourself so seize the day!

Photo by Essentialiving on Unsplash

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