Three habits that will damage your freelance practice

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As I've been re-vamping the curriculum for my Freelance Lab, I've been thinking a lot about habits. I wrote about it in strategic terms last week . Your practice is a collection of your habits, both good and bad. So if you know how to build (and tear down) habits, then you can rebuild your practice to match the goals you've set.

But where do you start? If you're going to start anywhere, start by pruning out the habits that are damaging your practice. Put the work into eliminating (or replacing) these habits, and your practice will be able to grow more quickly. It's like gardening. Clearing out the weeds lets the plants you want to grow thrive more easily.

The Feast or Famine Habit

Freelancers think the "feast or famine" cycle is something that happens to them. But it's really something that we as freelancers do to ourselves. The root cause of feast or famine is an inconsistent approach to sales. Let's break down the pattern and show how it happens.

You're at a point where you have no gigs coming in. Or a project just wrapped up, and you have no new leads. You madly scramble to find the next gig. You call old clients, reach out to friends, try a bunch of networking meetups and even explore places like Fiverr, Upwork, and You manage to cobble a couple gigs together, but the pay is lower than you'd like and you don't particularly like the project or the people you're working with. So you hustle some more, and you get over-booked. Now you're busy. But you're too busy. For the moment. Until these gigs are done and you have to start the process over again.

You know that getting the highest quality gigs takes time and can't be rushed. So why are you trying to do it when you're not only rushed, but also at your weakest negotiating position? When you need income the most, it's more difficult to stay true to the kinds of clients and projects you want to work with and on. If you spend a little time each week focused on client prospecting, sales, and lining up the next gig, then you'll likely find that you won't have to face that feast or famine salesflow again.

The over-scheduling habit.

This habit manifests by having a full calendar of billable time. It seems like a good thing. You've got more billable hours than you know what to do with. But this habit has a dark side, and that dark side slowly eats away at your practice and causes problems down the road.

The overscheduling habit neglects the business portion of your practice. You either spend less time on practice development (things like sales, professional development, business admin) or you do them in addition to your full week of work. Meaning you're spending and additional 10-25 hours on top of your billables work.

Usually, this happens because people don't charge what they need to in order to cover the non-billable parts of their practice. Other times, it happens because people are still in a feast or famine mindset and they're just taking the extra time while they can.

If your income is not calculated on a maximum of 5 hours of billable time per day, then this is a key warning sign that you should be charging more.

The "Take it and Like it" Habit

As freelancers, we often treat ourselves like employees in a working situation, and this means that our client is more likely to do the same. That means that you can get yourself into all sorts of situations where you're treated more like an employee than an independent, and you lose the flexibility, freedom and control that comes with running your own practice. Examples are when clients dictate working hours, conditions, gear used, deadlines, budgets, schedule, etc.

I'm not suggesting they can't stipulate those things in their agreements, but what many of us forget as freelancers is that all those things are negotiable. If you don't like something, ask for it to be changed. Have a good reason, and offer something in return. If you can't work a certain set of hours that the client predetermined, offer a counter proposal, ask why they want someone in that timeslot, and come up with something new that works for both parties. And if something can't be negotiated and it's not in your favour, then you should be negotiating the price. Inflexibility on various terms often leads to price increases in other businesses, because it means restructuring your business to work around theirs. Someone should eat those costs, and it should the party who is creating the requirement.

So get more flexible in your thinking around contracts, understand the intent behind the various clauses, and propose solutions that fit with your practice and how you want it run. You'll do better work, have better relationships with your clients, and have more success as a result.

I'd be interested in hearing about what habits you think you need to get rid of in your practice. Feel free to give me the details on social!


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