Creating a Freelance Writing Business – 7 Ways to Reign in Your Self Discipline and Boost Productivity
Freelance writing is all about writing right? Well, the truth is, the writing is just the tip of the iceberg. In reality, you’re creating a freelance writing business and with any business, there are plenty of things that go on beneath the surface.
Like any business, you might have the best product in the world, but if the rest of your affairs are not in order, you’re not going to be successful.
In order to make this venture a success, you’re going to have to be disciplined. Being a freelance writer means there is no set structure that you have to follow, but that doesn’t mean your days can be unstructured.
When you work for yourself, there’s nobody looking over your shoulder to make sure you are getting work done, so it’s important you become this person. By setting clear goals and constant planning, you can make sure that you are always moving towards your dream of creating a successful freelance business.
It’s not always going to be an easy process, but with these 7 ways to reign in your self-discipline and boost productivity, you can take a step towards successfully creating a freelance writing business.
1. Be The Best Boss You’ve Ever Had
One of the most exciting parts of being a freelance writer is having the ability to be your own boss. Being able to take jobs that appeal to you, working the hours you want and generally not having to answer to anyone (other than the client) are some of the perks that draw us to the job.
The problem is, those same benefits that we love about the job can also be some of the biggest contributors to us not making a success of freelance writing. There’s no point in being your own boss if you can’t enforce the levels of self-discipline that are necessary to succeed.
The great thing about this is that you have the opportunity to be the best boss you have ever had. On the flipside, you could also turn out to be the worst boss you’ve ever had. It is important to remember that you have the potential to go both ways here, and always strive to be the best boss you can be.
In Forbes’ 10 Commandments of Being Your Own Boss Brian Rashid highlights the importance of “recognizing your work as a career and not a hobby.” He goes on to say, “be patient with yourself, but also realize your obligation to take it seriously.”
Writing is something that so many people enjoy that it can easily be seen as a hobby, but you are building a career, something that will enhance your prosperity and look after your family; treat it as such.
If things aren’t working out, you have nobody else to blame but yourself in this business, but by being the best boss you’ve ever had, you’re going to give yourself the best shot of making this thing a success. Creating a freelance writing business isn’t easy, but if you follow these steps, you can help to ensure you give yourself the best possible chance.
2. Without Goals you Won’t Even Score the Open Goals
Goal setting is a fundamental part of everyday life that far too many of us neglect completely. Without goals, we’re something like a message in a bottle. We have a purpose, but we’re not likely to reach our destination because we have no direction.
To achieve our overarching goal of becoming a successful freelance writer, we need to have clear and achievable goals along the way. If we only set ourselves one goal of earning $50,000 in our first year from freelancing, it can be hard to find the motivation we need in the short term to keep going when things get hard.
It’s much better to create a series of goals, both in the short term and long term that you can continue to evaluate and strive to reach. This way, if you’re failing to meet some goals, you’ve always got the motivation of seeing yourself achieving other goals.
The key to setting goals is that they must be SMART goals. I’m really not a fan of acronyms, but this one works pretty well I’d say! Anyway, here’s what makes a SMART goal smart.
- Specific – “I want to improve my writing skills” vs “I want to increase the amount of research I put into my writing in order to make it more academic.”
- Measurable – “I want to earn some money through writing” vs “I want to earn $20,000 through writing in my first 6 months.
- Attainable – “This time next year Rodney we’ll be millionaires” vs “This time next year I will be earning a sustainable income from writing.”
- Relevant – “I want to learn to be a hot air balloon pilot because it looks fun” vs “I want to learn to be a hot air balloon pilot because my niche is hot air balloons.”
- Timebound “I want to write 6 blogs” vs “I was to write 6 blogs this week.”
Once you’ve had a chance to think about some goals, make sure you put them down on paper so they become real. As MindTools.com says, “the physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it.”
When you become a freelance writer there’s going to be nobody watching over your shoulder and making sure you’re hitting targets all the time. This makes it even more important that you have clear, attainable goals to work towards. You’re not going to achieve every goal, but as long as you’re achieving some, you know you’re moving in the right direction.
3. Do Like Rafa – Make Routines
I’m sorry to anyone who’s not a sports fan out there, but this is my niche slipping out (check out how I choose my niches). Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, but he is also obsessive about routines. People make fun of his routines all the time, but you don’t see him changing them, that’s because they work! The same is true in freelance writing.
