The Freelancer As Business Owner

When you start freelancing you become a business owner and are responsible for the success or failure of your enterprise. Honestly, it can go either way, depending on what you do.

Yes, it’s pretty much all on you. Whether you jump into freelancing from school or from employment, you’ll quickly come to the realization that you’ve taken on responsibility for your own business and accepted the role of an owner.

Owners are very different from employees. While an employee can be all in with their employer’s business, he will never be an owner. He will spend a good deal of time on creating things, and almost no time on business things. He can easily quit. He has little stake in the enterprise. He can pass accountability to his upline or sideways to his coworkers without consequence.

Owners have no upline. They act in the best interests of their business or they will not be in business very long.

To build a successful freelance business, the creative professional must do the creative (the fun work) and the business (the obligatory work) well. Doing the right things for your business will support your creative work, you will spend more time doing business things than creative things. You should expect to spend close to 80% of your time in building and managing your business, and the other 20% will be on the actual work you do for clients. That’s just the reality of it. If you’re a freelancer and your business skills are weak, do something about it.

How do you get good business skills?
You acquire them, either through a course, through a mentor, through an organization or through online searches.

Successful business owners take care of things. They prioritize, establish systems, communicate, perform customer service, market, pay their bills and keep their books. They integrate their business and personal lives, and operate from a solid foundation that they have systematized to make it repeatable.

Your foundation begins with your BHAGs – those big, hairy, audacious goals you set for yourself. These goals are not necessarily business-related, but are purpose-driven ideas you want to accomplish or be known for. These BHAGs drive your business and your personal life, and center around the things you value. Everyone has BHAGs. Few people actually map them out to make them tangible enough to achieve.

Here are 6 things that creative freelancers should know about ownership.

Owners take action. They don’t sit around until they are told what to do. They commit to the long, hard work of building a successful business. Owners strategize, plan and follow through. When they fail at something — and they do fail — they use it as an opportunity to learn.

Owners honor their commitments. That means they meet the deadlines they set. They pay their contractors. They follow through on what they promise, even in the small things like responding to email and answering questions. And the first commitment an owner makes is to herself.

Owners develop the discipline to do the non-creative things first, because they know they won’t be in business very long otherwise. They keep their books up to date. They create and abide by a spending plan. They invoice on time. They pay their taxes. They set the vision and mission for their businesses. Sometimes they need to sacrifice other things in order to drive their business forward.

Owners learn to say No. If something will not add to your business, don’t do it. Accept the projects and responsibilities that will lead to better projects and increased business. You cannot please everyone, nor can you live up to expectations that are not yours. Be willing to release clients and refer prospects elsewhere.

Owners are visionary. As an owner, you have to look down the road a year, five years and ten years out. Where do you want to be? What goals do you want to accomplish and what clients do you want to be working with? Why? What will it mean for you as an owner to be that far along with accomplishments under your belt. What will it mean for your family? This means you give up a day-to-day existence.

Owners delegate. There are tasks in your freelance business that you need to be doing, and there are tasks that you should not be doing. It’s the little things that will steal your time and keep you from doing the work where you add value to your clients and yourself. What can you hand off? Identify where you want to go and who can help you get there.

 

6 Questions to ask yourself

Take some time to reflect on these questions, and write your answers. They can each be answered with a yes or no, but if you begin thinking about the reason behind each yes or no, you can set yourself up to make the changes you need to.

Are you seeking the kinds of clients and projects that will push you to learn and expand?

Are you seeking the kinds of clients and projects that will attract better clients and projects?

Are you spending time regularly working on your business? This means you’re not just working on a client project, but you’re working on marketing or planning or bookkeeping, daily and weekly?

Are you regularly and consistently learning and applying business skills?

Are you setting goals for your business that are aligned with your personal and family goals, so that your work life and personal life are integrated? Are you setting goals that are meaningful to you?

Are you doing your most important work?

I have found this to be true: In order to be successful, we need to be hopeful about the future and absolutely honest about where we are at the present moment. You see, where we are is our starting point. The future is our destination. Every day we begin from where we left off the previous day and we move. If we don’t have clarity on our destination, we drive aimlessly, wasting time and energy. We need goals in order to stay on the right roads. Otherwise, we just check off items on to-do lists but accomplish very little great work.

Common Struggles of Owner-Freelancers

As freelancers and owners, we will struggle with taking ownership of our time, our projects, our marketing and our lives. What will help is to figure out what kind of life you want to have, and how your freelancing doesn’t just fit into your life but supports it in an integral way. You’re not working a job and then going home to live your life. Owning a business means you need to integrate work and play, productive time and down time. Rather than balance 2 unrelated things, you align and blend.

It helps to remember why you chose to freelance. That choice is probably related to what you want to do in life. Getting clear on what you want helps you to form your BHAGs. To decide on your BHAGs, you need to begin with a vision that addresses your WHY for freelancing and identifies your destination — getting to the place you want to be.

Last year I participated in an online class that helped me get clear about my life and my work. It asked me the right questions and gave me the right tools to discover the things that are really important for me: my WHYs and my destination. I signed up for the course because I had been feeling fuzzy about some things for a long time, feeling like I was drifting and just doing projects. During the 5-day course, the fog I had been experiencing for many months cleared, and I was able to discover my reasons, and find the right road.

Over the next couple of months weeks I will be telling you more about this course in my emails and articles, and the ways in which it helped me shift gears and drive forward with fresh focus.

Not on my list yet? Get on the road with me here.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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