Five rules of freelancing I found and didn’t always follow

I pursued lots of advice in my young freelance career. A lot of it has been good. A lot of it has been repetitive.

In fact, I’ve heard five pieces of advice perhaps more often than any others. Funny enough, they may be among the pieces of advice the ones I still have the most work to do on mastering.

In hoping you can do a better job than I can, below I share the fives rules of freelancing I have been told and failed to follow most often.

  1. Four hours of promotion and eight hours of work — You’ll need to segment your day rigidly, for fear of the distractions of working from home or in public. The Internet and funny cat videos can be your enemy, so it helps to shut off your e-mail inbox, and keep a strict schedule — exercise, lunch, pitching, promoting, writing and all the rest. Find what works for you but get it written down and follow it.
  2. Develop a niche, own it and promote it — You’ll want to spread your seed with lots of clients, but it pays — I’m told — to get into a particular area of expertise and market that to any source you can find. Then your social media presence and such can revolve around your primary focus and expertise, though you’ll surely dabble elsewhere.
  3. Write a budget — You’ll want to keep track of where the money is coming and where is it going because when it comes from different places, it’s a lot more difficult than you might guess. Figure out a reasonable guess for monthly income — perhaps the hardest part — and track your necessary expenses and discretionary choices.
  4. Organize beyond belief — Who owes you money, where your pitches are and what deadlines are upcoming. There are so many questions and tasks that are all left in your hands, you need a very serious system to keep track of it all. This includes keeping your own invoices — sending them out and tracking them carefully. Perhaps have monthly self audits.
  5. Don’t depend on it — It was always shaky, but a bad economy, worse industry trends and more have made this perhaps the starkest time to be freelancing around. So stick to your job first, cling to a severance package, get a part-time gig or whatever else you can because you ought not bet on freelancing.