When you’re creating a freelance writing business, there are so many things you could be doing at any given moment that it’s easy to spend hours deciding what to do next. Instead of thinking “what if I do this” or “what if I do that” simply move on to the next part of your routine. Take the decisions out of the equation and just do what you do next.
I had a law professor who always loved to announce “if you’ve committed a crime and find yourself in court, you better pray that you’re not the last person to be sentenced before lunch or home time.” That’s because as the Judge becomes more tired from constantly making decisions, he becomes less likely to rule in your favor. Adam Eason touches on this in his great guide to productivity, “everybody’s will-power gets affected as a result of making decisions all day every day and we tire as a result.”
By creating effective routines you can take many of those decisions out of your day to day life. Just as Nadal doesn’t want to be thinking “what if I hit a double fault,” we don’t want to be thinking “how should I go about writing this essay.” Just follow your routines and everything will come to you.
One of the reasons routines are particularly important for freelance writers is that their day doesn’t require any structure. If you really wanted to, you could sit in your pajamas all day. However, we can all agree that is not a formula for success.
Instead, you have to create a routine that gets you ready for work. I find it’s best to mimic what I would do if I was going to work at a normal job. I work normal hours, dress in casual smart attire and try to do everything I would do if I was working in an office.
This one can be quite difficult to do, but once you get used to creating and following routines, it is amazing how much it can improve your productivity. Don’t waste time sweating the small stuff, just follow your routines and get the real work done.
4. Every Success Story is Full Of Plans
The main reason you know you can fall back on your routines is because they have been well planned. Over time we learn what works best for us and we gradually incorporate those things into our routine until eventually, we’re running as close to peak performance as we possibly can.
Planning shouldn’t be limited to having a good breakfast or actually putting clothes on though! The more we can plan out our week, the more brain energy we have left to get the real work done.
The simplest way of doing this is buying a planner, sitting down on a Sunday and planning out exactly what the next week will entail. Set deadlines, organize appointments and make a writing schedule. There are many, many different ways of planning, but here are a few I always stick with.
1. Start your day with the most unpleasant task: As I mentioned in How To Choose Your Freelancing Niche, writing about a subject you have no interest in can be pretty painful. I know because I write one blog which I find particularly dreary. If I left this to the end of the day, it simply wouldn’t get done. The easiest way to combat this is to get it done at the beginning of the day.
2. Do One Thing At a Time: This one’s quite dependent on the person, but as a general rule, it’s not good to be multitasking. Set your sights on completing one task before you move onto the next one. If you need a break, take a break!
3. The 80/20 Rule: The 80/20 rule is something you hear about a lot and it applies to planning too. Productivityist.com encourages you to “remember that if you spend 20% of your day focused on working on something towards your long-term and current goals, you’ll garner 80% of the desired result.” Keep your plans focused on your goals and keep moving forwards. (You may be thinking that 20% to achieve 80% seems fanciful, but we’ll get to that in the next paragraph!)
4. Follow the Plan: There’s no point making a plan if you don’t follow it. Sure, unexpected things will happen that take you away from the plan, but whenever possible, you need to follow it. Make your life as easy as possible by having everything planned out and you will be more productive.
Structure is a vital part of productivity and nobody is going to give it to you when you’re a freelance writer. You’ve got to create the structure yourself and that means plenty of planning. If you fail to do this, it can be one of the easiest ways to bomb your freelance writing career.
5. More is not More
Perhaps one of the reasons you got into freelance writing in the first place is because you were sick of spending 10 hours a day stuck behind a desk. You’re expected to be there, working the whole time, but you know that’s not the way to get your best work done. The days of thinking more time spent at work means you get more work done are starting to come to an end and for good reason.
No matter how great you are, you only have a limited attention span; it’s human nature. The old idea that you can sit at your desk for 10 hours at a time and smash out work just doesn’t hold up anymore. Instead, you need to make the most of the human attention span by breaking your work into smaller blocks.
Simply follow these steps:
- Choose a task.
- Remove all distractions (social media, phones, emails, everything).
- Set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on your project for the full 25 minutes until the timer rings.
- Take a quick break. 5 or 10 minutes.
- Repeat this sequence until you have completed 4 work sessions.
- After 4 sessions take a longer break of 30 mins.
Why does this technique work? Well, asides from the fact that we only have a limited attention span, we also have a million and one distractions. How often are you trying to write an article when you stop mid-stride to reply to an email you have just seen pop up.
By focusing all our energy on one task for a full 25 minutes we can maximize our productivity without experiencing FOMO. Fear of missing out means that we always want to check what the latest email says, or find out why our phone is buzzing, but if you know that after 25 minutes you can check all those things you can relax and just get on with the job at hand.
In order to maximize your time, you need to get rid of tasks and routines that are not beneficial to you and the Pomodoro Technique is a great way of doing that. I have a tendency of getting a bit carried away with looking at analytics to see how my blogs are doing, but constantly doing this doesn’t contribute to my goals so I’ve had to alter my routines to make sure I maximize my time better.
The Pomodoro Technique might not necessarily be the one that works for you, but what’s for sure is trying to sit down for 4 or 5 hours at a time and bang out an article isn’t productive. When it comes to work, more is not more, most of the time, less is more.
6. Disavow the Distractions
If there’s one thing that can really throw you off track it’s needless distractions. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous Flow Theory on how to achieve happiness, one of the key aspects of an enjoyable experience is “a complete focusing of attention on the task at hand – thus leaving no room in the mind for irrelevant information.”
Not only is this a key requirement for us to enjoy a task, but it is a key element in us doing a task well. If I’m trying to write my article on the Dialects of Parrots, but I’m busy wondering what Bob has just said in Facebook Messenger, I’m not going to do my best work. It doesn’t matter if the distraction is related to your work or not, you have to compartmentalize these tasks.
Returning to Adam Eason’s great article, a great way to do this is by identifying OHIO tasks, or only handle it once tasks. These are tasks like replying to emails that you can respond to immediately on an individual basis, but for the most part, you can select a time slot and reply to them en mass.
This is something I do a lot for things like replying to emails and writing social media posts. I run a few social pages for different websites and what I will do is schedule an hour or two where I plan out as many posts as I can. Rather than doing it three or four times a day, I get everything I need done and get it off my mind. I can then return to what really earns me my money: writing.
By having a set time that I check into my emails or my Facebook, I take away the temptation to do it just because I’m bored of writing an article. If I know I can legitimately go and make a Facebook post for work then I can justify stopping my writing and distracting myself. If I have a set time when I take care of my social media posts though, I don’t have that distraction.
Distractions like your phone, social media, and emails can be a huge drain on your time, so it’s no wonder that a central theme of the Pomodoro Technique is removing those distractions. Training yourself to ignore distractions isn’t that hard to do and it can give you a great head start over other freelance writers. Factor these things into your planning and you’re bound to see an increase in your productivity.
7. Eat, Sleep, Repeat
The thing about goals, plans, and routines is that they’re useless if you don’t keep on doing them. Consistency is key and complacency is your enemy. Your routines need to become as familiar to you as waking up, eating three meals a day, going to bed, and waking up again, because without them, making a success of your freelance career is going to be very difficult.
People think that creating a freelance writing business is either extremely easy or extremely hard, but the truth is, it’s somewhere in the middle. One thing you have to do really well though is the basics. You have to be your own boss, you have to be professional, and you have to create a winning structure for yourself.
You don’t achieve this by doing something for a day, a week, or even a month, you achieve this by doing things over and over month after month and doing them well. After a time, everything begins to feel like second nature to you and the chances are, some of your goals will be starting to come to fruition
How successful you are at creating a freelance writing business probably isn’t going to come down to how good your writing skills are. You can sell the best product in the world, but if your business practices are a shambles you’re not going to succeed.
Through consistently following these 7 steps, you will give your freelance writing business the best chance of returning you a solid income that you can rely on for years to come. You may do many of these things naturally, but if you fail to do them at all, you will more than likely fail in your venture.
- Be the best boss.
- Make great goals.
- Always follow routines.
- Plan the details of your success.
- Recognize that more is not more.
- Disavow distractions.
- Do it over and over and over again.
Nothing guarantees success in anything, but it is widely recognized that these practices are key aspects of a successful business. Individually, they are not hard to do, but the challenge is doing them all well, all the time.
You must never lose sight of the fact that this is a business and it must be run as such. By staying one step ahead of yourself, through good planning, goal setting, and routines you will give yourself a great chance of creating a successful writing business.